I've been having as much fun as anyone making up Trump jokes. But after what he said in the third debate with Hillary Clinton, he's a menace we have to take more seriously. He's confirmed on national TV that he's willing to subvert the Republic to improve the ratings on the reality show his life has become. When he says he will not concede victory to Clinton because she has "rigged" the election, he's inviting his more deplorable followers to try to rig it the other way.
Let me talk about his accusations, which apparently mainly revolve around her private e-mail server. The Justice Department, while it found her behavior infuriating, did not find it criminal, and most neutral observers with knowledge of Justice's working agree. Trump believes the result was wired when Hillary's husband met with the Attorney General for 30 minutes on her airplane when they happened to be in the same city for half a day. He, and Loretta Lynch, should have had a better sense of the "optics" of such a meeting, but they deny any wrongdoing, and no one has accused them of anything concrete, like transferring some cash from the Clinton Foundation to her private bank account. (I assume someone has actually looked into the matter, probably not Trump himself, who prefers to rely on imaginary investigators, whose results he can't believe, but which would astound you.)
Even if Hillary Clinton were guilty of setting up an e-mail server she shouldn't have set up, it's odd that no one can point to anything damaging that's occurred as a result. Odd as it may seem, none of the leaks about her e-mail have resulted from intrusions into that private server. They're from people she corresponded with, or from files released by the State Department. Does this mean her IT people are better than other people's? That she's just been lucky? Or that the Russians are saving their most explosive revelations for the last week of the campaign? I favor explanation number two (luck), although her IT people must be pretty good to delete 13,000 personal e-messages without leaving a copy on a server somewhere.
But I digress. The point is, Trump's claim that Clinton "should have been disqualified from running" is preposterous. He must know it's preposterous, or perhaps he doesn't care whether the accusation is true or not. As with all his previous accusations and claims, his test is not Is it true?, but Will it improve my ratings? It was infuriating, but somewhat amusing, to see how people were willing to fulfill their side of the bargain and give him the attention he wants more and more of. The infuriating part is how news organizations have sought him out so they can bask in his reflected glory. If they ignore him, they fear they might become irrelevant. So they expand their coverage of him, and shrink their coverage of reality. At times it has seemed as if Trump's opponent doesn't exist. Unless you live in a swing state, and can expect a visit from Clinton and her surrogates, and lots of pro-Clinton TV adds, you have to turn to page 6 for coverage of anything about the election besides Trump's latest outrageous statements. "Clinton Gives Speech About National Security" is not news; news is "Trump Claims Clinton Started `Birther' Rumor" (which he eventually laid to rest — a claim that now seems only quaintly extravagant).
If all Trump wanted to do was bluster about her e-mail server and the rumors swirling around it, that's his prerogative. But when he says he might refuse to abide by the results of the election, that is shocking. Ladies and gentlemen, Al Gore abided by the results of the 2000 election, including the straw poll on the Supreme Court, which he lost, 5 to 4. He said, if memory serves, "I disagree [with the Supreme Court's decision to stop the Florida recount], but I accept it." It was a gracious and gentlemanly thing to do, and I've always admired it. He had no choice but to accept the result of the election, and he could have stopped short of saying he accepted it, without there being any consequences. But he understood that it was important to the Republic to have a process that, even with a few flaws, produces a definite result that all the participants would accept.
Ladies and gentlemen, Richard Nixon abided by the results of the 1960 election, even though voting irregularities in Chicago made the difference in who won Illinois. If Nixon had won Illinois, he would have won in the Electoral College. He had, so I've heard, good reason to believe that the Daley machine in Chicago had waited until it knew how many votes Kennedy needed to carry Illinois, and it gave him that many votes. But Nixon, rather than putting his victory above the interests of the public in finding out the results without delay, conceded the election to Kennedy within a few hours after the polls closed.Gore comparison
The only people in US history who seriously refused to abide by the results of an election were the rabid pro-slavery citizens of most southern states,Troublemakers who refused to abide by the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860. They contrived to get several states to try to secede from the Union, a crime that was reversed only at the cost of hundreds of thousands of lives.
It was a southerner, William Faulkner, who said, "The past is never dead; it is not even past," and he knew what he was talking about. There are plenty of people in the South, but not just in the South, who will read Trump's defiant refusals to say he will abide by the election as a call to push back against those who have rigged it. Some of them have enough control of ballot boxes to stuff them; others will exert pressure by rounding up all the former Klan members they know, and going down to take names of African-Americans casting their votes.
I doubt they can really influence the results. I'm sure the police have thought this through and are ready to go down to polling places to provide security for voters and stop intimidation efforts. Well, I have confidence in the police in big cities; in smaller towns the police are probably still somewhat sympathetic with the "stormtrumpers" trying to intimidate African-Americans. Most Americans now live in cities, so these intimidation efforts, while scary, will yield only marginal results. Still, for even one African-American to be scared away from voting is a bitter turn of events. We're supposed to have left racism behind, say the very people willing to demonstrate how alive and well it is.
Many people say they're voting for Trump because it's the only way to get the elite to notice their distress. They're like "Brexit" voters in England, willing to damage the country to break the complacent illusion of the elite that the country's working just fine. I understand that. The question is just how much damage they're willing for the country to sustain. I hope they decide that destroying confidence in elections is beyond that limit.
Note Gore comparison
So why didn't Gore concede Florida to Bush and not demand a recount? Actually, if memory serves, the election was so close that Florida law required a recount, or perhaps the election board called it. The Republicans understood that Bush, who was ahead by a handful of votes in the initial count, must, for psychological impact, never come out behind as the recount proceeded. They rushed to Florida their finest legal team and a several Republican Congressional staff members posing as concerned citizens. These citizens watched the recounters in a totally nonpartisan and unintimidating way. The Democrats did not respond in kind. Their legal team was not in the same league as the Republicans'. They seemed to trust the the wheels of justice to reach a just result. Perhaps a just result was reached. In any case, Gore accepted it with minimal dissent. [Back]
We can thank Lyndon Johnson for shifting these troublemakers from the Democratic Party to the Republican, although a whole generation of liberal Democrats were supporting him in important ways. It is ironic that Lincoln's Republican Party is now keeping the Lost Cause, Confederate flags and all, on life support; while the task of fighting racism has fallen to the Democrats. [Back]