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Why it is important for Donald Trump to deliver a concession speech

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Trump at an October campaign rally at Phoenix Goodyear Airport in Goodyear, Arizona. Image: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

Maintaining the position he has voiced practically since 2016 -- not to accept any election results unless he wins -- Donald Trump has refused to concede that Joe Biden has won the 2020 U.S. election and is now president-elect.

This is despite the many national leaders (Justin Trudeau was among the first) who swiftly congratulated Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris after several U.S. TV networks pronounced them the winners.  

To many, Trump may seem like a sore loser. What can he hope to gain by stalling? That's politics, right? His best move is to pick up his marbles and go home, while he still has his money. His "bad boy" reputation still charms some people, and there are about 70 million loyal fans who apparently will buy anything he wants to sell them. But this is 2020. 

"I'm going to teach you how to stop a coup," said Van Jones in a recent video. After a year of studying the legal safeguards of democracy, he concluded that an old custom is what really matters. The most important step in a peaceful transition of power is, "the concession speech... [it] is the one reason you almost never have strife and bloodshed after a U.S. election. It is that public address that is most important for the health and well-being of our nation."
Trump's campaign had pressed hard for Joe Biden to concede on election night, as Hillary Clinton did in 2016. Clinton ultimately learned that she had received more votes than her opponent, who took office. Al Gore similarly lost the 2000 election despite winning the popular vote.

In 2020, Biden's campaign said early on that the election would likely not be decided on election night. Four gruelling days later, Pennsylvania's final vote count put the Biden-Harris ticket over the 270 electoral college votes mark. The Republican ticket was stuck with no path to victory. 

However, says Van Jones, if the losing candidate continues a barrage of nuisance legal challenges and publicity campaigns until the electoral college is supposed to convene on December 14, the election may be thrown to the House of Representatives to decide.

The House would then vote state by state, but not on a population basis. Although more people live in blue states, more states now tend to vote red. So the current president could and probably would be re-elected.

The president's refusal to concede is troubling also for another reason Van Jones mentions: the way the president talks about people he dislikes (practically everyone) seems to give his followers permission to act like bullies.  

For instance, after Trump criticized Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer for following health advice on COVID-19, heavily armed men invaded the state capital in Lansing, demanding an end to the pandemic lockdown. Then federal and state police arrested 13 men and charged them for an attempted kidnapping plot against her. 

"Donald Trump's language is often incendiary," writes communications expert Helio Fred Garcia, in his new book, Words on Fire. "... Sometimes these words can lead a lone wolf to commit acts of violence."

Indeed, hate incidents and crimes rose sharply all across the U.S. in the days after the 2016 election results, Garcia says. He cites other incidents involving assaults on people of Asian, Latino or Muslim heritage, including a letter to 30 mosques the day after the election, claiming "President Trump will do to you what Hitler did to the Jews."

"2016 was an unprecedented year for hate," he quotes Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center. SPLC's 2016 intelligence report linked the dramatic increase to Trump's language: "The increase in anti-Muslim hate was fuelled by Trump's incendiary rhetoric ..."

Trump's former lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, testified in Congress that he'd requested protection for his family because of the president's tweets and comments calling him a rat. Only someone burying his head in the sand, he said, "would not recognize [these comments] for what they are: encouragement to someone to do harm to me and my family."

As part of his bogus claims about voter fraud, Trump encouraged his followers to "watch the polling stations." In Texas, a Trump pick-up truck convoy harassed and apparently bumped a Biden campaign bus. In North Carolina, police pepper sprayed a peaceful group who were marching for voting and against police violence. 

On the other hand, Trump's potential for disruption depends on him remaining in public life, easily visible and findable. And he might not want to do that.

"Trump can't afford to lose," writes Jane Mayer in The New Yorker:  

"Trump has famously survived one impeachment, two divorces, six bankruptcies, twenty-six accusations of sexual misconduct, and an estimated four thousand lawsuits. Few people have evaded consequences more cunningly. That run of good luck may well end, perhaps brutally, if he loses to Joe Biden. Even if Trump wins, grave legal and financial threats will loom over his second term."

In the next few years, Mayer says, Trump needs to repay or renegotiate more than US$300 million in personal loans such as to a Deutsche Bank lender, about US$900 million in real estate debt coming due, and, if he loses his court case with the U.S. tax department, another US$100 million in taxes due.

In addition, he may face criminal charges and civil suits if he is no longer president, writes Mayer:

"The presumption of immunity that attends the presidency will vanish. Given that more than a dozen investigations and civil suits involving Trump are currently under way, he could be looking at an endgame even more perilous than the one confronted by Nixon."

Although some of the financial cases seem minor, the deception involved can have major consequences. And the charges are being laid in state courts, where it's questionable whether a federal pardon would apply.

Moreover, Trump was frequently photographed at Jeffrey Epstein's parties, before the latter became a convicted sex offender. Now Epstein's partner, Ghislaine Maxwell, is on trial, on charges of helping Epstein groom young girls for sex. As a private citizen, Trump might be called as a witness.    
Trump doesn't seem to have what he needs to pull off a real coup. He doesn't have the military's support. GOP lawyers have laughed off his election lawsuits as basless and absurd. CBS, NBC and ABC all cut away from his election night speech when he started raising baseless charges.  

"Trump is not expected to formally concede, according to people close to him," reports CTV news, "but is likely to grudgingly vacate the White House at the end of his term."

"His ongoing efforts to paint the election as unfair are seen both as an effort to soothe a bruised ego and to show his loyal base of supporters that he is still fighting. That could be key to keeping them energized for what comes next."

Of course, it's always possible Trump is hoping that prosecutors would quietly waive some charges if he will concede the election and "go away," perhaps to become a Russian TV reality show star. Ivanka and Jared can help him write the letter. How do you say, "You're fired!" in Russian?

Award-winning author and journalist Penney Kome has published six non-fiction books and hundreds of periodical articles, as well as writing a national column for 12 years and a local column in Calgary for four years. She was editor of Straightgoods.com from 2004-2013.

Image: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

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