American democracy is held together in part by laws, but also by norms. Donald Trump has taken a sledgehammer to them one by one. The latest is the general assumption that the losers of an election should respect the democratic outcome. “I’m afraid the election’s gonna be rigged, to be honest,” he said today.
Trump does not require a lot of evidence to conclude that elections have been rigged. On Election Night 2012, he declared the outcome — a clear win for President Obama — a “sham” and a “travesty.”
When he lost the Iowa caucus earlier this year, he accused Ted Cruz of stealing the election. When his nomination appeared to be in danger later, he described the system as “phony” and “rigged.” He also used similar arguments to encourage dissatisfaction by Bernie Sanders supporters.
There is plenty of conspiracy-mongering around the political system. Far-left activists like Robert F. Kennedy Jr. have insisted George W. Bush stole the 2004 election. Paranoia and rejection of mainstream media having penetrated far deeper into the Republican Party, a great many leading conservatives promote hysteria about the alleged threat of rampant Democratic vote theft.
Still, to this point, major-party candidates have always respected the law. Al Gore requested a re-count to which he was legally entitled in 2000, and conceded the election after the Supreme Court quashed it. It is difficult to sustain a democracy without these kinds of norms. Trump is going to do serious damage even if he loses. If he wins, the future of the Republic is in serious danger.