“Mark my words: I think he (President Trump) is gonna try to kick back the election somehow — come up with some rationale why it can’t be held.”

Joe Biden on April 23, during a virtual fundraiser

I expect candidates running for office, at any level, to err on the side of hyperbole. But Biden’s words are gasoline for those already preparing for the “Chicken Little” relays.

Some within Democratic Party circles hold fervently to the idea President Trump will arbitrarily decide to postpone the election. This belief fits neatly into a narrative ascribed to the president. As they see it, his penchant for authoritarianism makes him America’s Hitler incarnate.

Not even the Führer was able to pull off this feat without assistance from the Reichstag. But before we go too far down this Hitlerian road, let’s begin with the fundamental question: Can the president (any president) postpone the election by executive fiat? No!

If a nuclear missile adorned with a color photo of a smiling Vladimir Putin landed in Topeka, Kan., creating a mushroom cloud that could been seen as far as Maui on Monday, Nov. 2, the president still could not, without congressional approval, cancel the election slated for Tuesday, Nov. 3.

It would require Congress (the Senate and House) to rescind the law enacted in November 1845 that the presidential election is to be the Tuesday after the first Monday. I doubt the Republican-led Senate would have 51 votes for this proposal; I’m more certain there are not 218 votes in the Democratic-led House of Representatives.

Presumably postponing the election assumes it would aid the president. But suspending the election would not nullify the expiration date of the terms of office for the president and vice president, which are specific to the Constitution per the 20th Amendment:

“The terms of the President and Vice President shall end at noon on the 20th day of January and the terms of Senators and Representatives at noon on the 3rd day of January.”

Assuming the president could cancel the election by getting Congress to go along, it would require ignoring the 20th Amendment so that the president could remain in office.

If the 20th Amendment were upheld, assuming the House and Senate acquiesced to the president’s desires to postpone and/or suspend the election, it risks making Nancy Pelosi the 46th president of the United States, at least temporarily. In the order of presidential succession speaker of the House is third after the president and vice president.

I simply cannot imagine a scenario that might prompt the president, no matter how remote, to place Speaker Pelosi in position to become commander in chief.

The election of 1864 was held during the most formidable crisis in U.S. history. Though at the time, Abraham Lincoln’s agreed that his chances for reelection appeared difficult, he did not support canceling the election in the midst of the Civil War.

But it is challenging to remove such fantasies from one’s cerebral cortex once they’ve taken hold. Out of fear and civic ignorance many have attached powers to this president not known to any of his predecessors.

I suspect none of this historical data will disabuse those hardwired to accept conspiracy theories. What the Constitution actually says is an unworthy adversary for someone who has an unyielding feeling supported by unsubstantiated innuendo and fear. This form of blue state irrationality is just as destructive to our democratic norms as the red state version.

I have been critical of President Trump for some of his statements. I do not accept the hackneyed response that some of the president’s outlandish remarks were merely taken out of context by an overzealous press. Nor do I accept such language from the presumptive Democratic nominee.

Fanning the flames of irrational fears is not the role given to the standard bearer of either major political party. Biden’s presidential rationale is that he can defeat Trump, not imitate him.

I find dubious any proposition supported by the ends justifying the means, especially when it further erodes our democratic norms. Some within the Democratic Party hold to the naïve belief that the removal of President Trump would cure what ails the country. America’s greatest political threat remains the systematic ebbing away of its democratic values that began decades before Trump.

The erosion occurs not when the actions are challenged by the opposing party, but internally. Through the silence of consent Biden’s words went largely unchallenged by his supporters.

This is not a road that leads to change. It is merely favoring one group’s irrationality over that of the opposition.

The Rev. Byron Williams (byron@publicmorality.org), a writer and the host of “The Public Morality” on WSNC 90.5, lives in Winston-Salem.

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