Virtually every state in the world today, outside the Persian Gulf monarchies, grounds its legitimacy on popular consent expressed through periodic elections. Yet the world is full of governments that rig elections under more or less cover. Think of Russia, Iran, or Turkey, as examples of the species.
The essential hallmark of a working, healthy democracy is the possibility of a government being voted out, and that requires a willingness to accept election results. This is what distinguishes Belgium from Belarus, or Costa Rica from Honduras. The United States, as the world’s oldest democracy, has an almost unbroken record of losers accepting the results, going all the way back to the election of 1800, when Jefferson defeated the incumbent John Adams. The only exception was the Confederate secession in 1861, after the election of Abraham Lincoln. We hear some rash talk about that now, in pockets of the old Confederacy, but we know how that worked out the first time.
No democracy can be healthy without acceptance of election results. It is more than tradition; it is what democracy is all about.
Donald Trump’s refusal to commit himself to respect the results, his repeated (groundless) claim that the election is “rigged” against him, threatens to take the country down the road to Putinism.
Donald Trump’s refusal to commit himself to respect the results, his repeated (groundless) claim that the election is “rigged” against him, threatens to take the country down the road to Putinism. It is rooted in the fevered, paranoid speculations of his most fanatical supporters, who really do see Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton as undermining the (white, patriarchal) America they think they remember.
That a chunk of white America now questions the legitimacy of our political order is the real problem: Trump is just a symptom. If he really cared about the health of our democracy, he would not be feeding that mistrust, but rather countering it. But much as Trump the narcissist would hate to admit it, our political disease is not about him.
It will be up to President Hillary Clinton to find ways of including those who feel left behind (e.g., laid off industrial workers and miners, small town and rural people in general) as she leads us forward. The solution is not to go backward, as Trump would have it, but to move ahead toward a society where the bottom 90 percent, white as well as black or brown, male as well as female, straight as well as gay, can truly prosper.
This means taking Bernie Sanders seriously.