US Elections 2020 are going to the wire but what happens once it's over is what concerns people mostly now. Will President Donald Trump transition power peacefully to Joe Biden if he loses? This question is not new at all. Months ago, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Trump will be 'fumigated' out of the White House if he refuses to leave.
Trump, on the other hand, has oscillated between accepting the verdict and challenging it vigorously. The president's main argument is that the results will be rigged as several states are facilitating across-the-board mail-in voting. If he loses the electoral college, he will dig in and take the battle all the way to the Supreme Court.
On Wednesday, Trump made this clear. "We're going to have to see what happens ... You know that I've been complaining very strongly about the ballots, and the ballots are a disaster," Trump said when asked if he would commit to a peaceful transfer of power.
That sets the stage clear. Trump wins if he wins outright, in which case Biden will not have a legal fight on his hand. If Trump loses or if he loses narrowly, like in the Bush Vs Gore 2000, there's trouble for sure.
Democrats' Worst Fears Aren't Unfounded
Democrats have the gut feeling that the President will use his powers to latch on to the White House if he narrowly loses the vote. And surprisingly, Trump has not done much to allay the fears. He feels no need for it. Former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney criticized Trump's stand on Wednesday.
"Fundamental to democracy is the peaceful transition of power; without that, there is Belarus ... Any suggestion that a president might not respect this Constitutional guarantee is both unthinkable and unacceptable," Romney tweeted.
For all you know, the United States may not descend into the Belarus-like chaos post November 3 elections, as Romney fears. There's still a strong, very strong chance of a Trump victory. [It's another matter as to what Trump will say about the mail-in votes if he wins big.]
Yet, if he wins big and Biden concedes, there won't be any fundamental threat to the time-honored conventions in the US elections.
It's Beyond Trump Vs Biden
However, that's not all. The fault line in the US is deeper. It's not exactly about Trump Vs Biden. It's not exactly about the 2020 Presidential election. Like the protagonist says in Shakespeare's Hamlet, "If it be now, 'tis not to come. If it be not to come, it will be now. If it be not now, yet it will come—the readiness is all."
This election will split America in the middle but the post-election healing won't come too soon and too easy. The stakes have been raised too high. Half of the Americans will feel they have been deprived of power despite casting their voters.
If Trump wins, the Blue states will feel betrayed. Similarly, a Biden victory will make the sense of disenfranchisement deeper in Red states. People will veer around to the feeling that universal franchise can't offer a sense of justice and fairness in equal measure to one and all.
Rubbing salt on Democrats' Wound
The signs are loud and clear. Trump is going ahead with nominating a judge to the Supreme Court in place of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died last week. The Republicans, who blocked an Obama nominee for the Supreme Court in early 2016, saying it was election year, have taken a U-turn. They have the majority in the Senate and they are going to rub salt on the Democrats' wound.
On the other hand, the Democrats are openly considering increasing the Supreme Court strength to 13 if they win the election. If the Democrats win the White House, regain the Senate and retain Congress, this might as well happen.
If that happens, you can't imagine the Red states taking such a move in its stride.
End of US as a Unitary Polity?
In an article written in Foreign Affairs years ago, Harvard professor Niall Fergusson observed that the US may meet an 'abrupt end as a unitary polity' owing to the unique sets of crisis it would face.
Writing about the demise of historic civilizations in a BBC article last year, University of Cambridge researcher Luke Kemp used the term 'terminal velocity' to explain how societies collapse. "The U.S. is at risk of a downfall over the coming decade," Kemp wrote years ago. "There are early warning signals and the different contributors to collapse are rising," he wrote.
The United States currently meets all the criteria in this calculus -- unwieldy complexity, great social and economic inequality, highly-strung body politic and an exponential rise in the cost of defending itself. A rupture and fall from the height the country has scaled will have terminal velocity. In other words, the fall will be fatal.