Jamelle Bouie has an excellent piece in Slate about the historical echoes and contemporary roots of Trump’s effort to cast advance doubt on the results of next month’s election, one that he will in all likelihood lose.
By urging his supporters to be alert to devious activity in “certain areas” of Pennsylvania, for example, or by insisting that ever-unskewed polls deserve more legitimacy than the votes actually cast on (or before) November 8, Trump is doing more than simply undermining his supporters’ confidence in the election. A candidate who previously warned of “riots” if things didn’t go his way — and whose rallies have included transparent endorsements of intimidation and abuse toward protestors (many of whom have been persons of color) — is playing around with dangerous, and potentially lethal, hypotheticals.
As Bouie reminds us, Trump’s rhetoric is the unmongrelized progeny of the abhorrent political violence that afflicted freedpersons in the Reconstruction-era South, where seasonal body counts tallied in the hundreds over the course of at least a decade following the war. It’s worth adding that over time, the ongoing denial of black suffrage was linked to pieties about “reforming” the political system and purging elections of “corruption.” For Southern whites, “corruption” was almost inseparably associated from the charge that white political opportunists were using the black vote to secure advantages for themselves while undermining social stability. These arguments were not only used to condemn the work of carpetbagging Republicans in the 1860s and 1870s, but they were revived in subsequent decades by Southern Populists like Rebecca Latimer Felton, who accused the Democratic Party of plying black men with cash and whiskey that unwittingly fueled election day rape binges. To the degree that whites accused one another of manipulating the black franchise, arguments for cleansing the voter rolls could be framed as gestures on behalf of orderly government. It hardly needs to be pointed out that claims like these have barely been modified in the service of contemporary voter ID laws and condescending theories that the Democratic Party has merely exploited the false consciousness of black voters.
This is all dangerous stuff, and it further puts the lie to Trump’s transparently disingenuous appeals for black support, to say nothing of his promise last week to accept the November 8 verdict (one he will accept only if he wins). No matter what happens, we’ll be faced with an avalanche of new bigoted conspiracy theories that will require you to unfriend your shithead uncle on Facebook. Beyond that, I’m more than a little concerned that thousands of white people — the same ones who yowl madly when others protest cops who murder black folks — will freak the fuck out when their Racist Corn Dog Emperor ungraciously loses to a woman.