Read: The Republican backlash against Trump’s vote-fraud commission
Voters convinced that the electoral process is corrupt have been told that their votes will not, in effect, be counted, that fraudulent voting will have diluted the pool of ballots cast by eligible voters. Legal voters, discouraged, may turn away.
In taking an oath to preserve and protect the Constitution, the president has sworn to uphold the right to vote, among all the other constitutional rights enjoyed by citizens. It is an abrogation of this responsibility to make up stories intended to convince citizens of the corruption of the franchise and the meaninglessness of their voting rights.
It might be thought that voters will bring a healthy skepticism to the evaluation of any apparently self-interested claims. After all, Trump has been speaking on this subject as candidate and party leader, arguing that all the fraud is being committed against Republicans. It is also hardly uncommon in the heat of recounts for one party to accuse the other of chicanery.
But Trump is president—and he was not making a typical claim in generalized terms about one or more particular elections. He was asserting, as a matter of fact, systemic fraudulent practices that supposedly alter the outcome of national elections by millions of votes. He is saying that it happened not only this year, but in years past, and that he could delineate with specificity the way the fraud was conducted.
These lies violate the legitimate public expectation that, on a matter this serious, a president claiming to bring specific information to its attention will speak truthfully. Trump is deliberately whipping up the “fear that legitimate votes will be outweighed by fraudulent ones,” and to escape the impression that he is just indulging in partisan hyperbole, he has turned to fabricating details.
Jemele Hill: I still don’t know if my vote will be counted in Florida.
One could imagine we may see more of the same. Will the next lie assert knowledge of machines being programmed to record only one party’s votes? Or specific knowledge of partisans picking the opposing party’s votes out of the pile and tossing them into the trash? What if, in 2020, Trump targets a particular state or states and announces that, on reliable information from authorities, he must report that fraud is in progress? Or pledges that remedial law enforcement, including prosecution, will be immediately and energetically pursued? Such statements would predictably lead many voters to abandon lines or stay away from the polls altogether. What if Trump proclaims that he is moving to have the election “recalled”?
This kind of deceit cannot be minimized. It is far from the sort of deception that the philosopher Sissela Bok, in her masterwork Lying, included in her catalog of the political misrepresentations, evasions, and half-truths that may be all too routine but yet “are part and parcel of many everyday decisions in government.” This is qualitatively different: a direct and intentional assault on the right to vote that the president is constitutionally obligated to protect. It would seem to satisfy the influential constitutional scholar Charles Black’s well-known criteria for impeachable conduct: an “extremely serious” offense that serves to “subvert the political and governmental process” and is “plainly wrong … regardless of words on the statute books.” It could qualify as well under the formulation of the constitutional scholar Philip Bobbitt, who recently updated the handbook Black wrote on impeachment and who defines an impeachable offense as “a crime against perpetuation of the order and ethos of the State.”