Could Donald Trump delay the election to save himself?

US President Donald Trump holds up a bible outside a Washington church

US President Donald Trump holds up a bible outside a Washington church - Credit: AFP via Getty Images

With the US leader likely to face a plethora of investigations and possible legal proceedings the moment he is no longer a sitting president, MITCH BENN wonders if Trump might use national crisis as an excuse to delay this November's election.

The trouble with populism is that it's empty. It's like a slick advertisement advertising nothing except itself.

If your sole agenda is your own advancement and your sole selling point is your own fabulousness, then once that advancement has been achieved you've got nothing left to sell, and nothing to work towards except your own preservation. So that – your own preservation – becomes your new, and only, agenda.

All over social media I'm seeing people wailing 'Who could possibly have foreseen that the Trump presidency would end like this?' To those people I would say: 1.) What makes you think it's 'ending', and 2.) In answer to your question, everyone. Literally everyone knew that it would come to this. Everyone paying attention, in any case.

What we're seeing the United States undergo right now is like the transitional phase you see kleptocracies pass through on their way to becoming a dictatorship. We've seen this pattern repeated all over the world in the last couple of centuries.

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Prior to the last couple of centuries, men like Trump, having come to power through whatever means, would simply declare themselves king and sit back to rule for life. But since most countries are now republics it's become necessary for such rulers to find ways of subverting their nations' constitutions in order to make themselves president for life.

And it is, from their point of view anyway, absolutely necessary. By the time such a ruler has been in power for more than a couple of years, he's generally committed so many crimes against his own state and people (whether it's just helping himself to the nation's wealth or 'disappearing' his opponents and critics) that it's only his position, and the control it affords him over the police, judiciary and military that's keeping him out of jail.

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Even if he grows bored of power, he can't afford to relinquish it as that power is the only thing keeping him alive. So he has to do whatever it takes to bypass democracy and keep himself in the presidential palace until it's safe to confer his title onto one of his sons (or daughter, perhaps, should his sons happen to be a couple of goofy-teethed feckless dough-brained frat boys).

Such is now the case with Donald Trump. Only the convention that one does not indict a sitting president, and the supine cravenness of the Republican senate have prevented him from being prosecuted on allegations of misdeeds committed over his three and a half years in office (and the period immediately before this).

Trump does not know much about anything but what he does know how to do is survive, and he will understand that if he leaves office next January 20, unless he's signed some sort of Nixonian immunity deal, he can expect to be pursued vigorously on all these matters by the incoming administration.

Given that he'll be 74 years old by then and is not, despite his glowing 'medical reports' and proclamations of physical perfection, what you'd call a picture of health, this is a chilling prospect for the president.

So as it stands, Trump has three choices: 1.) Die in prison; 2.) Win in November; 3.) Find some way of preventing/nullifying November's election.

About 10 years ago I wrote a song called State of Emergency (it's on Spotify) in which I flagged up the tendency of weakened heads of state to, when faced with being voted out, precipitate a national crisis, award themselves limitless 'emergency powers' and postpone the election until... whenever.

I forget which country's Beloved Leader had just pulled this stunt at the time; I don't think I ever expected to see it happen in America.

It shouldn't surprise anyone that it's the outburst of black anger at the death of George Floyd at the hands (or rather knee) of an arresting police officer upon which Trump has chosen to build his crisis of opportunity; this is, after all, the man who entered politics by declaring Barack Obama a Kenyan Muslim interloper and launched his campaign by calling Mexican immigrants rapists.

I'm not sure what emergency powers the US constitution allows a president to award himself but I'm sure Trump and his attorney general will try to find a way around this. After all, if Trump merely cancels the election, his (and vice president Mike Pence's) term still expires on January 20.

If no new president has been appointed by then, as it stands, the constitution would appoint the speaker of the House (ie. Trump arch-nemesis Nancy Pelosi) as acting president. A fate worse than death as far is Trump is concerned.

But take heart, Americans; at least you will, in theory, have a shot at removing Trump before the end of the year. Unless something truly unexpected happens, we're saddled with our bizarrely coiffed, lazy, mendacious, debauched, vacuous, narcissistic 'populist' until 2024.

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