The US’ gravest pandemic: the assault on truth. 

The future of Democracy in America is at stake in the November election and, underlying this, is the future of its essential foundation – truth in public discourse.

Following the Trump/Biden debate, last week, mainstream commentary on what had occurred declared that: Biden had won; America had lost; and, questioned whether the further two planned debates should take place.

The Presidential Debates Commission announced it would be changing the rules for those next two so as to seek to avoid the chaos which Trump had caused by continually violating the agreed rules, in the first one.

Predictably, Trump said he would not agree to any rule changes.

Importantly, in a country where decorum in describing the actions of any President is ludicrously strict, it was significant that credible commentators and editorial boards described Trump as:  personally “despicable” and, unfit to be President.

What has become utterly clear in recent weeks and was made concrete in the debate, is that Trump and his facilitators are determined to break the system for popular selection of the President. They are doing this because they believe it is likely that it will not re-elect Trump, on November 3rd.

On this, they have a point. Polls suggest, increasingly, that Biden will receive many more votes than Trump. Whether enough of them will be in States Biden needs if he is to prevail in the Electoral College, is less clear although there too, the trend is towards Biden in such key States as Pennsylvania.

But, it must be emphasized. We have been told that the Trump machine will break the system in order to win.

There are so many ways in which they will seek to achieve this and are already at work on it: from seeking to rush the confirmation of Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court; to the removal in Harris County Texas of all ballot boxes designated for receipt of mail in votes, except for one – one box in a County with a potential of some 3 million voters.

Voter suppression is a central Republican objective. Trump himself has endorsed publicly the conviction that, the more people are enabled to vote, the smaller will be the proportion of votes obtained by Republicans. Clearly, democracy can pose intolerable problems to the average demagogue.

Trump and his enablers’ systemic attack on democracy itself is at stake in the elections. It is not mere political argumentation to say this. If the system is subverted, next month, to the point where the clear loser wins, the US as an electoral democracy will be destroyed. And, playing with this fire, could cause serious conflict on the streets of America and lead some states to consider their future in the Union.

The US electoral system contains numerous and sometimes serious flaws. It is a deeply decentralized system; and, out of date. It needs urgent reform. Mere reform is not what Trump and his whisperers have in mind.

This will to break or rig the system, is matched by and strongly relates to the other fundamental issue at stake in Trump’s attempt to stay in office: the salience of the truth of any matter of public importance in the US.

That Trump and his people have lied, relentlessly, about virtually every aspect of public policy and discourse, has been demonstrated beyond any doubt.

Making this point does not mean that differences of opinion and interpretation of events are not admissible. Of course they are. What is at issue here, is plain lies: the attempt to gain acceptance of things as the truth, which plainly are not.

The most damaging manifestation of this, under Trump, has been the 7.45 million cases and the 210,000 Coronavirus deaths in the US.

Never forget, a month after the intelligence community had attempted to inform Trump of the presence and threat of the virus he insisted, publicly, that it was minor ailment which “like a miracle” would pass away, soon.

Detailed and expert medical and epidemiological analysis of the passage of this disease in the US has concluded that the deaths would have been half of the current number if Trump had mobilized a Federal response to it, if he had taken action when he was first told of the virus. It is also estimated that policies currently being pursued, could see a further 200,000 deaths this year.

Trump has lied repeatedly about every aspect of this: from when he first had knowledge of the arrival of the virus, to what he has done and failed to do about it.

But, here’s the latest.

Having himself contracted the virus, surely as the consequence of his own rejection of its truth (by not wearing a mask and holding meetings with large numbers of people at unsafe distance), Trump has had his personal doctor lie about his status and treatment, in public.

Dr. Conley made light of Trump’s condition. He only corrected his lies about this when journalists pointed out the inconsistencies in what he had said. He then said he had represented things falsely, out of consideration for his patient’s sensitivities.

When Trump’s Chief of Staff, Mick Mulvaney, subsequently tried to clear things up telling media that Trump had in fact been in a worrying condition, Trump was reported to be white hot with anger about Mulvaney’s action.

A truly critical failure of Trump’s enablers, medical and political, has been to hide when Trump was first tested and when he and they knew the result.

Among other concerns, this is of interest to the innumerable people who may have been in physical proximity to Trump in recent days: in the White House; at the Rose Garden nomination event for Judge Barrett; at the fund raiser at the Bedminster Golf Club, for example. It is known that a number of people in each of those places have tested positive, but not how many. And, the list continues to grow.

The imponderable influence over the election result, just three weeks from now, is the impact that the abundant materials on the internet and in social media will have. They include contentions, claims about the candidates which are wildly fabricated, and doctored photographs Their origins are various but include both US domestic and external sources.

In conclusion, for now.

Biden seems almost assured to win the popular vote. There is a whiff that he might also prevail in the Electoral College. Trump and his team will make a detailed and concerted attempt to block and /or challenge both results, across the States. This will mean a protracted battle. The result may not be known for weeks.

The Electoral College is due to met on December 14th. It’s a good guess that that meeting may be delayed. Although, in 2000, the Supreme Court ruled, in Bush vs Gore, that counting of votes in Florida had to stop, so that the College could meet. This awarded the election to Bush. Gore had won the popular vote

The largest questions on November 3rd are : will the US system of democracy survive Trump; and, when will a clear majority of Americans put a decent value on being told the truth of what’s going on around them?

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Richard Butler AC Former Ambassador to the United Nations, Executive Chairman of UN Special Commission to Disarm Iraq, Professor of International Affairs.

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