It seems that everyone I speak with is anxious for election Day to come and go. They’re fatigued, overloaded and anxiety ridden. It seems to all of us that this presidential election cycle has been going on forever. But it’s not only the length, after all it’s no longer than it always has been, but rather it is the tone, the nastiness, the anger and the lack of civility and dignity that has made this presidential cycle so distasteful and difficult to tolerate. While I believe that Hillary will win, this campaign has been so filled with the unexpected and unpredictable that I still have a queasy feeling that will persist until the final results are announced. However, a Hillary victory will not really relieve that queasiness. The days and weeks and indeed months after the election promise to be even more challenging and more dangerous.
I can’t even fathom the possibility that Trump will win. If he does I fear I will have to write a eulogy to American democracy. While the Democratic Party may indeed again win the White House, the victory may well be fraught with such challenges that we will look back at the campaign with nostalgia. Those challenges will come from two quarters. The first will not be a surprise. The very same institutional obstruction experienced by the Obama administration will be repeated, but with additional fervor, against the Clinton Administration. Congressman Chaffetz has already promised that he will lead years of House investigations into everything he can come up with on Hillary Clinton. A number of Republican senators have already announced that they will block any Clinton Supreme Court nominee to leave the Court one justice short throughout her administration. Finally both House and Senate leaders have talked about a Clinton impeachment even before she has been elected. Obviously, Hillary will not have a honeymoon. This time-honored pause and opportunity for governmental renewal and recharging will clearly not be enjoyed by the Hillary Clinton Administration.
However, the institutional obstruction described above is tame compared to the second challenge a Hillary Clinton administration will have to confront. The Trump campaign has given voice to and legitimized the most extreme and dangerous segments of our society. The white supremacists, Neo Nazis and militia groups that have become some of his most vocal supporters present a challenge not only to a Clinton Administration, but to American democracy. Trump’s rhetoric and his constant cry that the system and the election are rigged fell on receptive ears. He has given this potentially dangerous and volatile group license to challenge and refuse to accept the legitimacy of the Clinton Presidency. This is a group that is armed, trained and very capable of violence and havoc. Will the Clinton presidency be challenged by an internal insurrection? What kind of numbers are we talking about? Well, let’s say that Trump receives 40 million votes. That would be less than both of the last Republican candidates. Let’s say that 95% of these voters are normal, but misguided Americans. That would leave us with 5% or 2 million voters who are less than accepting of the election results. Now let’s take just 1/4 of this group or 1.25% of the Trump voters who just might be inclined to action. That is still 500,000 individuals who can wreak havoc on our country. A half million man army committed to reversing the election results. That is a very frightening prospect.
It appears, then, that prospects for calm, civility and progress after the election are not very hopeful. However, that is the least of our problems. The institutional and paramilitary threats to the Clinton Administration are in fact, threats to our very democracy. Trump has unearthed and nourished a strong sense of distrust in American institutions and democracy. History has taught us the dangers of this situation. When people lose confidence in the ability of their governmental institutions to provide economic and physical security they seek a leader who will. The niceties of democratic institutions and values are thrust aside in favor of money and safety. Don’t say it can’t happen here. That’s what they always say until it happens. Trump may be drowning in his narcissism, but he has created a true threat to our democracy.