While cries of ‘authoritarian dictator’ have been lobbied at the President by America’s progressives over the past three and a half years (he usually has an accusation or two to throw back), US institutions have largely ticked on as normal. But as we come to the end of Donald Trump’s first (and possibly only) term as President, are we about to witness a real power grab, one that would throw the country’s democracy into disarray?
Today on Twitter, Trump began to hint at the one thing his critics most deeply fear: a refusal to leave office.
With Universal Mail-In Voting (not Absentee Voting, which is good), 2020 will be the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history. It will be a great embarrassment to the USA. Delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 30, 2020
His suggestion to delay the election will be interpreted by many as hunkering down in the Oval Office, especially as Trump has made a habit out of refusing to answer point-blank whether he will accept November’s result as legitimate and fair.
But regardless of the President’s intentions to stay or go, it’s not up for him to decide. Under a law more than 150 years old, the election is set for a specific time in November every four years, and any decision to move or delay that date is one that must be taken by Congress — currently controlled by a Democrat-majority in the House and a Republican majority in the Senate. In other words, any delay to November’s election would have to involve some cross-party agreement in order to get in over the line.
Furthermore, even if there were a change, that would not keep Trump in the Oval Office for any more time than his 2016 mandate allows. American law also states that a presidential term cannot last longer than the four years allotted, expiring in January regardless of outstanding election circumstances. Trump could theoretically stay in office — but only after he won a second term in the delayed election.
In short, the President cannot decree himself a longer term, on Twitter or anywhere else. It’s likely the President knows this, and perhaps we should look at what else broke this morning, alongside the President’s tweet. The latest figures from the Commerce Department reveal that the US economy contracted last quarter by a record 33 percent, while unemployment claims skyrocketed as well.
For a President who was hoping to make his bid for reelection about the booming economy that existed pre-COVID this news does not bode well for his narrative. So in classic Trump style, he’s trying distract by writing a new one.
If previous press coverage of his provocative tweets is anything to go by, I suspect it will work.