The only way [Democrats] can win is to cheat . . .
~Donald Trump, September 17, 2020
Jonathan Reiner, a prominent cardiologist and CNN medical analyst, characterized the revelers at a recent Trump rally as “lemmings heading for the cliff” because they were not social distancing and few were wearing masks. With a crowd that size, Reiner noted, there’s a “99% chance that someone in the crowd is Covid-19 positive.” He elaborated:
It can be a super-spreader event. Like the Sturgis event. If you look a week out from the number of cases in South Dakota skyrocketed. The curve is vertical. So, the president has the blatant disregard for the welfare of his supporters. We’ve seen it time and time again.
We all know that calling people lemmings is not high praise, but what exactly is a lemming? The online urban dictionary offers various definitions. Here are the top three in reverse order:
1. A small rat like creature. If one lemming jumps off a cliff all of the lemmings will jump off with it.
2. A person that follows another person and does everything the same as the person the are following.
A derogatory term used to reference a person who seemingly does not possess any form of individual thought, and instead, mindlessly follows the behaviors and actions of the masses.
Common actions lemmings partake in are the overuse of catchphrases and lingo that the generation may overuse.
A member of a crowd with no originality or voice of his own. One who speaks or repeats only what she has been told. A tool. A cretin.
Is it fair to liken Trump supporters to lemmings? Given that we’re in the final days and weeks before a bitterly divisive national election, it’s a politically charged question. But let’s look at some facts. You know, like normal, fair-minded people who think for themselves do routinely.
According to the Federal Election Commission, the voting age population in 2016 totaled 245,502,000. Of that number, only 136,669,276 (55.67%) cast a ballot. That was actually a decent turnout. In 1988 & 2000), close to 50% did not bother to vote. In 1996, the turnout was a dismal 49%!
In my mind, these nonvoters resemble the lemmings of legend, the notable difference being that they don’t actually follow anyone over a cliff. Or, for that matter, away from it. They just count on others who do vote to keep them from being thrown over the cliff.
But what about those of us who did vote in 2016? Any signs of lemming-like behavior there?
Of the 136.6+ million people who voted in 2016, just under 63 million (46.90%) voted for Donald Trump, while almost 66 million (48.18%) voted for Hillary Clinton. The bad news for liberal voters is that tens of millions of Americans voted for a reality TV personality with comic hair, no political experience, and a reputation for shady business dealings.
The good news was that nearly three million more Americans voted for the other major-party candidate. The candidate with a great deal of experience in national politics. In the White House. In the U.S. Senate. As Secretary of State.
But for the second time this century, the popular-vote loser was the winner in the Electoral College. As the loser, Trump immediately called into question the validity of the popular vote totals. As the winner, he did not question the vote counts in the states that gave him a majority of electors.
Fast forward to the present. The election will take place in six weeks—unless a certain bully with a bully pulpit, expecting to lose, finds a way to stop it from happening.
If that sounds paranoid or alarmist, it isn’t.
This President and the party he has high-jacked have done everything possible to suppress the vote and delegitimize the process of voting—in other words, to delegitimize the election. Ponder what Trump posted to Twitter last week:
Because of the new and unprecedented massive amount of unsolicited ballots which will be sent to ‘voters’, or wherever, this year, the Nov 3rd Election result may NEVER BE ACCURATELY DETERMINED, which is what some want. . . . Stop Ballot Madness!”
And during a morning interview with Fox Sports Radio one day earlier, he gave the nation a preview of what to expect if he loses. “The only way [Democrats] can win is to cheat, in my opinion.”
It’s hardly necessary to read between the lines here. For the first time in history, a sitting president has given the nation advance notice he has no intention of respecting the outcome of the next election unless he wins.
For all who understand the role of free and fair elections in a republic, the situation is nothing short of ominous. Holding regular elections to choose representatives (hence, the term for the lower house of Congress) who make the laws we live by—and, like it or not, have to live with—is what it means to be a republic.
But what about the Republicans who form the core of Trump’s political base? Is it fair to say that Republicans as a category are lemmings?
Clearly not. The list of prominent anti-Trump Republicans who have endorsed the Biden-Harris ticket is long and impressive; in fact, it’s way too long a list to enumerate in this space. It includes Mitt Romney, Carly Fiorina, Susan Molinari, John Kasich, John Warner, Christine Whitman, and Colin Powell. It also includes at least 16 former Republicans who served in the U.S. House of Representatives and no fewer than 70 top Republican national security officials.
The latest polls indicate Trump’s approval rating is lower at this point in time than that of all the post-WWII presidents with exceptions of George H.W. Bush (1989-1993) and Jimmy Carter (1977-1981). Ronald Reagan and Dwight Eisenhower were much more popular than Trump at this stage, as was “Tricky Dick” (Nixon: 57.6%; Trump: 41-43%).
Notwithstanding, most rank-and-file Republicans are still solidly united in support of Donald Trump. According to Pew Research’s Amina Dunn writing in late August of this year,
More than three and a half years into his administration, President Donald Trump’s approval ratings have remained remarkably stable. There has also been a wider gap between Republicans’ and Democrats’ views of Trump than for any other U.S. president in the modern era of polling.
Are these people lemmings? What else can it mean if roughly 4 in 10 Americans approve of Trump’s job performance despite his asinine behavior, his vindictive nature, and his utter lack of a) compassion or b) competence?
By the time this piece is published, America will have crossed a terrible and tragic threshold—more than 200,000 Covid-19 deaths. It is a glaring fact that the tweeter-in-chief has utterly failed to lead the country in a time of great national peril, the worst public health crisis in a century. That ought to be decisive. But for forty-plus percent of the voting population, it appears not to matter.
To politicize a pandemic is unpardonable. To admit you knew it was deadly but downplayed it to avoid causing a panic—to what end? To save lives?
Or is the reason altogether less altruistic? Say, to supercharge an economy recovery at all costs? Because if the stock market is bullish and the economy is strong there is almost no chance of defeating an incumbent president.
Donald Trump has to know the people who show up at his rallies do not constitute a majority of the voting population. They might follow him over a cliff but they alone cannot elect him. He will lose the popular vote again despite all Republican voter suppression efforts. There is also a strong possibility he will lose in Electoral College this time around.
If that happens, he will first try legal maneuvers using his top toadies, Attorney General William Barr and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. If that fails, he will likely turn to his loyal followers to keep him in power, including the dudes with the do-rags, badass tattoos, and guns. No roses.
Science does not support the central myth surrounding the lemming, an animal found primarily in arctic habitats. There is no basis in fact for the common belief that lemmings leap off cliffs. Lemmings are not known to commit suicide, whether individually or en masse. Unlike humans.
Recorded history reveals a terrible truth about the human species. Under certain circumstances, many of our kind will, in fact, follow a leader off a cliff. Members of the human species caught up in a mass movement are capable of anything, including a great leap downward—jumping off a cliff, in other words. In at least one case—Cambodia (“Kampuchea”) in the 1970s—the renegade rulers directed what writer François Ponchaud called “auto-genocide”—an unthinkable form of state-directed collective suicide.
To err is human. Voters who helped put an untested candidate for president in the White House out of disgust for “politicians” or a belief that Hillary Clinton was too much of a Washington insider or any other such rationale can be forgiven. What is unforgivable is to make the same mistake twice.
After nearly four years Donald Trump has shown that he is not only unfit to be president but that he does not care how many people die of Covid-19 on his watch. He does not care about the people. Or about such abstractions as the public interest or the common good. He only cares about the special interests, the 1%, and, above all, his own self-interest.
It’s no surprise to hear the Cheater-in-Chief calling Americans who are not lemmings, who constitute a clear majority, and who oppose his reelection, cheaters. He has made a career of lying and cheating. Cheating on his wives, cheating in business, and cheating the government he controls and uses for private gain (hence his refusal to disclose his tax returns).
We will soon know whether the voters who, like the lemmings of legend, continue to back a vindictive, pathological liar and cheater can prevail over the only true patriots—those of us who think for ourselves and care about the country.
Or—when the results of an election he fully expects to lose are known—whether this president can be stopped from jumping off a cliff. And taking a proud nation the world knows simply as “America” with him.