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On the eve of the third and (thank God!) final presidential debate, the main item still in question is not who will win the election but whether Donald Trump will accept the results. That is America’s dangerous moment.
Trump is well and deservedly known for being a sore loser. He loves to make deals, but by his own admission, he hates to settle disputes and is willing to spend lots of money on lawyers either to win them eventually or have them go on forever. Thus it is no surprise that as he faces defeat at the polls, he is stepping up his charge that the election is rigged and voter fraud is rampant. Needless to say, he offers no proof of either charge. This is what children often do: When they’re losing a game, they walk away rather than accept defeat, charging that the game was unfair. (Of course, when they win, the game is entirely fair.) Now we have the child-man Trump, who loves winning primaries but would rather destabilize the presidential election than face being a loser.
As the media (which Trump blames for the rigging) has widely reported, here and there are Trump supporters who likewise can’t stand the prospect of losing. They seem ready to commit violence at the polls or after the election. Republican officeholders around the country have offered assurances that the elections will be fair; Republicans and Democrats have people watching to see that they are. Many studies have concluded that instances of voter fraud are rare. Mike Pence has said he has confidence that Trump will accept the election results—not the same thing as rejecting charges of rigging, and like Trump’s charges, unsubstantiated. Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric is going to create ugly incidents, and the last thing the country needs is a perception that the elections are illegitimate. Lock him up?
I hope President Obama is prepared to send federal marshals wherever necessary to protect the sanctity of the ballot box, just as President Eisenhower used troops to enforce desegregation in Little Rock, and President Kennedy dispatched federal marshals to protect the freedom riders and escort James Meredith to end segregation at the University of Mississippi. There are hateful, violence-prone people out there who march to Trump’s drumming. We cannot allow him to play the dictator and deny good citizens the right to vote.
Mel Gurtov is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Portland State University, Editor-in-Chief of Asian Perspective, an international affairs quarterly and blogs at In the Human Interest.