The American election campaign promises to be one of the most uncertain ever. However, there is a level of political uncertainty (but not too much): here’s what would happen if Trump did not accept the urn verdict
On November 3, one of the most uncertain elections will ever take place in the United States. The climate in which the presidential elections themselves will take place is uncertain, first of all, a democratic appointment currently overshadowed by the Covid-19 pandemic, which in the United States shows no sign of improving, with the number of new daily infections now steadily above 50 thousand.The methods of voting are uncertain – with the mail-in ballot (the vote by mail) suddenly became the subject of political contention and accused by Donald Trump of favoring potential fraud – e the outcome of the race to the White House is uncertain, which despite favorable polls for Biden seems anything but closed.
However, there is a further level of uncertainty, rarely explained, which brings us directly to the date of the January 20, 2021: the day when, if defeated, Donald Trump will have to leave his office in the White House. For some time, political personalities close to Trump have evoked the image of a presidency destined to last well beyond the limit of the second term (sanctioned by the constitution with the 22nd amendment) and the same president has repeatedly joked about the possibility of remaining in office even after 2025.
In an interview released on June 19 with the American website Politico, Trump evaded the question of whether to accept the election result, in case of defeat, simply replying that “Hillary Clinton lost, but never accepted it”.
For a long time, such a hypothesis has remained confined to the role of a school case, but the time has come to ask a question that is not at all counted: what would happen if the outgoing president decided not to leave the White House?
What the American Constitution says
The electoral transition in the United States is governed by the Constitution, which in Article 2 establishes the duration of the presidential term in 4 years, specifying, in the 20th amendment, that this must necessarily end by noon on the twentieth day of January.
The test of fire for the American democratic system came in the year 1800, when for the first time it was necessary to implement a transfer of power between two presidents belonging to opposing parties. Until then the United States had just had two presidents (George Washington and John Adams) and public opinion at the time feared that the victory of Thomas JeffersonDemocrat-Republican exponent avowedly atheist, may not be accepted by all as legitimate.
As we know, everything went smoothly and so for the next 220 years the presidential transitions to the White House took place peacefully and respecting the law, making any other regulatory action in this sense superfluous.
There are precedents
The refusal to abandon an elected office is a rare event in democracy, but with remarkable precedents. In 2016, the Democratic Republic of the Congo faced a bloody constitutional crisis when the outgoing president Joseph Kabila he refused to step aside after three terms and fifteen consecutive years of government, announcing that he wanted to postpone the electoral term by two years to complete a census in the country. The protests that followed led to the death of 50 protesters, but did not prevent Kabila from remaining in government until 2018, when she renounced further candidacy.
In 2017 it was the turn of the Gambia and the outgoing president Yahya Jammeh, determined to retain power despite the electoral defeat that came in December 2016. In this circumstance, the presidential transition was secured through the military threat of the West African States Community, which convinced Jammeh to leave power and choose exile.
In November 2018, political chaos struck Sri Lanka, with the former prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe that refused to abandon the post (and institutional residence), after the decision of President Sirisena to dissolve the executive and suspend the national parliament. In the Sinhalese case, the prime minister’s resistance was justified by the existence of a loyal parliamentary majority, which finally allowed him to remain in government until the end of his term.
The latest case of turbulent transition dates back to June 2019, when the newly elected coalition executive among the Europeanists of Now Platform and the Socialist party pro-Russian was forced to postpone settlement procedures due to resistance from the outgoing ruling party. At the basis of the dispute, the rule that the new government should have been born within three months of the election, interpreted differently by the two factions (three months of the calendar, according to the new majority, formed just at the end of the term, 90 days according to the outgoing one, which considered the term expired). The stalemate only resolved on June 14, with the resignation of the defeated prime minister and the oath of the new government team.
Although similar dynamics never directly involved the presidency, the elected offices of the United States of America are by no means unrelated to problematic transitions. In 1874, for example, the Republican governor of Texas Edmund J. Davis he locked himself in the basement of his institutional home to denounce the alleged fraud that led to the victory of the opponent, the Democrat Richard Coke, who in the meantime was swearing an oath upstairs, escorted by the sheriff. The situation only cleared up after several days, when Davis decided to ask the then President Ulysses Grant for help without getting an answer.
Noteworthy is also the case of the crisis of the three governors, which took place in Georgia in 1946, when the governor-elect died before being sworn in. The office was then claimed by three contenders: the outgoing governor, the son of the elected governor and the elected vice-governor. While the first two decided to physically occupy the palace of power, changing the office lock in turn, the deputy governor obtained the favorable opinion of the Supreme Court of the state, solving a crisis that lasted over three months.
The hypothesis of forced removal
The resistance imagined (so far only ironically) by Donald Trump would therefore represent an absolute first time for the United States, but it would not be a complete leap in the dark.
If Trump – or any president after him – chose not to peacefully abandon the White House, this would not block the transfer of formal power to the elected president, a process that would deprive Trump of constitutionally recognized authority over secret services and federal police. At the same time, the outgoing president he would cease to be the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, losing the power to invoke them in his defense.
The outgoing president would then be little more than a private citizen, criminally prosecuted for what would be a real violation of the most supervised property in the world. A decidedly un-presidential way of concluding the mandate.
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