One of the most prominent themes of Donald Trump’s presidency has been his commitment to telling lies. Trump’s vehement refusal to concede the election has been one final effort on this front and it will be his most damaging legacy.
Having accepted his election win in 2016 after running a campaign that spouted familiar false allegations of fraud and tampering, Trump started as he meant to go on. The Washington Post calculated that he made 22,241 false or misleading claims between his inauguration and September 2020, averaging out to a staggering 16.9 false or misleading claims a day.
When his re-election campaign began, it quickly became clear that Trump’s most prominent strategy was, once again, undermining the election system with unfounded allegations. In 2020 alone Trump has, according to Factba.se data, made 233 references to “fraud” on his Twitter.
Since election day, Trump has provided a relentless Twitter-stream-of-consciousness about how the election was rigged; his lawyers have filed 13 lawsuits across five states; he has demonstrated a total refusal to concede.
His claims are baseless:
- Twitter has continued to insert fact-checking warnings on Trump’s tweets.
- The administration’s lawsuits have not, according to analysis by the Financial Times, gained any meaningful success.
- Prominent Republicans, like Mitt Romney, have publicly congratulated Joe Biden and Kamala Harris on their win.
- Christopher Krebs, who ran the cyber division of the Department of Homeland security, publicly stated that there was “no evidence that any voting system… was in any way compromised”, and lost his job because of it.
But baseless or not, these lies are dangerous. While Trump’s supporters seem to grow more and more inclined to believe his claims– however outlandish they grow– those who are anti-Trump become more and more incensed. These diverging trajectories have led to tensions combusting into violence, as evidenced at the Million MAGA March.
The event in Washington DC on November 14 saw Trump supporters clash with anti-Trump protesters over the outcome of the election, resulting in 20 arrests and one stabbing. In response, the president tweeted his encouragement.
Division damages the road ahead
The long history of political partisanship in the US has steadily reached new heights of division. And Trump’s lies have exacerbated these divides and locked America in a vicious Catch-22 that could last beyond his stay in the White House.
Trump will leave a bruised America for Joe Biden to inherit. Some of the damage will heal with the right treatment. The Biden administration has pledged to rejoin the Paris Climate Accord, reverse Trump’s withdrawal from the World Health Organisation and reinstate protections for undocumented immigrants who were brought to the US as children. Most harmful policies of the Trump tenure can be undone. But the atmosphere of mistrust that he has created cannot so easily be reformed.
A dangerous legacy is being sealed. Even though Trump is on his way out, his continued commitment to lying is working to ensure that his supporters will never accept his departure.
So, as firm as the Biden administration has been in guaranteeing that it is “perfectly capable of escorting trespassers out of the White House”, Trump’s physical presence may prove moot.
On a turbulent road to inauguration, Trump continues to pour lies out of his Twitter feed like gasoline, igniting violence and widening the divisions between people who have ticked different boxes on their ballot papers. For a Biden administration that has promised a President for all Americans irrespective of who they voted for, Trump’s lies are leaving a legacy that seriously threatens the possibility for such unity.