Chris Wallace, Moderator, Fox News: Mr. Trump, I want to ask you about one last question in this topic. You've been warning at rallies recently that this election is rigged and that Hillary Clinton is in the process of trying to steal it from you … I want to ask you here on the stage tonight, do you make the same commitment that you'll absolutely accept the result of the election.
Donald Trump: I will look at it at the time. I’m not looking at anything now ...
Wallace: But, sir, there is a tradition in this country, in fact, one of the prides of this country is the peaceful transition of power and no matter how hard fought a campaign is that at the end of the campaign, that the loser concedes to the winner … and the country comes together in part for the good of the country. Are you saying you're not prepared now to commit to that principle?
Trump: What I’m saying is that I will tell you at the time. I'll keep you in suspense, okay?
Donald Trump’s refusal to say he would accept the results of the election undermines a foundation of American democracy — the peaceful transition of power — and sets the stage for political violence. Trump’s rhetoric, from the beginning of his campaign, has been racially charged — at his rallies, it has become clear that Donald Trump’s calls for “election monitoring” have come to really mean “voter intimidation,” based on race.
At a rally in Colorado, Donald Trump said, “Voter fraud is all too common, and then they criticize us for saying that.” He went on, “But take a look at Philadelphia, what’s been going on, take a look at Chicago, take a look at St. Louis. Take a look at some of these cities, where you see things happening that are horrendous.”
Why is Trump picking those cities — and who is he implying lives there, and is responsible for supposed voter fraud? Is Donald Trump really encouraging angry white Americans (some of whom may choose to carry guns) to polling stations where voters are mostly people of color?
In the event that such white aggression does show up at the polls, we promise to have many Christians waiting — to stand between intimidators and those trying to exercise their right to vote.
Where Trump is when he says these things, and who he says them to, is very important to notice. “I hear these horror shows, and we have to make sure that this election is not stolen from us (emphasis added) and is not taken away from us,” he said last week to a nearly all-white crowd in northeast Pennsylvania, a critical swing state. “And everybody knows what I’m talking about.”
Yes — we do indeed know what you are talking about, Donald. You’re speaking racism into a constituency that is heavily motivated heavily motivated by racial resentment — which you have stoked and fueled from the opening of your campaign.
Trump’s racial language is quite clear at events like another recent Pennsylvania rally in the white suburbs outside of Pittsburg. Trump told his almost all-white supporters that it was “so important that you watch other communities, because we don’t want this election stolen from us.” Who are the “other” communities Trump is speaking of? And who is the “us?” Trump has made that clear throughout his campaign. He has also told supporters to go vote, then "pick some other place ... and go sit there with your friends and make sure it's on the up and up."
Trump is now directly encouraging his supporters to sign up online to be “election observers” to stop “Crooked Hillary from rigging this election.” Unlike bipartisan poll monitors, who are trained to identify and address concerns at the polls on Election Day, a presidential candidate is urging supporters to create their own groups in “other” communities, to ensure that votes are not being stolen from “us.”
It’s not yet known how many Trump campaign supporters will register as “poll watchers,” those citizens who can be appointed to check the work of local election officials. In 39 states, the New York Times reported this week, credentialed poll watchers can challenge a voter’s eligibility with varying rules. Pennsylvania, a state that allows challenges to a voter photo ID or residency, has clarified that these challenges cannot be based on race. But Wendy R. Weiser of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice said, “I think there’s a real risk of improper challenges.”
Apart from the concerns of traditional poll watchers vs. non-registered poll watchers, one has to also wonder whether Trump supporters acting as the latter will show their passionate support for the Second Amendment by openly carrying guns. That is not illegal in many states, but it is utterly unprecedented in modern American history.
“Trump said to watch your precincts. I’m going to go, for sure,” said Steve Webb, a 61-year-old carpenter from Fairfield, Ohio. “I’ll look for . . . well, 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 want to see if they are accountable. I’m not going to do anything illegal. I’m going to make them a little bit nervous.”
“Unprecedented” is one of the best words to describe the Trump campaign. Trump has been saying things like, “It’s one big fix,’’ to a rally of his white supporters in Greensboro, N.C. “This whole election is being rigged.’’ This type of language alarms historians. “What’s really distinct is the candidate himself putting this out front and center as a consistent theme throughout the last part of the campaign, and doing it when there’s no evidence of anything,” Julian Zelizer, a Princeton University presidential scholar, said to the Boston Globe last week.
But while data shows no evidence of systemic and significant voter fraud in modern American elections — a reality that local election officials from both major parties have acknowledged — the “facts” clearly don’t matter to Donald Trump or his supporters.
“If Clinton is elected, as it looks like she will be, they will be convinced she should not be president because the Republican nominee has confirmed their own fears, anxieties, and conspiratorial outlook…. It will make governing more difficult,” Zelizer said.
And that seems to what Donald Trump wants to create: A resentful and aggrieved constituency, based on racial divides, for whatever he wants to do next.
This election, like every election, is about the peaceful transition of power in America — one of the most important things about our democracy. And Donald Trump’s ignoring of the evidence and lying about voter fraud at the polls, along with his growing claim that this election has been rigged, is alarming. It is setting up a context for potential violence in America — on Election Day, and after the election.
There are deep historical issues at play behind the current racial conflicts that the Trump campaign is deliberately exacerbating. And we need to go deeper and longer-term if we are to protect all American voters of all races and ethnicities. For this month's cover story for Sojourners, I wrote about “Mr. James Crow, Esq.” — who wears a white shirt and a tie instead of a white sheet and a hood, and inhabits the back rooms in state legislatures and corporate offices instead of rural backwoods lynching sites--a new and more sophisticated version of Jim Crow. James Crow, Esq. can’t prevent the racial demographics of America from evolving toward a nation that is no longer a white majority country. But he thinks he can obstruct and delay the changes that new racial demographics will bring to American life and politics.
I believe politicians are using a clear five-part strategy to accomplish these goals: racial gerrymandering, opposition to comprehensive immigration reform, mass incarceration, voter suppression, and the resurgence of white nationalism as a political movement. Our cover article discusses those strategies, and lays out ways for people of faith to oppose and defeat Mr. James Crow’s agenda.
But our most important and immediate concern must be to protect the right to vote of vulnerable voters of color in America — from North Carolina, a state who’s new voter regulations targeted voters of color with "almost surgical precision," according to a federal appeals court, to Pennsylvania, and every other state Trump has named. This is a fundamental moral issue, not just a political one. In Matthew chapter 25, Jesus calls us to protect the “least of these” — the hungry, thirsty, and naked, the strangers, and those sick and in prison. Because new voter restrictions are aimed at these very people, many of us are joining together in what I call “the Matthew 25 Voter Protection Campaign.”
We are calling upon Christians and other people of faith to act on their faith commitment to racial justice. Volunteers will be needed all across the country to ensure that vulnerable voters know their rights, have a way to get to the polls, and even have non-violent protection in order to have the opportunity to express their constitutional right to vote. Sojourners is working with other nonpartisan groups, in partnership with lawyers and others, in training people of faith to take these very appropriate — and necessary — steps to protect these Matthew 25 voters.
A number of organizations have created an election protection hotline, 866-OUR-VOTE, which anyone can call to learn about their rights and report problems they encounter at the polls. Lawyers will be available and advice offered about what can be done in particular situations. We are also working for churches to provide leadership, training, and a place for voter protection volunteers to gather and be deployed in key cities and states that may be targeted.
On Election Day, I would love to see clergy in their collars, along with others from their congregations, in polling places all over the country, acting together to protect the rights of our most vulnerable voters.
Together, we can vanquish Mr. James Crow, Esq., and truly welcome the new nation we are becoming. It won’t happen overnight, and it will take people of all races working together on multiple fronts . But I believe it will be done.