THE ELECTION THAT COULD BREAK AMERICA

After Election Day, what should we expect? The list of possibilities is keeping experts on both sides of the aisle getting ready to take action. The Common Good hosts, “The Election That Could Break America” with Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Bart Gellman, and moderated by Tom Rogers. You will not want to miss Gellman dive into his most recent much-talked-about article in The Atlantic and his insights into the unprecedented scenarios that we may encounter post-election.

Watch the video below:https://www.youtube.com/embed/JHksS8bB5ew?wmode=opaque&enablejsapi=1


THE ELECTION THAT COULD BREAK AMERICA – RECAP

We thought we’d keep it light and fun for you all today; that’s why we invited Pulitzer prize- winning journalist, Bart Gellman, to The Common Good to discuss the election (yeah, that one). Media legend and Editor-at-large at Newsweek, Tom Rogers, moderated this important and all too timely discussion that centered on Bart’s recent and widely discussed article in The Atlantic, entitled, The Election that Could Break America. Tom was early (if not first) to note that Trump could very well subvert the election by staying in office no matter the outcome, and he has since written extensively about the topic in Newsweek with former Congressman Tim Wirth. Needless to say, we’re lucky to have two experts join us to discuss the election and potentially the future of our democracy. 

Trump’s strategy is opacity, Bart begins ominously. Moreover, He will wield the power of incumbency to benefit his own reelection in a way that we’ve probably never seen before. While Trump will have a lot less running room if he loses by a landslide, we’re likely heading towards uncharted territory. 

Gift of prophecy? No, just following the evidence; Bart asserts that no matter the outcome, Trump will not concede that he was defeated. 

  • Both in prepared and off-the-cuff remarks, Trump has flatly said that the only way he could lose this election is if it is rigged against him. 
  • “Our Constitution does not secure the peaceful transition of power, but rather presupposes it,” Bart Gellman.  
  • Bart reminds us that SCOTUS didn’t determine 2000, it was Gore’s decision to ultimately concede. 
    • SCOTUS, or at least Roberts, will be reluctant to weigh in, especially in the face of the court’s waning legitimacy. However, Bart can’t say the same for Kavannaugh at this point. 

Bart suggests that if you ask most state legislators if they’d be willing to discard voters in their states, they’d probably say no. It’s hard to look in the mirror and do so; however, Trump’s genius is twofold; his manipulation of attention; and he enures people into grey areas, specifically norm-busting in a way they didn’t necessarily expect. And norms are the glue that keeps most of this together. 

Ingredients for a Mess 

  • Most states don’t allow mail-in-ballots to be processed before election day – it’s a slow process, so there will be a backlog. Florida, North Carolina, Arizona are important exceptions. 
  • Trump has deliberately undermined trust in mail-in-ballots, creating a situation where many more Republicans will vote in person, while many more Democrats will vote by mail. 
    • His strategy seems to be to disqualify votes that are counted “late,” locking in votes that are made day of, calling them valid. 
    • Consequently, networks may be reluctant to determine a winner. 

There’s no umpire; our elections are administered by thousands of localities. Bart soberly creates a scenario for us in which Trump attempts to blatantly steal the election: we would have mass demonstrations, with tens of millions of people. If they were peaceful, they (and democracy)  would win. If they were violent, Trump could call on the troops and take advantage of the chaos. 

  • Tom asks if there’s room for the business community to step in and while Bart acknowledges its potential efficacy, he also remarks “God help us if we are dependent on business leaders to figure out our elections for us.”
  • Similarly, it would be hard to imagine Republican party leaders diverging too far from Trump at any point in this process – they’re too enmeshed with his narrative. 

Audience Question: What reforms can fix this? 

  • The Electoral Count Act is a mess and in need of clarity.
  • We have a decentralized, underfunded election system that makes it inefficient and vulnerable to foreign threats, so money and some uniformity.

Further Reading from the Transition Integrity Project: https://assets.documentcloud.org/documents/7013152/Preventing-a-Disrupted-Presidential-Election-and.pdf 

What We’re Watching this Weekend: City So Real (National Geographic/Hulu): This 5-part docu-series depicts a complex portrait of Chicago from the historic ‘19 mayor’s race to the tumultuous summer of ‘20.


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Barton Gellman is a highly respected and much-honored author and journalist, a staff writer at The Atlantic, and Senior Fellow at the Century Foundation in New York. His awards include the Pulitzer Prize, an Emmy for documentary filmmaking, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize.

His recent articles from The Atlantic have been widely praised for the cogent look at the turmoil and chaos that could erupt from the 2020 election. 

Gellman is responsible for many important stories. He led The Washington Post’s coverage of the U.S. National Security Agency, which was based in large measure on top-secret documents provided to him by ex-NSA contractor Edward Snowden. He published a book for Penguin Press on the rise of the surveillance-industrial state in May 2020.

Read The Atlantic Daily: A Q&A With Barton Gellman


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Moderated by Tom Rogers, a true innovator and leader in the field of television, news and entertainment, Tom Rogers is the founder of CNBC and a CNBC contributor, as well as the founder of MSNBC, when he served as the first President of NBC cable. He is the former CEO of TiVo and is currently Chairman of Engine Media, a broad based sports, esports, and news content & distribution company.

He can also be credited for as bringing Netflix and Amazon to the TV screen. He is the former Senior Counsel to the House Telecommunications Committee where he oversaw the FCC and media industry. He is also an Editor-at-Large for Newsweek. 
He has been inducted into the Cable Hall of Fame and has won an Emmy Award for contributions to the development of advanced television and advanced advertising.

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