Human Rights Groups, Historians Warn Donald Trump Is a Threat to U.S. Democracy

President Donald Trump is continuing to dispute the results of last week's election, repeatedly vowing that he will emerge victorious after recounts and legal challenges that most experts believe will not overturn his defeat.

It is reported that the president has privately accepted his loss—as have many of his influential aides and GOP allies—but he is continuing to undermine the transition regardless.

President-elect Joe Biden is being denied access to the funds and resources usually afforded incoming presidents, which experts say could undermine his future administration and the country.

Observers, human rights groups and historians have all warned that Trump's refusal to accept defeat publicly is damaging America's political system and the country's role as a global beacon of democracy, something successive administrations have championed.

Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, said Trump's "human rights abuses at home undermine the U.S. voice on rights abroad."

Roth noted a State Department statement released this week condemning Myanmar's suppression of Rohingya Muslims, but said it was published "after Trump used voter suppression to disenfranchise perceived opponents in the U.S."

In its summary of the U.S. result, Human Rights Watch said the president had made "unsubstantiated claims" that were "reckless." Roth said: "There is a vast difference between legitimate legal challenges aimed at protecting the right to vote and efforts to disenfranchise voters who support your opponent...One strengthens democracy. The other seeks to undermine it."

Historians have characterized the president's behaviour as an unprecedented threat to American democracy. Timothy Snyder, the Levin professor of history at Yale University, posted a Twitter thread accusing the Trump administration of trying to hang on to power.

"Democracy is undone from within rather than from without," he wrote Wednesday. "What Donald Trump is attempting to do has a name: coup d'état. Poorly organized though it might seem, it is not bound to fail. It must be made to fail."

"American exceptionalism prevents us from seeing basic truths," Snyder warned. "Persuading your voters that the other side cheated starts a downward spiral. Your voters will expect you to cheat next time. Take responsibility, Republicans."

Presidential historian Michael Beschloss told The New York Times this week: "We have not seen any president in history lose re-election, refuse to concede defeat and take actions that threaten the abuse of presidential power to keep himself in office...Here, Donald Trump is yet again in a historical category of his own—and this time, it is ominous for democracy."

Beschloss also told the TV host Mehdi Hasan: "We are in a crisis for democracy at this point," adding that it was time for Americans to "sleep with our eyes open."

Michael Abramowitz, president of the Freedom House non-profit organisation that tracks democracy around the world, told The Times that Trump's behaviour "more closely resembles the tactics of the kind of authoritarian leaders we follow."

"I never would have imagined seeing something like this in America," Abramowitz added. "By convincing a large part of the population that there was widespread fraud, he is seeding a myth that could endure for years and contribute to an erosion of public confidence in our electoral system."

Presidential historian Allan Lichtman told Germany's Deutsche Welle that Trump's challenges to the result were "frivolous and pernicious." He added: "We have witnessed the worst moments in presidential history since this election."

"Never in the entire scope of presidential elections—going all the way back to the 18th century—has any losing president or any losing candidate so baselessly and falsely undermined the integrity of our democracy," Lichtman said.

Biden's transition team is turning its eyes towards governing, even as the president and key officials including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo maintain there will be a second Trump administration.

The cornerstone of Biden's campaign was that he would behave in a way that voters expected of a president and he is continuing this approach into the transition. The president-elect said Tuesday that Trump's refusal to accept defeat was an "embarrassment."

"The only thing that—how can I say this tactfully? I think it will not help the president's legacy," Biden said. "At the end of the day, you know, it's all going to come to fruition on January 20," he added, referring to the date of his inauguration.

Donald Trump, Joe Biden, 2020 election, Democracy
President Donald Trump is pictured at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on Veterans Day at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia, on November 11, 2020. BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images/Getty