While I don’t think it’s been lost in the daily attention to Trump’s latest ridiculous claims, I confess that I am increasingly concerned about his suggestions that he believes the election may be rigged. In a democracy, that’s a dangerous charge to be throwing around, especially when it’s not born out by the facts. I think that Trump is like a playground bully, hedging against the prospect that he will lose the election by floating the suggestion the whole process is illegitimate in the first place. This is easy to dismiss, because it’s part of the usual Trump bluster and attack mode. But such claims are deadly dangerous to our democracy and they must not be ignored.
Whether or not Trump actually thinks the process is rigged, the claim that it is sets up a very dangerous precedent. It means that when he loses in November, he can derail our representative democracy and our Constitution all in an effort to assuage his outsized bruised ego. Rather than graciously cede defeat to Hillary Clinton on November 8, he can instead announce that he was robbed, thus encouraging his followers to believe that our entire system of government is illegitimate. His contributions to the Barack Obama birther movement suggest that he’s more than willing to derail democracy to promote himself.
A false claim that our system is “rigged” has the potential to do real and lasting damage to our republic. The American system isn’t perfect; nothing is. But neither is the system rigged. We don’t have a problem with voter fraud (see this to understand just how little fraud exists). The electoral college is peculiar and complicated, a creation of founders who worried about uncertainty as an electoral outcome. But it is not rigged.
Democratic systems like ours are built upon a foundation of trust and legitimacy. Elections only work as a method for selecting leaders if all the participants fundamentally believe that a fair system is just that. Winners of elections are seated into power; losers are free to criticize leadership and participate in other ways. If electoral losers instead criticize the system as rigged or unfair, we all lose. When the legitimacy of the system is in doubt, representative democracy fails.