Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders warned Americans on Thursday of the unique threat President Donald Trump poses to democracy, specifically in the event that the president refuses to give up the White House if he loses the election. “This is not just an election between Donald Trump and Joe Biden. This is an election between Donald Trump and democracy – and democracy must win,” Sanders said in a chilling speech at George Washington University.
"I think it is terribly important that we actually listen to, and take seriously, what Donald Trump is saying," Sanders warned, after referring to the president as a “pathological liar” with "strong authoritarian tendencies.” Sanders went on to say: "There is nothing in our Constitution or in our laws that give Donald Trump the privilege of deciding whether or not he will step aside if he loses.”
Sanders' call to action is a direct response to Trump's own threats. When asked during a news conference at the White House on Wednesday whether he would commit to a peaceful transferral of power in November, the president responded, “We’re going to have to see what happens.”
Trump continued with his usual tirade against mail-in ballots, calling them a “disaster” before stating that the election would be peaceful as long as we “get rid of the [mail-in] ballots.” For months, the president has repeatedly argued without evidence that voting by mail would lead to widespread voter fraud and could lead to disputed election results.
But Sanders noted the president’s comments are a “strategy to delegitimize this election” because he’s fallen behind in national polls. As a result, Trump “is attempting massive voter suppression,” said Sanders. “He and his Republican colleagues are doing everything they can to make it harder and harder for people to vote. In addition, he is sowing the seeds of chaos, confusion and conspiracy theories by casting doubt on the integrity of this election and, if he loses, justifying why he should remain in office,” he said.
But just a reminder: Trump can’t legally stay in office if he loses the election, and most people might even believe this terrifying scenario to be impossible. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi responded to the president’s threats Thursday by saying the issue would be settled at the ballot box. But experts worry the president will use “his power to prevent a decisive outcome against him,” manipulating uncertainty in the election process “to hold on to power,” reports The Atlantic.
This isn’t the first time the Vermont Senator has sounded the alarm on the president’s refusal to leave office. Sanders named these same concerns in an interview with Politico earlier this month where he urged Congress, news organizations, and social media platforms to prepare for this possibility. Furthermore, Sanders is working to engage the American people on the matter, he says, “in order to prepare them for that possibility and talk about what we do if that happens.”
For now, voters should keep in mind that election results might take longer to count this year, due to an uptick in mail-in voting. Likewise, Sanders suggests state legislatures should pass bills that would allow election officials to start counting ballots before election day. As for their role, social media platforms must ensure that misinformation about election results does not spread, especially in the case that the president claims an early victory, so that voters are not swayed from casting their ballots.
While such an event would be unprecedented, Americans should still prepare for any scenario — a lot can go wrong on Election Day, after all.