Over the past few months, Donald Trump has claimed that the 2016 election will be rigged. He has urged his supporters to monitor polling places in “certain areas” and said the election could be stolen by “other communities.” He has on many occasions alluded to or directly referenced Philadelphia and other Democratic cities particularly prone to these kinds of machinations. If it’s not clear who Trump is referring to, check out the quotes of some Trump supporters in this recent Boston Globe article:
His supporters are heeding the call. “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,” he said. “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.”
“We’re going to have a lot of election fraud,” said Jeannine Bell Sm
ith, 65-year-old longtime teacher in a red Trump shirt with a bucket of popcorn under her arm. “They are having illegals vote. In some states, you don’t need voter registration to vote.”
You may be seeing a pattern here. Non-white (Democratic) voters pose a unique threat to the integrity of our electoral system that only armed, Trump-voting whites can mitigate. This same attitude is prevalent in Republican controlled states like North Carolina, which have passed strict voter ID laws, which a federal court found targeted black voters “with almost surgical precision.” Their claims of frequent in-person voter fraud never hold up to scrutiny; expert Justin Levitt of Loyola Law School, found 31 incidents of voter fraud in over a billion ballots cast between 2000 and 2014. But that’s never been the point. Republican politicians tapped into the prejudices of their supporters that non-whites were more likely to cheat and have been milking it for years, under the guise of “protecting the integrity of our elections” through strict voter ID laws and proof of citizenship requirements.
Years of voter-fraud hysteria has led to a Trump candidacy suggesting that his voters go out in packs to polling places where blacks and Hispanics vote and make sure they are not breaking the law. Imagine if a Democratic politician told his black and Hispanic supporters that white soccer moms from Franklin Lakes, NJ or hedge fund managers from Westchester, NY were voting multiple times as dead people. That would be ridiculous. Such a politician would very soon be out of a job and be seen as dangerously ignorant by Republicans and Democrats alike.
The reverse is acceptable because in America, because the ideal citizen has always been and still is white. I look forward to a time when that is no longer the case, but when unarmed black men are still being killed by police at extraordinarily higher rates than whites, non-whites make less on the dollar, live shorter lives, are incarcerated more frequently, and face greater barriers to the polls, it is clear we have a long way to go. For all its flaws and failures, the Democratic Party understands this.
When Hispanics, blacks, Asians, Muslims, and Jews overwhelmingly support the Democratic nominee this November, it will not simply be a matter of “goodies.” They know this election is fundamentally about who has the right to call themselves American. When Trump and his supporters decry a rigged election, they are really denying the legitimacy of non-white Americans not just as voters, but as citizens and potential citizens, Americans and potential Americans.
I can think of nothing more destructive to our democracy than the idea that American identity is unchanging, that we cannot contain multitudes, that we are somehow diminished by the presence of people who look, talk, or think differently from us. The people newest to our democracy and those who have been victimized by its historical injustices are among the most vibrant and active members of our society. We would be less safe without them defending us in uniform, less prosperous without their businesses, and less American without their votes.