On Frauds and Fights
The editorial from TAC's current issue puts this Inauguration Day in historical context.
Editor’s note: This piece ran as the editorial in TAC‘s January/February 2021 issue, which went to press in mid-December. As we prepare for a transition of power today, we present it here. For full access to the print magazine, become a member of TAC here.
The period of dictatorial rule known to Indians as “the Emergency,” when Indira Gandhi suspended the constitution and ruled by decree from 1975 to 1977, began with an election fraud case. A political gadfly named Raj Narain had lost to Mrs. Gandhi in her last parliamentary election by 100,000 votes. He sued to overturn the result, alleging bribery and other misconduct. Four and a half years later, a judge ruled in his favor, vacating Mrs. Gandhi’s election victory and throwing the country into a constitutional crisis.
That’s what we think of when people say that the fight over the 2020 election will be safely over by inauguration day.
This edition of TAC goes to press hours before the Supreme Court’s deadline for Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin to respond to the suit filed by Texas seeking to invalidate their election results. Whether the high court will consider the Texas lawsuit any further after those states respond is unclear.
President Trump and his lawyers should continue to fight until the minute the Supreme Court brings the curtain down, for two reasons. First, because their voters deserve their day in court. Second, because it will underline the importance of making sure no election as dubious as this one ever happens again. The massive expansion of mail-in ballots was an experiment that should never be repeated. Republicans should go after those and other easily hackable voting methods in the new year.
Donald Trump is not the first larger-than-life tycoon to contest an election defeat by alleging fraud. William Randolph Hearst kept the New York courts tied up in litigation for three years after he lost the 1905 mayoral race to George McClellan Jr., son of the Union general. Considering that his opponent was Tammany Hall’s candidate, Hearst may have had a point.
Irregularities abounded. Tammany wards held back their returns until other precincts’ totals were reported. Over 8,000 Hearst votes were thrown out as spoiled due to extraneous markings. A box of uncounted ballots was discovered in the back of a barbershop. All in all, there were more than enough red flags for the state supreme court to order a recount.
Two days into it, with Hearst picking up votes and 700 boxes of ballots left to recount, the court of appeals ordered the process halted on a legal technicality. It was never resumed. McClellan was sworn in as mayor three weeks later.
Hearst probably did have that mayoral election stolen from him. If it’s any consolation, 100 years later, millions of people still watch Citizen Kane and talk about the fascinating figure of William Randolph Hearst, and no one remembers McClellan at all.
People will certainly still be talking about Donald Trump a century from now. TAC will keep talking about him—what his election meant, the realignments it foreshadowed, the policy ideas it vindicated. In this issue, Curt Mills and Aram Bakshian both look forward to the Republican Party’s political future now that Trump has shaken up the status quo for good. Robert Merry and Michael Desch examine new currents in the foreign policy conversation and find them promising. Mark Pulliam examines a new trend in legal theory and finds it wanting.
Antonio De Oliveira Salazar is not a name still on people’s lips a century after he came to power in Portugal, but maybe it should be, as Michael Warren Davis argues in our Arts & Letters section.
Not everything is about Trump, or even politics, which is why our Winter Books Issue also features Graham Greene, E.E. Cummings, Joan Didion, and Don DeLillo.