Web Only / Features » October 20, 2016
Trump’s Right: The Election Is Rigged. But He’s Wrong About Who’s Rigging It.
There’s a reason people feel unheard in American democracy.
American democracy isn’t working for most Americans, and Trump voters’ threats are an ugly reminder that we need to fix it.
This post first appeared in the Guardian.
For a campaign that started with a promise to round up and deport 11 million people, Trump’s bid for the White House has taken a still darker turn in recent days. As his support slips amid scandal, the Republican nominee has been warning his supporters that the election will be “rigged” by Democratic operatives. Trump’s campaign is promoting a sign-up sheet to help him “stop Crooked Hillary from rigging this election,” an estimated 73 percent of Republican voters now think the election could be stolen. Many are unwilling to take no for an answer.
“If she’s in office,” one Trump fan told the Boston Globe recently, “I hope we can start a coup. She should be in prison or shot … We’re going to have a revolution and take them out of office if that’s what it takes. There’s going to be a lot of bloodshed.”
Another described his poll watching plans bluntly: “It’s called racial profiling. Mexicans. Syrians. People who can’t speak American. I’m going to go right up behind them. I’ll do everything legally … I’m going to make them a little bit nervous.”
Trump is setting America up for something that looks an awful lot like dystopia come 9 November. That said, he is tapping—uncomfortably—into something more than his supporters’ most racist and violent urges: American democracy isn’t working for most Americans, and Trump voters’ threats are an ugly reminder that we need to fix it.
Nearly 90 percent of Trump supporters agreed with a Rand Corporation survey statement that “people like me don’t have any say about what the government does.” The irony here is that Trump voters are historically some of the most enfranchised, with some of his strongest support coming from white protestant men. A study done during the primaries also found that Trump backers make an average of $72,000 per year, compared with a $61,000 average among likely Clinton voters.
Most election rigging, of course, is done by Republicans through gerrymandering and restrictive voter ID laws, aimed at making it harder for poor people and people of color to get to the polls. On the whole, then, Trump voters are some of the least likely to find their ballots fall victim to foul play. Still, that doesn’t mean the threat posed by his fear-mongering is any less real, or that his supporters aren’t responding to legitimate flaws in American politics.
Corporate citizens—as defined by Citizens United—now have an easier time getting a hold of their elected representative than just about any other American. In other words, money talks in Washington, and Super Pacs have spend just under $795 million this election cycle. Because lobbying money courses through every level of politics, the most successful candidates are the best at making friends in the Fortune 500.
Meanwhile, just six in ten Americans are confident their votes will be accurately cast and counted. And unlike in systems based on proportional representation, our winner-take-all electoral model creates some of the highest barriers to entry for political outsiders of any democracy on earth.
Americans’ distrust of politics is about more than just elections, though. Congressional approval ratings have declined steadily since 2009, and now sit at just 20 percent—a high in the last few years. Unionswhich used to cudgel Democrats into representing working people’s interests—are at their weakest point in decades, and lack the sway they once held at the highest levels of government.
Declines in organized labor have been paired with the disappearance of steady and well-paid work, either succumbed to automation or shipped overseas by free trade agreements. A jobless recovery from the financial crisis has left many adrift in the economy, while executives from the firms that drove it got golden parachutes courtesy of the Obama administration and the Federal Reserve.
On the table now are to very different responses to these crises. Using an apocryphal quote from Frederich Engels, Rosa Luxemburg once wrote: “Bourgeois society stands at the crossroads, either transition to socialism or regression into barbarism.”
The path Trump has chosen is clear: scapegoating immigrants and people of color for white political and economic woes—a script that sounds eerily similar to both 1930s Germany and the far-right’s European resurgence today. Another path, though—Bernie Sanders’ Democratic Socialism—garnered 12 million votes in the primaries, and continues to find voice in the social movements that helped make his campaign possible. Railing against the 1 percent in Washington and on Wall Street, Sanders offered an egalitarian populism to those who felt left out of the political system, not a reactionary one.
The fight over vote rigging in 2016 is a proxy war for a much deeper crisis of legitimacy in American democracy, pitting the country’s political elite against just about everyone else who lives here. Our democracy is in sore need a revolution, one that—with any luck—will be a far cry from the violent and xenophobic coup Trump’s supporters are promising to bring about.
Kate Aronoff is a Brooklyn-based journalist covering climate and U.S. politics, and a contributing writer at The Intercept. Follow her on Twitter @katearonoff.