One of the things we take for granted is that even in tumultuous times when elections are hard fought, the losers concede the election and embrace the process, even if things did not go well. That’s what Al Gore did after the Supreme Court decided Bush v. Gore. He did not call for demonstrations in the streets, which could have been destabilizing. In 2008, after great controversy over the Bush years, Obama v. McCain was very hard fought, but we were able to come together again as a country. As I blogged on Inauguration Day in 2009:
Regardless of your politics, today is a day to celebrate the remarkable peaceful transitions to power that occur in this country with each presidential transition. It is something we should not take for granted.
Donald Trump threatens this peace by raising the prospect not only of sending his supporters, unsupervised, into polling places (likely in minority neighborhoods). This can lead to voter intimidation on election day. He has also backed off his earlier, somewhat ambiguous statement that he would support Hillary Clinton if she won. Now, speaking to the New York Times he made a chilling statement:
Mr. Trump, aiming to unnerve Mrs. Clinton, even indicated that he was rethinking his statement at their last debate that he would “absolutely” support her if she won in November, saying: “We’re going to have to see. We’re going to see what happens. We’re going to have to see.”
This is already having an effect on his supporters. According to an AP-NORC poll:
Only about one-third of Republicans say they have a great deal or quite a bit of confidence that votes on Election Day will be counted fairly, according to a poll from the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.
Half the people who have a favorable opinion of the Republican nominee say they have little to no confidence in the integrity of the vote count, the poll finds.
This is what happens when a candidate irresponsibly sows doubts.
Trump’s gambit may be planned or, more likely, he’s just making it up as he goes along. It is no joke. Our democracy is a fragile thing which depends upon accepting the rules of the game.