This ugly presidential campaign will soon be over, but ugliness threatens to continue beyond Election Day.
Donald Trump, who threatened that if he wins he will seek to jail his opponent, has been inciting his followers with accusations that, if he loses, it’s because of a conspiracy.
Win or lose, Mr. Trump threatens the foundations of American democracy.
Polls indicate that Trump probably will lose. So that’s the scenario we have to worry about, as Mr. Trump wantonly sews the seeds not only of rage but also of insurrection.
Defeated presidential candidates in America have traditionally conceded graciously and left the stage, leaving the victor to lead the nation.
Trump seems to be preparing to do neither.
Trump, whose identity is defined by being a “winner,” seems unwilling to acknowledge losing fair and square. If he loses, it has to be because he was cheated.
Trump has shown a genius for seizing the attention he craves.
Normally, it is the president who is the center of national attention — which is probably why Trump sought the office. But a defeated presidential candidate ceases to bask in the spotlight. Will Trump accept the loss of the nation’s attention when another option is available?
That other option? Setting the nation on fire.
Being the focus of an insurrection he has stoked is sure to keep Trump the center of attention.
Forcing himself on others is Trump’s MO. He forced himself on the Republican Party, he forced himself on women, and now Trump seems to be planning to force himself on the nation even after defeat.
This violates a vital American political norm, one that has helped us maintain domestic peace for most of our history. But having shown no compunction about violating so many other norms, why would Trump be restrained by this one?
So how is the precious American system of government to be protected from Trump’s reckless attack?
One question: What proportion of the 50 million likely Trump voters will believe the picture Trump is selling of a “rigged” election?
Shouldn’t Trump’s failure to present even a scintilla of evidence to support his wild accusations make them incredible even to those who believe in him. But there is reason to fear that some Trump supporters are so caught up in their devotion that his pronouncements outweigh all evidence.
It does not take a big percentage of 50 million people to pose a threat to public order.
The first challenge is to prevent the delegitimizing of a legitimate election in the eyes of the American people, including Trump’s supporters. The second challenge is to mobilize to protect the American system of government from whatever subversion that Trump manages to incite.
Every effort should be made — by those who have credibility with Trump’s followers — to discredit Trump’s unfounded accusations. Trump supporters who see through Trump’s reckless talk about a global conspiracy can talk sense to their compatriots. And many Republican officials are already stepping up to this task.
The media have a job to do. This threat is more pertinent to our responsibility as citizens than all the lurid stories of Trump’s sexual predation.
Leading up to the election, the media should continually push Trump to present evidence to support his dangerous assertions. But since there is no evidence, because Trump is just making it up, the media should help the American people see this violation of basic democratic norms for the dangerously self-serving thing that it is.
The news media should also, now, decide how they would deal with post-election refusal of the losing side to follow American norms and accept the results of a legitimate election. With the system our founders gave us jeopardized, it’s no time for pseudo-evenhandedness in treating the story.
Truth, not phony balance, is the main business of responsible journalism.
All those who have moral authority in America – and that includes the current President, all living former presidents and former presidential candidates — should be ready to speak out forcefully against Trump’s reckless attack on the norms and institutions of American democracy.
All else failing, those charged with protecting the peace and enforcing the law should be ready to nip any insurrectionary activities in the bud.
The last thing this nation needs is to be torn apart by a crop of Timothy McVeighs.