The political temperature in the United States has reached boiling point in the run-up to the 2020 presidential election. With President Donald Trump refusing to commit to a peaceful transfer of power, and partisan divisions threatening to escalate into armed conflict, many anxious Americans fear the worst.
In this Big Picture, Federico Finchelstein of the New School for Social Research, Pablo Piccato of Columbia University, and Yale’s Jason Stanley argue that if Trump refuses to accept electoral defeat, he will have nowhere else to turn but toward a distinctively fascist form of authoritarianism. No less worrying, the International Crisis Group’s Robert Malley and Stephen Pomper note that the US now exhibits many of the risk factors associated with election violence in younger, less robust democracies. Alex Hinton of Rutgers University agrees, pointing to Trump’s repeated flirtation with right-wing extremism, and fears that an election-related conflict could devolve into atrocity crimes against black and brown civilians on US soil.
Richard Pildes of New York University suggests how such a scenario could unfold, warning that the process of counting absentee and mail-in ballots on or after November 3 could prove explosive, especially in key battleground states such as Pennsylvania. His NYU colleague Nouriel Roubini, meanwhile, says a lengthy dispute over the election’s outcome could trigger a major uncertainty in financial markets, and cautions investors to prepare for the worst.
But even if Joe Biden wins, says Washington-based journalist Elizabeth Drew, an activist and increasingly right-wing US Supreme Court could strike down any progressive legislation offered by the new president. In that, argues Eric Posner of the University of Chicago, the US would face the third constitutional crisis in its history: as in the previous two, the right has captured the Supreme Court, but lost the battle for public opinion.