It’s no secret that Donald Trump’s campaign is struggling. His “meltdown” is TIME Magazine’s cover story this week. You can’t turn on the news without hearing about his latest “misinterpretation” – just in the past week, it’s been “second amendment people” and “Obama founded ISIS.” And after these gaffes, Republican leadership sends Mike Pence out in order to provide the official Donald Trump Interpretation or Trump takes to twitter to say he was “being sarcastic” and that it’s the media’s fault for not understanding sarcasm.
It’s not the off the cuff remarks (although, really? Second Amendment People? Obama is the “most valuable player” when it comes to ISIS?) that scare me, although it does concern me that there are so many off the cuff remarks. It concerns me that Pence is not only the vice presidential candidate but also the “cleaner-up-in-chief.” It worries me that Trump seems to think that sarcasm is acceptable when running for President. It alarms me that Trump does not seem to realize that words matter — especially if one is the President of the United States.
All of that doesn’t scare me.
What scares me is this often heard line from Mr. Trump: “The election is going to be rigged.”
Why does this scare me? One of the greatest strengths of the United States is the peaceful transfer of power from one party to another on election years. George Washington’s refusal to run for a third term and his transfer of the presidency to John Adams in 1797 was the first peaceful transfer of power in the world, causing Richard Henry Lee to remark at General Washington’s funeral that Washington was “first in war and first in peace.” (I refer to Washington here as “General” because he believed only the sitting President should be referred to as Mr. President and at the time of his death he had been out of office for 2 years).
Ever since Washington’s retirement, the American presidency has passed from person to person without revolution or bloodshed. There is a winner and a loser. The loser responds gracefully and concedes the election to the winner. The country moves forward with a new leader. This does not mean that there haven’t been rumors of election tampering in the past; there are a plethora of conspiracy theories about rigged or stolen elections, most notably The Revolution of 1800, Richard Nixon’s loss to John F. Kennedy in 1960 and George W. Bush’s win over Al Gore in 2000. What is important about these elections, though, is that the losing candidate did not mount a challenge to try to claim the presidency (although the Bush v. Gore campaign did go to the Supreme Court due to Florida’s election laws — however, once the Supreme Court ruled for President Bush, Gore graciously stepped aside).
And that is what scares me. I am scared that if the Republicans lose this election, Trump, a businessman who doesn’t like to lose, will mount a challenge to the election itself. I’m scared that if he loses, he won’t lose gracefully. I’m scared that, even if he concedes, his supporters won’t. I’m scared that they will call into question America’s 227 year democracy and thus undermine it — causing doubt in every future election.
I hope that I am wrong. I hope that my fears are unfounded. And I hope that if Trump loses, he is able to unite the country the way Gore did when he conceded in December of 2000 saying “But our disappointment must be overcome by our love of country.”