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Lawrence Douglas is the James J Grosfeld professor of law, jurisprudence and social thought at Amherst College in Massachusetts. He’s a legal scholar who has written several books on law, as well as two novels. Douglas is a regular reviewer of books and legal topics for The Times Literary Supplement, and a regular contributor to The Guardian newspaper. His latest book, Will He Go? Trump and the Looming Election Meltdown in 2020, takes a look at the legal and constitutional consequences of a possible refusal by US President Donald Trump to acknowledge defeat in the 2020 election. Here he talks to Asia Business Law Journal‘s Mithun Varkey about some frightening scenarios for the world’s most important electoral event
Asia Business Law Journal: Can you tell us about the thesis of your book? Is a refusal to vacate office or concede defeat an actual possibility, given the American constitutional setup?
Professor Lawrence Douglas: I think that the point of the book is to really ask how well equipped our system of constitutional and federal law is to deal with a president who either refuses to concede, or blames an electoral defeat on a fraud. And I guess the first question you’re asking is: How likely is it that Trump would refuse to concede? Or, how likely is it that he would blame an electoral defeat on fraud?
With respect to the second question about fraud, I think it’s very, very likely that he would blame an electoral defeat on fraud. We’ve seen this really as a kind of a consistent pattern with President Trump. We saw it back in 2016, even when he was a candidate. And as you might recall, he rather shockingly refused to say that he would acknowledge an electoral defeat. And he predicted that if he did lose, it would be because of a fraud.
I think it’s quite likely that he would try to argue that his loss is the result of some kind of fraud or hoax, by refusing to concede. I don’t necessarily mean in my book that I imagine Trump barricading himself in the White House and refusing to leave, come noon on 20 January. What I really mean is that if he believes that he can extract some kind of political benefit from insisting that the election was stolen from him, and to really try to extend that kind of argument through to January, then I do believe that he could create a lot of chaos for the American system. And that I think it is a real danger.
ABLJ: There’s a lot of talk about Chinese interference and possibly calling US Democrat presidential nominee Joe Biden soft on China, for example. What is your take on that? How do you see that playing out?
Douglas: I think that’s a very real possibility, especially in as much as we know for years now that Trump has been bizarrely deferential to [Russian President] Vladimir Putin. And we know for a fact that the Russians massively interfered in the presidential election in 2016. We also know as a historical fact now that Russia interfered in 2016 to the benefit of Donald Trump.
I think what Trump will try to do in the coming months is argue that there is a gap and massive interference in our election. But this time he will try to argue that the massive interference is coming from China, not from Russia – deflect attention away from Russia – and also, additionally, to argue that that interference is coming from China to the benefit of Biden. I think there’s no doubt that he will continue to kind of ride that horse all the way through to the November election.
We’ve already seen that, you know, he’s kind of used China as this object of demonization. We’ve seen the way in which he now tries to blame the covid-19 pandemic on China in very ugly ways. I mean, using this term of “Kung flu” in his Tulsa rally, almost kind of a racial epithet, and trying to blame China for this global pandemic.