The Danger of a Trump Defeat
“Mr. Trump, very quick, same question: will you accept the [presidential election] outcome as the will of the voters?”
“I want to make America great again; we are a nation that is seriously troubled. We’re losing our jobs, people are pouring into our country.”
This was Donald Trump’s rambling, paranoid response when asked the simple question of whether he’d accept the outcome of an American election. Eventually, when pressed, Trump finally said, “if she wins, I will absolutely support her.”
IF she wins…
This debate moment was misleadingly reported simply as “Trump and Clinton agree to honor election outcome.” In fact, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump first responded to the straightforward question if he would honor the election results by saying “make America great again,” people are pouring into our country, and corruptly become citizens to sway the outcome (or something).
While this moment was lost amidst Trump’s debate train wreck on every front, it may have revealed a dark cloud looming over November 8.
This presidential election already has the unfortunate distinction of being the first since Supreme Court conservatives struck down vital sections of the Voting Rights Act — enacted in 1965 to overcome barriers at the state and local levels designed to disenfranchise African Americans and other racial minorities.
Since the Roberts Court dismantled that critical civil rights law, we’ve since seen an onslaught of attacks on the fundamental right to vote tailored to create barriers for people of color and younger voters — from state legislatures mandating ID requirements to the removal of same-day registration and early voting in states.
However, what was intended to be a covert conservative operation against our most underrepresented and disenfranchised voters, cloaked in rhetoric about non-existent “voter fraud,” is now shifting to overt attacks upon our election system itself.
The recent rhetoric of Donald Trump and his campaign allies on “vote rigging” and claiming this election is likely to be stolen is a new threat to both our democracy and our government by instilling doubt upon the voting process itself and our nation’s ability to fairly administer elections.
Trump’s incoherent debate response to whether he would honor this election’s outcome again revealed his penchant for conspiratorial rants with no regard for the consequences. It should concern everyone with a stake in American democracy — Democrats and Republicans, progressives and conservatives, whites and people of color.
Based on his erratic temperament, it is very reasonable to assume Donald Trump will not accept any judgment of the voters that doesn’t result in his election, no matter how clear and convincing his defeat may be.
It is the responsibility of our elected and civic leaders of every stripe to speak out loudly against “vote rigging” conspiracy rhetoric over final weeks. That’s especially true of Republican leaders — for the good of the country and for their own interests.
A new PPP poll finds that only 21 percent of Trump supporters will accept the results if Clinton is elected. If conservative leaders allow Trump to question the election’s result, they are encouraging every American — including Trump’s legions of conservative supporters primed to believe a presidential election was rigged — to disengage from participation in a fundamental responsibility of the citizenry.
Much like the ludicrous “birther” conspiracy, the twin myths of “vote fraud” and “vote rigging” can only survive in a right-wing echo chamber insulated from reality. IN FACT, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, voter fraud is “vanishingly rare, and doesn’t even happen on a scale even close to that necessary to ‘rig’ an election.” The numbers show that you’re far more likely to be struck by lightning than to impersonate a person at the polls.
To understand the threat to the GOP that the “vote rigging” myth poses, consider this scenario. If results on November 8 mirror current polling, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton would win the presidency by Electoral College and popular vote margins similar to or near President Barack Obama’s reelection with 332 electoral votes and 3.9 points nationally.
In other words, Clinton would be clearly, indisputably the victor. However, if Trump maintains the election were “rigged” — presumably with the same gall and false claims that he was been spouting the entire election cycle — “vote rigging” will become the next birtherism. Yet another preposterous myth that every GOP leader must acknowledge and a new litmus test for every supposed conservative. Once again, the Republican Party and conservative movement will be pushed further into their own echo chamber while the rest us in reality-based America move on.
There are many dangers posed by Donald Trump. After the frightening prospect of handing him the nuclear codes, perhaps the gravest is the potential for his “vote rigging” conspiracy rhetoric to undermine confidence in our system of self-government.
It is imperative that leaders on all sides denounce Trump every time his raises a “vote rigging” conspiracy over the next five weeks and after November 8. If allowed to continue unquestioned, it may tear at our democracy leading to a more polarized citizenry doused in self-serving conspiracies, fear and brimming with the power to undermine our republic through cynicism and broad disengagement.