We no longer take these truths for granted:
- US presidential elections take place every four years in November.
- The armed forces will not be involved in these elections.
- Not even during domestic protests.
- Medicine is approved when science says it is safe and effective, not because a politician wants it to be approved before election day.
- The United States is an example to the world in managing a peaceful transfer of power.
- You will receive your checks, bills, letters, junk mail, and ballots in your mailbox on time. Because: "Neither snow nor rain nor heat or darkness of the night keep these couriers from quickly completing their set rounds."
This Post Office's unofficial creed is carved in granite. The other truths of American democracy and civil service might as well be. But it doesn't last forever.
They have been questioned in America by President Donald Trump, some totally shaken, where truths that were once too obvious to be told now must be.
It is a country where even the cold, hard fact of more than 191,000 coronavirus deaths is viewed with suspicion by people hearing conspiracy theories and bad science. Where the common purpose in the tribal conflict between the masked and the unmasked is overridden. And where the president screams election foul and fraud before a vote.
Trump goes where other presidents haven't, stamping on morals, blurring lines and saying – as Washington speaks – the quiet part out loud. Supporters are happy about it. Opponents can't stand it. Nobody can get away from it.
He says a COVID-19 vaccine and treatments will help him get re-elected, then repeatedly claims that such a drug is "on the way". His desire for a vaccine before the elections has his aides re-enacting his line that one or more vaccines might be ready to land by the end of October, even if they swear it has nothing to do with politics.
The CEOs of nine global drug companies who felt the Trump heat this week joined a "historic pledge" in reiterating what could normally be taken for granted.
They vowed to "continue to adhere to high scientific and ethical standards", to keep the safety and wellbeing of vaccine recipients in the foreground, and to submit potential COVID-19 vaccines for approval or emergency approval only after clinical trials that meet federal standards.
In other words, no shortcuts for political expediency.
As for America's self-image as an example of democracy, the nation may have lost its boastful rights to its election management 20 years ago when antiquated machinery and a crazy presidential election in Florida resulted in a Bush-Gore stalemate that went to the Supreme Court . Democrat Al Gore, however, was quick to resign when the court passed its controversial ruling in favor of Republican George W. Bush and a smooth surrender ensued.
Americans are now faced with a question that their democracy has seldom had to ask: Will the president accept the results if he loses a tight or not-so-tight election? Trump will not commit. "I have to see," he says. "I'm not just going to say yes. I'm not going to say no."
Trump has specifically said what others might say – that he fears the expected surge in postal votes in the pandemic will hurt him in the election. This is because the Trump loyalist in charge of the postal service is struggling to assure lawmakers that the Post is up to the task of delivering the votes sent by post on time.
At one point, Trump made the impossible demand that election night results be known. He predicts widespread fraud with no evidence that such doubts will arise – "the greatest electoral disaster in history" – and encourages his supporters to vote against the law twice if they cannot confirm that their postal vote was counted by election day.
He had the runaway idea of holding the election only to put down that thought from Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell and other Republicans who normally don't cause him problems. Congress had to change the election date and the message to Trump was: Forget this.
Overall, these seated president's premonitions of controversial outcomes and chaos have raised another question alien to the modern American experience. Could the armed forces step in to either back Trump or, as Democratic rival Joe Biden considered, get him out of the Oval Office if he loses and doesn't go?
General Mark Milley, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, was called to Congress on the matter and said the military personnel would not participate in conducting an election or resolving a controversial vote. That he even had to give this assurance was a sign of this time.
But it was not the first time Milley stood up for what he called "an apolitical military so deeply rooted in the essence of our republic".
In June, Milley publicly posted the day Trump left him, the general in his military attire, across Lafayette Square across from the White House in what turned out to be a photo op, and inadvertently helped Trump look determined in the middle of the action Protest against the death of George Floyd.
Trump expects urban unrest and violence to benefit him politically. "The more chaos and anarchy as well as vandalism and violence, the better it is for the very clear decision of who is best in terms of public safety and law and order," said Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway.
In this case, she said the quiet part out loud for him.
Editor's Note – Calvin Woodward has been reporting on politics and national affairs for The Associated Press for a quarter of a century.