It’s been more than two weeks since the start of the presidential election and though Joe Biden was declared as the winner, things still seem as uncertain as ever.
The uncertainty isn’t around the election process or the validity of the results, but rather, what happens next.
Typically, after the new president is elected, a transfer of power begins. This transfer includes that the president-elect starts making plans to move into the White House and begins appointing people for their cabinet, as well as the exchange of important information, such as plans for national security issues and foreign affairs, with the current administration. Meanwhile, the outgoing president is supposed to make their final exit plans.
But, only part of this process has happened. While Biden has appointed members to his cabinet, selecting Ron Klain to be his chief of staff (he was also his chief of staff as vice president), and picked out members for a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) task force, there doesn’t seem to be any movement on President Donald J. Trump’s end in terms of making exit plans.
The traditional exchange of information between the incoming and outgoing presidents and their administrations also seems to be put on hold, with reports of Trump actively trying to prevent Biden from getting information.
Last week, the State Department refused to give Biden and his transition team messages from foreign leaders, according to CNN. While the messages weren’t deemed to be significant, as they were mostly congratulatory sentiments from foreign leaders, the administration's lack of cooperation defies the traditional transition of power etiquette.
Biden was also reportedly "blocked from getting the same intelligence briefings as the President," and “should the Trump administration continue to block a typical transition close to Inauguration Day on (Jan.) 20, there are concerns Biden’s administration will be playing (catch up) the day he takes office.”
Trump's refusal to concede the election and repeated attacks on the validity of the election have added to the rising tensions and uncertainty around what the future holds for Biden.
Since Election Day, Trump’s campaign and the Republican Party have filed multiple lawsuits in battleground states contesting the results. While some have already been dropped by the plaintiffs, others are still pending in the court, according to CBS News. Reportedly, the lawsuits “involve too few ballots for (Trump) to close the president-elect’s 5.5 million-vote lead or change the outcome of a state’s race.”
The lawsuits and Trump’s remarks also contradict statements made by multiple officials. “The (Nov.) 3rd election was the most secure in American history,” according to a joint statement from the Election Infrastructure Government Coordinating Council and the Election Infrastructure Sector Coordinating Council members. “There is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes or was in any way compromised."
The continued tension in the country and lack of acknowledgment or cooperation on Trump’s part, as well as many members of the GOP, raises questions about whether a coup is about to take place or if the seeds of one have been planted.
A coup or coup d'état is defined as “the sudden, violent overthrow of an existing government by a small group,” with a particular emphasis on the “control of all or part of the armed forces, the police and other military elements,” according to Encyclopædia Britannica. Additionally, a coup “is a change in power from the top that merely results in the abrupt replacement of leading government personnel,” such as a president and their cabinet.
“A coup typically connotes a violent takeover of government, often by the military. Trump is instead trying to overturn the results of a free and fair election to remain in power,” said Michael Albertus, an associate professor of political science at the University of Chicago, according to Vox. “It is closer to what political scientists might call a ‘self-coup’ or ‘auto-coup’: an attempt to shut down other institutional checks and balances to the executive.”
“The concern with the present situation is that Trump is seeking to delegitimize elections as a tool for peacefully transferring power,” said Albertus.
Jonathan Powell, an associate professor in the School of Politics, Security and International Affairs at the University of Central Florida, also said, “Even though it might not be specifically tied to a potential coup right now, it is certainly very alarming for the (U.S.'s) potential to remain a democracy in the future. That’s the kind of thing that could erode public faith in our institutions and potentially the institutions themselves. The courts are going to be the most important institutions. Because if a president is attempting to circumvent legal process, it’s going to end up in the hands of the courts,” according to Vox.
While many of the lawsuits that the GOP and Trump’s campaign have filed don’t have enough votes involved to change the outcome of the election, there’s still a chance he could overturn its legitimacy.
If one of the lawsuits makes its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, justices could potentially "make a decision that hands the win to Trump in a process that could be totally legitimate," according to Vox.
“Of all the legal challenges mounted by supporters of President Trump to reverse his apparent defeat by Joe Biden, the one most likely to reach the (U.S.) Supreme Court is Republican Party of Pennsylvania v. Boockvar,” said John Farmer Jr., the director of the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers, according to NJ Advance Media.
"That case challenges the decision of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to allow certain ballots received after Nov. 3 – and up to Nov. 6 – to be counted," and "would disenfranchise every voter who relied on the U.S. Supreme Court’s failure to intervene before the election, would be questionable as a matter of law, would undermine the public’s confidence in the integrity of the election process and would expose the Court to charges of partisanship,” said Farmer.
With everything that’s been happening post-election, one thing has become clear: America’s democracy is in peril. Trump’s insistence on invalidating the election and its results seeks to not only dismantle the institutions of our democracy but also further divide an already divided country.
Until Biden is officially transitioned into office, there's no telling what Trump will do next.