October 19, 2016

KOWALEWSKI | Basic Integrity

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If Donald Trump wins, I’ll be beyond upset. But I will accept the judgment of the American people, and so will his opponent, Hillary Clinton. Further, despite his vehement disagreements with Trump, President Obama would quickly move to continue our nation’s long tradition of peaceful transfer of power. Of course, there would be widespread outrage and protest after Trump’s victory. However, the core players of our political system would respect the outcome and uphold our constitutional structure.

The American political system depends on this respect for political norms. For the government to work, it must be viewed as legitimate. And since the American government is selected by democratic means, it necessarily follows that our elections must also be viewed as legitimate. The United States has built a robust democracy, but it should not be taken for granted. When the existing norms of society are rejected, rapid and often unexpected changes can occur.

That’s precisely why Donald Trump’s recent rhetoric is so dangerous. Facing a large deficit in the polls, Trump has resorted to an assault on the basic integrity of the election process. To be certain, it’s not the first time he has raised the idea. Trump’s persistent flirtation with “rigged election” conspiracies forced Lester Holt to ask an unprecedented question: would Trump respect the outcome of the election?  While Trump declared that he would support Hillary — if she wins — he’s now asserting that any such “win” would be illegitimate. He has experimented with this idea in the past, causing an unprecedented question from Lester Holt about whether Trump would accept the outcome. it is now a core theme of his campaign. His accusations are many, and they are ridiculous.

This is now a core theme of the Trump campaign. His accusations are as frequent as they are ridiculous. Through her vast design of machinations, Hillary Clinton is attempting to “rig” the election. Trump has actually put forth a threefold argument for why he can only lose through unsavory conduct.

First, there is apparently a “metaphorical” rigging of the election by virtue of the media’s overwhelming bias against Trump. His evidence for this supposed favoritism is that the media has had the appalling nerve to ask him questions, fact check his speeches and report on his own words. Even more, Trump claims that the sexual assault allegations made against him are a coordinated effort by the media to bring down his campaign. Trump’s attempt to defend himself may be pathetic, but it’s causing real damage. By urging his supporters to disregard this coverage, Trump encourages people to find refuge in their own informational bubbles.

Nonetheless, Trump’s theory of a rigged election goes deeper. He has been absolutely clear that he believes the voting process itself will be manipulated. His supporters, therefore, should not trust the official election results. This charge is not only extremely harmful, but also simply bizarre. The administrative work of American democracy is decentralized, with each state tabulating its own results and the actual counting done by average citizens. Voting equipment has been tested over and over again to ensure manipulation is not possible. Moreover, the ballots are tallied in public, with observers and lawyers from both parties there to make sure everything is done in accordance with law. Even if a presidential candidate genuinely wanted to rig the results, it would be simply impossible to do so.

Finally, the third aspect of his conspiracy is a supposed belief in widespread voter fraud. This is entirely false; in the past 15 years, only 31 voter fraud cases have been reported out of billions of votes. Regardless, Trump has repeatedly stated that in-person voter fraud is extremely common and going as far to warn that the votes of 1.8 million dead people would be counted toward Hillary Clinton. To combat the risk of people — or zombies, I guess — casting illegal ballots, Trump has launched an “election monitors” program. More transparently, however, these volunteers are an attempt at voter intimidation.

The glaring historical blight of our democracy has been the denial of the franchise, and arbitrary, oppressive restrictions on the right to vote should not be considered relics of the distant past. In fact, Trump’s rhetoric on voter fraud is not new. These exaggerated claims have been used by the Republican Party to pass voter identification laws across the country. Voter ID laws that are attempting to alleviate a non-existent problem end up having disproportionate effects on the poor, elderly and yes, African-Americans and Latinos. Ironically, this is the closest thing to a “rigged election” that’ll you find. Voter fraud may be non-existent, but voter suppression — through unfair laws and a cadre of Trump supporters positioned at polling locations — is very real.

But let’s return back to the main point. Trump’s claims of an unfair election process are both absurd and harmful. Consequently, every responsible elected official should strongly condemn them. A few Republicans, such as Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) and Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), have done so. They should be commended for rejecting Trump and stressing that the outcome can be trusted. In equal measure, however, we should castigate those who stand by Trump as he attempts to bring our democracy down with him.

We have to question whether, if he loses, Trump will even concede on election day. Or the following day, or even the following weeks. What damage will it do if Trump, driven by his own ego, refuses to ever acknowledge that a President Clinton was legitimately chosen by the public? How can she attempt to govern if tens of millions of Americans have been told by her opponent that she orchestrated a rigged election? It is a sobering, and disturbing thought. In an era that is already dominated by polarization and dysfunction in Washington, it could still become exponentially worse.

In the end, I’ll quote a recent statement by President Obama. When asked about Trump’s voter fraud comments, Obama responded, “I’d advise Mr. Trump to stop whining and go try to make his case to get votes” Sadly, Trump is willing to damage our democracy merely to protect his own fragile ego from the prospect of having been legitimately defeated: he’s a sore loser before he’s even lost. Our election process is strong, robust and can be trusted. What lacks basic integrity is Donald Trump himself.

Kevin Kowalewski is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at krk78@cornell.edu.Democratic Dialogue appears alternate Thursdays this semester.