Americans are accustomed to thinking of post-election violence, along ethnic or “tribal” lines, as something that occurs Somewhere Else. Popular narratives would have us think of that violence as an irrational feature of backwards, underdeveloped cultures. People who study politics, and people with historical and social knowledge of these places--never mind the people who live there--know better.
But between now and November, we in the United States are going to have a front-row seat to how political economic circumstance, party dysfunction, and calculated efforts by an elite politician create the conditions for post-election violence.
Yesterday, the fascist candidate Donald Trump called his rival Hillary Clinton “the devil,” and warned that “November 8th, we’d better be careful, because that election is going to be rigged...it’s going to be taken away from us.”
This follows a Trump advisor saying that Hillary Clinton “should be put in the firing line and shot for treason.”
The Guardian also reported that another Trump ally is using right-wing radio to describe how Trump can discredit the election process in preparation for its aftermath. “He needs to say for example,” Roger Stone said, “today would be a perfect example: ‘I am leading in Florida. The polls all show it. If I lose Florida we will know that there’s voter fraud. If there’s voter fraud, this election will be illegitimate, the election winner will be illegitimate, we will have a constitutional crisis, widespread civil disobedience, and the government will no longer be the government.’”
Stone advocated a “bloodbath” if the election doesn’t go Trump’s way.
This is a terrifying strategy being adopted by the Trump campaign, but we knew it was coming because it is part and parcel of fascist politics, and it is no more than a ramped up version of the rhetoric Trump deployed during the primary. Then, he warned the Republican Party that if he didn’t win the nomination, he couldn’t say what his supporters might do, and pledged to circumvent the democratic process.
Now he is doing the same thing, but his supporters are very openly endorsing and proscribing the use of violence whether Trump wins or loses. If he wins, he should execute Hillary Clinton. If he loses, he will start a civil war.
No matter his post-convention poll boost, a Trump victory has always been unlikely given the reality of American demographics in the 21st century and his own predilection for being nasty and brutal toward so many groups that make up so much of our society. He launched his latest salvo against women and their rights by saying he hoped that if his own daughter were harassed at work, she would look for a job somewhere else rather than standing up for herself. And he has offended veterans and their families across the political spectrum with his bigoted and spiteful attacks on parents who lost a son in a war that he (as well as Hillary Clinton) supported).
He has also thoroughly alienated Latinos with his border policy and his racist claim that we are unable to serve in positions of responsibility because our ethnicity prejudices us, and black voters by returning to the Reaganesque association of crime with race.
State politics make a Democrat theft of the election particularly unlikely given Republican dominance in state-houses and crucial statewide offices in many swing states (and the country more broadly). But Trump, his advisors, and hardcore of supporters are hardly likely to let facts stand in their way.
Trump and his campaign are clearly coming to terms with the likelihood that he will lose the election. There are just not enough people standing who he either hasn’t insulted, or who aren’t terrified by the prospect of electing a dishonest, exploitative, racist member of the 1%. And so they are looking beyond the election to find another path to victory, one which promises to be horrifyingly violent.
Trump has made a lot of off-handed comments about a rigged system, partly in an unlikely bid to win over Sanders’ supporters who supported a candidate diametrically opposed to every last policy Trump represents. But the coherence of rhetoric around promises of violence and a systematic plan to discredit the electoral process is truly sinister.
It fits with the Republican Party’s recent method of political participation--to sabotage the functioning of government to create dysfunction and void of democratic power that can be filled by the super-wealthy.
And it fits with the behavior of fascists and authoritarians more broadly, who participate in electoral processes, but facing defeat, dehumanize their opponents, cry foul and ask their supporters to resort to violence to create constitutional crises and civil strife, into the midst of which a strongman can present himself as the peacemaker, the “law and order candidate,” the antidote to the very fear they so systematically stoked.
What might save us from the future Trump offers America--whether or not he is elected--is the transparency of his campaigns sadism, and the ability of mass media to circulate their words to a large audience. People need to be aware of the Trump campaign’s “Plan B,” and discourage their family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, and anyone they can speak to from being sucked into the vortex of conspiracy theories and calculated efforts to subvert democracy.
The alternatives are too frightening to contemplate. Fiat lux.