Choose Your Own America

What’s the future hold for the United States? Donald Trump, Joseph Biden or who the hell knows yet? At Eugene Weekly we realized it was possible we wouldn’t know the outcome of the 2020 election by our deadline. So to cover all possibilities we got our three top political writers to peer into the future with the help of local experts and write, in advance, three versions of what happened at the biggest election of our lifetime. One of them is bound to be correct. — EW staff

WTF. What’s Next?

With the results of the presidential election up in the air, now what?

As Election Day 2020 drew closer, people stopped looking forward to “this being over” and began to grapple with the realization that Nov. 3 wasn’t going to be the simple, longed-for day that ended our long national nightmare.

Instead, it was the beginning of more uncertainty. 

As Eugene Weekly goes to press the day after the election, it looks who will be the U.S. president come 2021 may not be known for weeks. And that leads to fears of riots and violence as the right and left each advocate for their candidate in the face of the unknown.

“Stay calm,” counsels Oregon state Rep. Marty Wilde. “They will be counting ballots for three more days in North Carolina and Pennsylvania and even longer in some states.”

He adds, “The uncertainty isn’t fun for anyone, but it’s important to count every vote. Disputes will be settled through the rule of law, not by force.”

Priscilla Southwell, professor emerita of political science at the University of Oregon, says this is hardly the first time the U.S. has dealt with uncertainty after a presidential election. “There’s always a lag and always has been,” she says, “but nobody has cared about it much unless it’s a close race.”

Wilde points to Bush v. Gore, which dragged on for weeks and was finally settled in George W. Bush’s favor Dec. 12, 2000, by the Supreme Court, but also notes that states have improved voting since then. 

Southwell doesn’t think the uncertainty will end quickly. “I still think it will drag out for a very long time,” she says. Both Democrats and Republicans are “poised to attack” no matter whether the winner is Joe Biden or Donald Trump. 

The most likely scenario, she says, “is protracted lawsuits regardless if Biden comes out ahead or even if Trump ekes out a victory.” Looking at pre-Election Day polling, Southwell was predicting a Biden win. 

Since he was elected in 2016, Trump has sought to undermine the media, science and, most recently, the validity of the election results and mail-in ballots, but Southwell says that voter fraud is rare. 

According to a report released by Oregon’s Legislative Fiscal Office examining the state’s elections from 2000 to 2019, the state’s Criminal Justice Division and Civil Enforcement Division obtained 38 criminal convictions for voter fraud out of the 60.9 million ballots in Oregon elections cast over a 19-year period. “That amounts to a rate of .00006 percent,” the report says.

And the report points to a June 2020 review by the Heritage Foundation of all voter fraud cases it could find from 1982 to 2018. The conservative think-tank dug up only 1,285 cases out of more than 1.8 billion ballots cast in all 50 states, a rate of .00007 percent.

So the election results will be valid, but that won’t stop the post-election acrimony. “I think it’s going to be an election month, to be rather pessimistic about it,” Southwell says. Referring to the 2000 election, she adds, “We’re not going to have butterfly ballots and the craziness Florida had; we’re going to have a different kind of craziness.”

But in addition to sowing doubts about ballots during a pandemic (and calling that same pandemic a hoax), let’s not forget that the current president is the same man who lies about losing the popular vote in 2016. 

Once the ballot counting is done, it’s still not over, thanks to the Electoral College.

On Dec. 14, each state’s electors meet to cast their votes. Some electors could be “faithless” and either not vote at all or vote for a different candidate than the one they promised to support. Also, with 538 members, the college could have a tie. 

So then what if the horror-show that has been 2020 drags on into the New Year when it comes to not just COVID-19 but also the election? 

If there’s no clear winner in the Electoral College, when the new Congress meets Jan. 6 to count the electoral votes, then Congress holds a contingent election, according to an Oct. 6 report by the Congressional Research Service. The president would be chosen by the newly elected House and the vice president by the new Senate. This means that the country could potentially have president and vice president from different political parties, depending on if the Senate stays red or turns to blue like the House.

The CRS says if neither a president nor vice president has been chosen by Inauguration Day, the Presidential Succession Act applies. The Constitution is clear: the president’s term ends noon Jan. 20. Under this act, the Speaker of the House would act as president until a president or vice president qualifies.

Southwell calls this an “interesting scenario,” albeit “nightmarish to many Republicans” if current Speaker Nancy Pelosi becomes President Pelosi. But she says, “I don’t think it will come to that.”

For Southwell, “I would like to make sure the results are valid, and everyone gets their vote counted.” She says that of the rejected ballots in states using absentee or vote by mail, a higher percentage of those were Black or Latinx. “There’s probably some explanations, but it’s still disturbing,” she says, and points to how Lane County runs elections as a way to remedy that. 

And while all this plays out, the political, class, racial and pandemic continue, and may well play out on the streets as well as in politics. 

Despite Trump’s trumpeting about protests in Portland, Wilde, says, “honestly I worry a lot more about violence from the right than the left.” 

For now, Wilde says, he hopes people stay calm and “remember we are all Americans first and love our country enough to be patient with those we disagree with.” — Camilla Mortensen



Illustration by Chelsea Lovejoy

Restoring the Soul of the Nation

Looking ahead to the Biden/Harris administration

The outcome Democrats have been working non-stop for since 2016, and the outcome Republicans were desperately trying to avoid, has finally come to pass: After four tumultuous years of Donald Trump’s administration, the former reality television star has lost the election, and Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will take their place as the next president and vice president of the U.S.

Progressive voters across the country are celebrating this victory, excited for major policy changes and the first female vice president. Meanwhile, Trump now sits in the Oval Office as a lame duck, while we count down the days until he no longer has access to the nuclear passcodes or can tweet on the White House Twitter account.

But what will this brave new America look like after a president like Trump, who leaves behind a dumpster fire of a legacy? From Biden, there are promises of climate action, police reform and better COVID-19 regulations.

Maybe we can stop using the word “unprecedented” for at least a little while.

Eugene Weekly asked local politicians and political experts to weigh in on the immediate and long-term changes that we can expect to see.

Oregon State Representative Marty Wilde says he’s looking forward to a government that represents all Americans.

“One of the great things about America is the ability to change our minds. We made a mistake in electing Trump four years ago. A man who speaks to our fears. And now we elect a man who speaks to our hopes and our common humanity,” Wilde says.

As a member of the state Legislature, Wilde says he’s anticipating an amicable partnership with the federal government that will help education, healthcare and housing.

But the future is not all bright right away. University of Oregon Political Science Professor Emerita Priscilla Southwell explains that even as a lame duck, Trump can still make policy changes and other major decisions, reminding that George Bush pardoned people involved in the Iran Contra-Affair on Christmas Eve.

“He is not president for three and a half years or even three and three-fourths years, he is president until January 2021. Even if he is defeated and he is a lame duck, and that does not mean he is powerless,” Southwell says.

Southwell adds that she doubts the president will try to go to war, but could still make drastic policy changes during his remaining time in office. But, Southwell explains, anything that Trump puts forward can be undone once Biden is inaugurated, as any new president would have the power to do. For example, she says, if the Affordable Care Act is repealed or “dramatically gutted,” Biden will just introduce his own BidenCare to Congress.

“All kinds of things can be done to remedy the situation. I don’t mean to be cavalier about it and say it’s not really going to matter, because those three months are important,” Southwell says. Trump will also most likely not make drastic changes to his stance on larger issues like immigration or COVID-19, she says.

When it comes to the pandemic, Wilde says the Biden administration will have a more responsible approach to COVID-19, emphasizing that the Trump administration largely neglected its responsibility in taking care of people during the crisis.

“With the Biden administration, I think you are going to see not an attempt to overrule the states on important issues, but an attempt to empower them to solve the problems,” Wilde says. He adds that when it comes to climate change, he’s looking forward to support from the Biden administration in getting Americans off fossil fuels and tapping into Oregon’s offshore wind energy potential.

Though both Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnel have alluded to the idea that the election will be unfair or that the Supreme Court could throw out some votes and put the election in Trump’s favor, Southwell says there really isn’t any way the court could step in and take charge of this.

“They cannot be an activist,” Southwell says. “The Supreme Court can only rule if the appellate court brings it to them.” She adds that people can cry foul all they want, but there needs to be evidence.

There is a lot of mess to undo. But in roughly three months President-elect Joe Biden will take his place in the White House, and he will get to work on restoring this divided country. For many Americans tired of the hate and acrimony of the Trump administration, that is the hope they hang onto. — Taylor Perse



Illustration by Chelsea Lovejoy

The President ‘Trumps’ the Odds

Despite Trump’s unlikely win, Oregon will be there for the vulnerable, says state legislator

Once again, President Donald Trump fought the polls and won. Aggregate polls by FiveThirtyEight predicted the president had a one-in-10 chance of winning re-election, but he overcame the odds and unfortunately won’t be swept away to the ash heap of history as a one-term president.

Although Trump lost the popular vote, he won the Electoral College thanks to support in the swing states, which pollsters once again had trouble capturing. By winning a second term, local political science experts say he’s won a mandate to continue with his racist policies — and maybe even ramp them up to new levels.

And his election means leading the Republican Party with a continued “erratic ideology” that may result in the Democratic Party’s continued shift to the right. A second term for Trump could also energize right wing “patriot” groups in the Pacific Northwest.

But Oregon’s Legislature plans to fight Trump’s policies once again for the next four years.

So how did Trump overcome the polls twice? University of Oregon professor emerita of political science Priscilla Southwell says this is partly because these are politically divisive times. When a pollster calls a registered and/or likely voter, peer pressure might prevent them from being honest about candidate support.

“I don’t think people lie to pollsters, but I think they’re reluctant to say that they’re voting for either Trump or Biden because there’s someone else in the room,” she says.

She adds that reluctance with pollsters not only explains 2016 but could be a factor in voter turnout this year.

A president winning re-election is a mandate on their policies, Southwell says. “He will continue to get rid of things he doesn’t like, which is the flavor of most of his policy changes, like rollback environmental legislation.”

Whatever Trump tries to do in his second term, state Rep. Marty Wilde says he and the Legislature will protect the state’s vulnerable residents. Wilde won his re-election against Republican Katie Boshart Glaser. He says he and other legislators plan to protect Oregonians from the “moral depravity of the Trump administration.”

About a week before Election Day, Trump administration senior policy advisor Stephen Miller released some immigrant policies for a second term, which included targeting sanctuary cities and states like Oregon.

“We’re not going to be bought off from our moral responsibility to protect our neighbors,” Wilde says. “It may mean we may have to shoulder more responsibility at the state level for certain things if, for instance, they cut off federal law enforcement grants. I think we will shoulder that weight ourselves.”

And Wilde adds the Legislature passed a law in the 2019 legislative session that holds Oregon environmental standards to the Clean Air and Clean Water act before Trump took office.

He adds that the Electoral College is fundamentally undemocratic and continues the Founding Fathers’ values of property over people. “That was the wealth of their day, but our wealth today is people,” he says.

“The Founders did some incredible work for their time and their principles we still support today,” Wilde says. “But they made some mistakes as well — slavery, Three-Fifths Compromise, failing to recognize women as equal. Seeing the Electoral College and leaving the voting process to the states without better safeguards to protect the voter are frankly two more mistakes we’re seeing today.”

Trump’s re-election means he’ll lead the Republican Party once again with his erratic ideology that changes at the whim of a tweet, says UO Prof. Joseph Lowndes, who studies the presidency and the right-wing movement. The GOP will likely remain a far right party under Trump, and that will force the Democratic Party to shift right on the political spectrum even more as a result, he adds.

Trump’s win could also embolden patriot groups that are active in the Pacific Northwest, such as Patriot Prayer, Three Percenters and Proud Boys, he adds.

Those patriot groups would remain active no matter who won the election, but having Trump in the White House for another four years could lead to increased collaboration between federal law enforcement and the militant groups.

Lowndes says Trump has already bragged about the U.S. Marshals’ “death squad” killing of Michael Reinoehl, an antifa activist who allegedly shot and killed a far right Trump supporter in Portland back in August. “Bill Barr also bragged about killing Reinoehl,” he adds. “That’s a lot of authority and power in the hands of the president.”

Building a relationship with far right militant groups could be beneficial for Trump, Lowndes adds, should he seek to amend the Constitution to remove the 22nd Amendment, which puts a two term limit on presidents. If he wants a third term, Trump will need to undermine protests, and patriot groups would be a big help because they’re anti-democratic institutions, he says.

“They’re there to suppress protests,” he adds. “You could see Trump wanting to work more closely with them to make that vision happen.”  — Henry Houston

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