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Bryan Bushman: Trump wins through inaction and toxic cynicism

FILE - In this Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2020 file photo, President Donald Trump holds a sheet of paper with the names of four U.S. companies worth over a trillion dollars to emphasize how well the economy is doing during the Supporting Veterans in STEM Careers Act signing ceremony in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington. He noted that the first letters of the companies spells "MAGA" (Make America Great Again). (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

If more than 200,000 Americans can die through inaction without accountability; if trust in our institutions can erode because they sometimes speak politically-inconvenient truths; if innocent persons of color can be killed in their own homes without responsible parties being held responsible; if a leader doesn’t “get” coronavirus until he gets coronavirus; and if millions of ballots can be invalidated because the president’s ego cannot tolerate submitting to a peaceful transition, then our country stands on the verge of toxic, political cynicism.

A cynicism that will infect more people than coronavirus. An attitude that says, “Why bother?” or — worse still — “Why bother solving problems peacefully?”

This is the main issue on the ballot: will we return into a tribalism that only considers what it already believes, or do we reclaim our collective souls through the sometimes-uncomfortable process of inclusion, unity and fact-based solution?

As said by the historian John Mecham, “Joe Biden isn’t on the ballot this November: we are.”

Here is what we know:

• Without basis in fact, Trump has been steadily and consistently undermining faith in mail-in-balloting. (One wonders if he would express the same opinion if he wasn’t trailing in the polls?)

• According to recent surveys, most of Biden’s supporters (around 60%) plan on voting by mail due to COVID-19 concerns. In contrast, the majority of Trump’s supporters plan on physically going to the polls on Nov. 3. This gives Trump a statistical advantage going into the evening of election night.

• As things are set up presently, it will take time to calculate all the mail-in ballots — perhaps days or even weeks. In the meantime, Trump’s history suggests he will not say, “Let’s wait to see how this thing turns out. I want everyone’s vote to count.” (Pause for laughter.) Instead, everything we know about Trump suggests he will prematurely declare victory and explain away additional evidence as being “fake.”

Given these three points, what is to prevent Trump from doing exactly what he did after the Mueller investigation: get the attorney general (or some other disciple) to prematurely spin the results in his favor before the equivalent of Mueller can set the record straight? He has done it before. Do we really believe he won’t do it again?

At this point, all Trump will have to do is change the subject or produce some other distraction until the American people give up, get cynical and “move on.” Or perhaps, Trump encourages the electors in contested states to vote for him based on where the preliminary numbers were on Nov. 4? Either way — bingo — our first squatter president.

These are the conditions that produce toxic cynicism. We are living them. Worst-case scenario: people — who feel understandably invalidated along with their votes — take justice into their own hands. And, as a result, 2020 somehow gets much, much worse.

The longer the delay between the final results being declared and Nov. 3, the more likely this nightmare scenario. Yet, all of this can be prevented through a simple solution: require all mail-in ballots be required to be postmarked approximately one week before the election. Otherwise, secured drop boxes can be used the day of the election. This will give ballots time to be independently collected and certified before the polls open. I believe this is a very doable, fair solution, which will prevent a lot of foreseeable strife and mistrust.

Let’s pray someone in the battleground states is listening. Otherwise, this nightmare season of divisiveness will continue indefinitely, while a cynical mentality (or worse) permanently settles upon us.


Bryan Bushman, Ph.D, is a clinical psychologist living in Ogden.

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