We are three weeks away from Election Day, and I think it is increasingly clear that the election isn't going to be "over" on November 9 — rather, it will have only reached the next chapter in an increasingly painful and baroque series of events that doesn't seem to have any logical end. And the most sure prediction for Election Day, and beyond, is a violent one.
The violence that has characterized the Trump campaign throughout is escalating as Trump steps up his attempts at laying the groundwork for claims of a "stolen" election. Much like ardent sports fans, Trump survivors are going to riot if he does win, but they're going to riot even harder if he doesn't.
Despite the right's bluster on the subject, this is a very one-sided violence, and it is one they have failed to bring in check. While Politico reports that GOP insiders are starting to realize that the "rigged election" rhetoric Trump has been spewing might have consequences, it's effectively too late for the right to bring Trump to heel. How late? The "law and order" candidate's favorite law enforcement surrogate, Sheriff David Clarke, is literally calling for rioting.
On Friday, three men in Kansas were arrested for a plot to bomb an apartment building occupied by Somali Muslims — a natural extension of the anti-Muslim hatred that has been escalating in recent months. The misogyny characterizing the campaign — in which a man repeatedly accused of sexual harassment and sexual assault is somehow a major party's presidential candidate — is also taking its toll. Antisemitic attacks are also on the rise, including against prominent Jewish conservatives.
This wave of violence shouldn't come as a shock: Donald Trump routinely brings down the house with active incitements to violence. He's encouraged his followers to beat up protesters at rallies, and they've enthusiastically done so. When you build a loyal following through the use of violent rhetoric, it is not surprising that they express their loyalties through violence.
On Election Day itself, that could have a chilling effect — Trump is already encouraging his followers to go out and act as poll watchers, focusing on neighborhoods heavily populated by people of color, in order to protect the sanctity of the election from "Crooked Hillary." Poll watching is, in fact, legal, and some states have extremely permissive poll-watching laws, including Pennsylvania, a tipping-point state. In some states, any voter can challenge another voter's right to participate, and poll workers have to enforce the challenge.
It's not hard to see how this is going to lead to voter intimidation. Separate from nonpartisan election observers (who will be out in fewer numbers this year, thanks to the Department of Justice's interpretation of a recent judicial decision on the Voting Rights Act), poll watchers are explicitly partisan. While it's not legal for them to engage in electioneering or follow people into the voting booth, that leaves room for a lot of latitude — especially in open carry states, where being faced with a line of armed individuals when you are trying to vote would definitely be intimidating.
I will be surprised if I don't hear about incidents of voter suppression targeting people of color in key battleground states, and I will also be highly surprised if these challenges don't turn violent in some cases. That's what Donald Trump wants, what he has spent the last several months inciting people to do, and the GOP is far too many steps behind to do anything about it.
When dawn breaks on the 9th, assuming the election is called the night before, the infamously litigious candidate will be swinging into action to contest the results. In 2000, we endured a collective long, drawn-out, and painful series of proceedings as a genuinely dubious election outcome was contested, but at least Vice President Gore's supporters weren't out in force beating up people who voted for his opponent. The same, I suspect, will not be said of those riding the Trump Train.
In the wake of Trump's assertions about a rigged election, his running mate took to the media in an attempt to smooth things over on Sunday. Governor Mike Pence asserted that "we will absolutely accept the result of the election," but those words from Mr. Clean aren't terribly reassuring. We've seen Trump repeatedly break ranks with his running mate before, making Governor Pence's words sound more like those of a desperate equestrian clinging to the reins of a runaway horse than an actual campaign promise.
Commentator Jamelle Bouie argues that Trump is setting a "time bomb for racial violence" with cleverly seeded rhetoric about stolen elections. He's stepping up his campaign, taking his already existing antipathy for the media to new levels, suggesting that somehow "the media" are "rigging" the election, thereby making a Trump win impossible. In a country where a journalist is currently facing prison time for reporting on the Dakota Access Pipeline and a major media property was just bankrupted through carefully targeted litigation, it's clear that the freedom of the press is on shaky ground. When the Arizona Republic endorsed Secretary Clinton and got death threats for it, it highlighted the asymmetry of the base on both sides — because it is not liberals but conservatives who are engaging in acts of violence against the world (or faking acts of violence to position themselves as martyrs).
When it comes to the effects of Trump's rhetoric, this is not hyperbole. The mood at Trump rallies has always been violent, but it's cut with new undercurrents of viciousness brought about by fear of loss. The only thing more dangerous than a wild animal is a wounded one.
There's a popular myth that "America will prevail," that at the "end" of this vicious and horrific election, the country will once again settle down, rifts slowly closing. That myth is the outgrowth of American exceptionalism and the belief that the U.S. is truly unique and special, instead of being a nation like any other, and one susceptible to collapse. History is filled with failed democracies, and the United States is not magically exempt.
Evidence is emerging that this is, in fact, exactly what is happening — that the 2016 election may be a marker of a fundamental breakdown of American democracy. Secretary Clinton recently remarked that she has concerns about the implications of the current level of rhetoric for the nation's recovery from the election, and she's not wrong. Demonizing groups of people, encouraging acts of rampant violence, suggesting that conspiracies are threatening the electoral process, relying on support from foreign powers with a vested interest in destabilizing the current government, and suppressing the media all have precedents, and they are all things we have seen before.