During the campaign, Donald Trump raised the specter of a rigged election as the only way the “establishment” could defeat him. Turns out there was indeed a rigged election, one that gave him the presidency.
Over the past quarter century the ubiquitous radical-right media has been demonizing liberals in dishonest, hateful ways and attacking the foundations of our democracy by undermining the legitimacy of government through the cynical depiction of corruption among politicians as well-nigh universal.
Along with this came a broader attack on institutions and traditional sources of authority, which converted them into elite enemies of “the people.” This creates a closed system, immune to knowledge from the discredited sources.
Add a Supreme Court that has rendered decisions that have done immense harm to the democratic system, especially through its ludicrous Citizens United decision, which accepted the fantasy of money as speech, as well as its decision in 2013 to gut the Voting Rights Act.
The Citizens ruling allows unlimited spending, enabling the right to control the narrative and elect officials beholden to donors. Corruption is thus embedded into the fabric of political Washington.
With a vital part of the Voting Rights Act eliminated, the door was open for Republicans to ram through bills designed to reduce the voting by African-Americans and other Democratic-oriented blocs. Thus you had mechanisms in place to ensure Democrats would face obstacles to performing as well as they could or normally did.
Compounding this for the Democrats is the refusal of Republican-led states to restore voting rights for ex-felons, many of them blacks and Hispanics.
Insert gerrymandering as a norm for ensuring GOP monopolization of congressional delegations. This egregiously undemocratic alignment in so many states has produced a Republican Congress with little interest in governing. Gridlock is the result that they then can shamelessly blame on Obama and Democrats. And stoke the angry call for change.
Finally, you have the ultimate form of gerrymandering — the Electoral College — giving an advantage to the portion of the country that tends to be anti-government, non-inclusive and less educated.
Along comes Trump, for whom lying is a default, ignorant certainty his source of superiority and gaming the tax system his ideal of civic engagement. Add the enormous advantage the celebrity candidate gains from the unlimited exposure he gets from ratings-obsessed cable news networks. As a celebrity, Trump is not held to account as all other candidates would be. There is no public record to scrutinize. He easily stonewalls on releasing his tax returns and his medical records: keys for gauging his fitness for office. As a celebrity, there are no moral scales for him to worry about judging his character. In our celebrity-soaked culture, character counts for nothing.
The confidence-oozing Trump tells Americans how “I alone can fix” America. “Trust me.” In a world without authority, the Confidence Man prevails, even with white evangelicals. Not even his transgressions can shake their Faustian bargain with the GOP over abortion.
Next, add an opponent whom the radical right attack machine has been demonizing for a quarter of a century; the calculated insertion (twice) of a major federal agency over the ginned-up email issue. Throw in the Russian hacking of Democrats. Plug in two third-party candidates, both of whom offer a channel for a protest vote for those who facilely dismiss the major candidates as equally unacceptable. And have four-tenths of the American electorate be unable or simply not bother to vote. Suppression and apathy have large consequences.
Finally, a first in the nation’s history, a woman running for president. For far too many American males of whatever color (and a large number of females), that was a characteristic they did not easily associate with the presidency. We should not underestimate the pull of sexism. To more white men than we would like to think, Trump’s exposure as a sexual predator had the appeal of a larger-than-life male who could get away with behavior they could only guiltily dream about.
Add them up and you have a truly rigged election.
Robert Emmett Curran lives in Richmond and is a professor emeritus of history at Georgetown University. He is the editor of “John Dooley’s Civil War” and the author of “Papist Devils: Catholics in British America, 1574-1783,” the three-volume “A History of Georgetown University” and “Shaping American Catholicism: Maryland and New York, 1805-1915.”