Remember the innocent days when we were groaning how we couldn’t wait for the 2016 presidential election to end? Odds are we’ll get our wish eventually, but it hasn’t happened yet. The fantasy that Donald J. Trump can somehow be prevented from taking office is still alive and well.
Even though I’d bet my dad’s old JFK tie clip that a fantasy is all that is, I’m not going to pretend I’m immune to its “When you wish upon a stove” appeal. For sure, the past 18 months have taught us, to Trump fans’ exhilaration and everybody else’s despair, that anything can happen in this ridiculous country. Unreconciled Hillary Clinton voters just didn’t expect that the hopes and fears of all the years would be met in Jill Stein.
Stein is a notorious cluck—a few potato chips short of a bag, to put it kindly. It’s anybody’s guess what prompted the Green Party’s candidate to demand vote audits and/or recounts in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, the three battleground states that would have made Clinton president if she’d won them. Even Stein acknowledges that her effort is unlikely to alter the election’s outcome, which could be the first time she’s ever said anything remotely sensible.
For starters, the math looks insurmountable. Just for fun, let’s grant that it’s possible (albeit barely) that a recount could flip Wisconsin and Michigan into Clinton’s column. Pennsylvania is still the prize, and Trump won the state by 70,000 votes. That’s enough of a margin to survive pretty much anything save for drastic evidence of vote hacking.
No such evidence has turned up, and it’s not like the experts haven’t been looking for it. Worry that Vladimir Putin’s diabolically clever cyber-elves might diddle the results—an unprecedented concern, but since he’s Putin, a plausible one—has had the people who monitor this crap on high alert. So far, as they say and as we know, Vlad didn’t impale us.
Nonetheless, Stein’s quixotic recount campaign raised $2.5 million in just 48 hours. That amount had doubled by Friday. By Saturday, Clinton herself, caught in a classic “damned if she does, damned if she doesn’t” bind, had signed on. No doubt she’d have preferred to avoid the risk of tarnishing her already complicated brand by looking like a divisive sore loser, but her loyalists would have been mighty upset if she’d left poor old Stein stuck out in the rain alone.
Predictably, our prospective Tweeter-in-Chief took umbrage. (Trump does that so compulsively you’d think Umbrage was the name of a new anti-depressant.) He called Stein’s effort a “scam” and, not unreasonably, quoted Clinton’s own words about accepting the election’s results back when he was the one threatening to do otherwise.
Then he stupefied everybody by claiming without evidence that he’d have won the popular vote if not for the “millions of people who voted illegally.” Yeah, right: millions. Did it even cross the Alpha Cheeto’s mind that this nutty charge was an argument in favor of a recount, and not just in three measly states, but nationwide?
As if things weren’t muddy enough, another story that had gained traction by the end of last week was how Putin’s propagandists had made gleeful use of fake-news websites to feed disinformation to the gullible U.S. electorate. But unlike the hazy spectre of Russian hackers manipulating the honest-to-gosh vote count, this scenario has lots of evidence backing it up.
The same goes for Russia’s collusion with Wikileaks’s election-cycle document dumps, which were lopsidedly designed to discredit Clinton. Right after election day, to startlingly little outcry here at home, Putin adviser Sergei Markov even coyly confirmed that one, saying “Maybe we helped a little bit.”
Putting aside the awkward fact that the U.S. government has interfered in countless elections abroad, it’s dismaying that Trump’s supporters are likely to react to the news with a big, fat “So what?” A foreign power whose ruler means us no good apparently did its damndest to sway one of ours, but that’s history’s headache. So long as their guy gets to make America great again, you know? Still, it’d take a much bigger bombshell than that for the Electoral College to go rogue, which was the Clintonistas’ favorite grabbing-at-straws pipe dream until Jill Stein came along.
If you take Alexander Hamilton’s word for it—the real one’s, not Lin-Manuel Miranda’s—the Electoral College was devised partly to prevent men with “talents for low intrigue, and the petty arts of popularity” from becoming president in a fit of popular mania. But it’s never done so yet and there’s almost zero chance it will now. Besides, Clinton’s diehards tend to forget that she’d be out of the running no matter what. Any GOP electors who flip—and there may be a few, depending on how outrageously Trump behaves between now and December 19—will almost certainly cast protest votes for another Republican, not her.
Unless pigs have started taking flying lessons nationwide, Stein’s recount push is sure to fail. She’ll thereby validate Trump’s win, not undermine it. But all of this isn’t really about practicalities. The point is that we’ve never had an incoming POTUS who panics people so much they resort to magical thinking to keep their hopes up. At the very least, we’re probably in for a few more weeks of chaos. When the dust settles, we’ll be stuck with one more damned election we can’t really trust. And a president we probably shouldn’t.