The 2020 Election: A “Red Alarm Fire” for American Democracy

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Title

Political Science Today

Publication Date


Date Added



In How Democracies Die, Stephen Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt (2018) argue that a key indicator that a democracy’s life is in danger occurs when the “guard rails” that restrain the ruthless pursuit of power begin to fray. Among these guard rails is respect for the integrity of democratic elections. President Donald Trump’s repeated, flailing efforts to delegitimize the results of the 2020 presidential election with baseless assertions of election fraud and a flurry of frivolous lawsuits should be understood in that light. While scholars, pundits, and citizens ponder the long-term ramifications of Trump’s effort to delegitimize democratic elections on the future of American democracy, they obscure a central fact: Trump intended to steal the election from the very beginning. The plot to steal the elections started well before the 2020 presidential campaign began in earnest. Donald Trump recognized early on that former Vice President Joe Biden represented the biggest threat to his re-election.Footnote1 Polls consistently found that Biden performed better against Trump than all of his other Democratic challengers. Fear of Biden motivated Trump’s infamous call on July 25, 2019 to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelen-sky—and the elaborate efforts to cover it up. All of it was aimed at sabotaging the campaign of the person who Trump saw as his chief political rival. This is why the president was impeached. By using the power of his office to purposely attempt to cripple the campaign of his strongest opponent, Donald Trump displayed one of the quintessential characteristics of autocrats. Moreover, by inviting foreign interference into American elections, the president engaged in the very conduct which motivated the Framers to include the mechanism of impeachment within America’s constitutional design. By acquitting Donald Trump despite overwhelming evidence of the president’s guilt, Senate Republicans cosigned onto Trump’s assault on the sanctity of democratic elections.


Civil Rights


Political Science


Cambridge University Press