Trump’s unconscionable assault on American democracy, and its ripples for Israel

The president’s incendiary demand to halt the vote count, and his unsubstantiated charges of fraud, also raise concerns and disturbing echoes in Jerusalem

David Horovitz

David Horovitz is the founding editor of The Times of Israel. He is the author of "Still Life with Bombers" (2004) and "A Little Too Close to God" (2000), and co-author of "Shalom Friend: The Life and Legacy of Yitzhak Rabin" (1996). He previously edited The Jerusalem Post (2004-2011) and The Jerusalem Report (1998-2004).

US President Donald Trump speaks in the Brady Briefing Room at the White House in Washington, DC on November 5, 2020. He charged that he had won the election but it was being stolen. (Brendan Smialowski / AFP)
US President Donald Trump speaks in the Brady Briefing Room at the White House in Washington, DC on November 5, 2020. He charged that he had won the election but it was being stolen. (Brendan Smialowski / AFP)

In the midst of a pandemic that has killed over 230,000 in their country, tens of millions of Americans chose, as is legally permitted, to mail in their votes for Tuesday’s presidential election — in large part, doubtless, to avoid large crowds and thus potential contagion at the ballot stations.

On Thursday evening, having already tweeted the unthinkable demand that the vote count be stopped, US President Donald Trump falsely claimed from the White House podium that the continued counting of those votes constituted part of an election fraud. (The near-completed vote tallies show that Republicans disproportionately voted on election day itself, as Trump himself had encouraged them to do, and Democrats disproportionately by mail-in. Mail-in ballots generally take longer to verify and process, and various states have different rules on counting them. Ohio counted its mail-in ballots first, for instance, and Pennsylvania counted them second.)

Trump noted, accurately, that he had been far ahead in numerous key battleground states when they finished counting votes on election day, but now his leads were being “whittled down.” The election was being “rigged,” he asserted, unfoundedly. His victory was being stolen, he declared, without evidence. His Democrat rivals were “mysteriously” finding enough ballots to lift challenger Joe Biden to victory. Observers were being prevented from monitoring the counts, and some of the people barred, he warned darkly, were “unhappy” and becoming “somewhat violent.”

Plainly, Trump’s 17-minute harangue was an act of desperation — an outburst from a leader watching his power, granted to him by the people four years ago, apparently being taken away by them. It was also an incendiary assault on the democratic process — delivered from the iconic location from which elected presidents are charged with governing all Americans, the place to which America’s global allies look for good counsel and reliable support.

Needless to say, if there is evidence of fraud in the 2020 election process, including in the tallying of the votes, it should and will be investigated. Only ballots legally cast should count, but all such ballots must be counted and the election result determined on their basis. Needless to say, the demand to halt the process itself, and the groundless assertion that officials, rivals, pollsters, media and other forces have illicitly conspired to try to remove him from power, are indefensible, most especially from the president, and the consequences frankly unknowable.

Viewed from Jerusalem, this presidentially engineered crisis in American democracy raises particular concerns and echoes. America’s engagement in our region, as a force for stability and freedom, is a critical element of Israel’s strategic defense. A reliable America, an America that shares our democratic values, is our vital partner and a potent deterrent to our enemies. That was not the America emblemized by its president on Thursday evening.

Trump’s untrammeled railing against the system through which he was duly elected, and now faced defeat, was also considerably too close for comfort to some of our own prime minister’s desperation tactics in his hours of need: Benjamin Netanyahu has never sounded as willfully delusional, but he too, at election time, has questioned the legitimacy of votes in the Arab sector, and sent activists with cameras to try to deter Arab voters. He too, as he seeks to retain power in the midst of his legal troubles, has battered away at the legitimacy of Israel’s democratic institutions, the media and the opposition — asserting without evidence that shadowy forces, including law enforcement and prosecution hierarchies, are conspiring to illegitimately remove him from power.

A poll by the Israel Democracy Institute last week found that 70 percent of Israeli Jews and 63% of all Israelis considered Trump the “preferable” presidential candidate to Biden from the “standpoint of Israel’s interests.” That was thoroughly understandable given the Trump administration’s long series of words and deeds consensually supported by the Israeli public — recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, moving the US embassy to the city, endorsing Israeli sovereignty on the Golan Heights, withdrawing from the 2015 Iran deal and raising financial pressure on Iran, taking a less sympathetic position on Palestinian demands than previous administrations, and brokering normalization accords with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan.

It is unlikely that many Israelis were up at 2 a.m. here to watch Trump’s inflammatory and dispiriting performance. Even if they were, they might well largely stick with their original answer to that poll question on presidential “preferability.”

But Israel’s interests when it comes to the US are centrally based on the reliable functioning of American democracy. And America’s president struck an unconscionable blow against that democracy on Thursday night, with ripples around the world.

It is essential for all freedom-loving people — people in America and people who look to America, that this blow be countered — countered, that is, via the proper, legal, democratic completion of the electoral process the president is seeking to discredit and subvert.

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