On Tuesday, November eighth, America is going to vote. People will file out by the millions to stand in lines, first trickling in at lunch breaks and time snatched from work in the afternoon, and then tumbling into a mounting flood in the evening. Most of the votes will be cast as darkness descends slowly westwards, as the temperatures drop and tempers rise.
There’s a direct correlation between the waiting times at polling stations and the poverty of the area. And so the poor in the urban sprawls will huddle as the mercury drops towards freezing, the choice mounting between going home in electoral silence, or shivering to punch those chads. The higher your income, the more likely it is that you could afford to dip out of work during the day, vote on a touch screen with no line, and then watch the returns from home.
But the fact that whether it rains is a statistically significant predictor of how well the Democrats do is just liberal propaganda, right?
All through it, the talking heads will froth about Florida and Ohio, about half-assed exit polls, and anecdotal reports filed from random voting stations. “All three people I spoke to in the last fifteen minutes are voting for Trump, so we could be looking at a landslide of historical proportions, back to you Megyn.”
Sometime around ten pm eastern time, the televisions are going to call the election for Hillary, when the polling stations close in Illinois and that plus the foregone conclusion of California’s electoral votes put her above the holy number of 270 decreed by the ancients. And then Nate Silver will officially bless the results by chanting the omnia democracia while letting white smoke slip from the electoral palace and we can all go to bed after saying ten Hail Marthas.
Of course, it won’t be that smooth, because some time around six in the evening, when the first hints of exit polls start coming in, when it’s clear that the miracle on Drumpf Street isn’t going to manifest itself this day, that’s when the Trump proxies on all the news stations are going to start laying their mine field.
It’s rigged, they’ll say, Hillary is stealing the election. It’ll start as asides, as little sniping clauses tacked onto other sentences, and over the course of an hour will mount into full fledged accusations. Trump himself will give a speech at the end of the night, not a concession speech, but a raging tantrum that the election was stolen. He’ll rant about stuffed ballot boxes, about illegal immigrants being bussed across the border to vote, about the media covering it all up, probably something about Chinese hackers and Muslims just to round it all out.
Oh they won’t even have faked evidence or anecdotes, these latter day street corner shriekers are far too lazy to bother engineering even a facade for their lies. And why should it be otherwise? They have spent the entire election season demonstrating that their assertions of fantasy will hold equal weight with this electorate as evidence or facts of any kind.
By the weekend after the election, the results of the first polls will come filtering onto the air, and we’ll find that 35% of Americans think that the presidential election was rigged. No evidence to the contrary will ever convince them otherwise, anymore than they could be convinced that a black man ever actually won the presidency of this country.
And that’s how democracy dies.
It’s not Trump winning that’s the biggest threat, it’s not the inane and destructive presidency that would roll out from the scenario. Hell, it’s not even about Johnson pulling out the underdog victory of the millennium and abolishing the federal government. And it’s certainly not Hillary winning, either, regardless of whether you think she is the devil incarnate of the left wing, or that she’s so right wing she could practically run as a Republican if the base actually believed women should be allowed to hold political office.
Democracy doesn’t die on policy issues, and no democracy ever died because of who won an election. They die because the loser refuses to acknowledge the loss.
Democracy isn’t good government or good policy. It isn’t freedom. It isn’t even elections, when you really get down to it. It is the willingness to lose.
That sounds terrible, doesn’t it? Sounds like the opposite of every slogan and speech we ever hear given about democracy. It sounds downright un-American.
But embedded in it is a profound statement of faith in other people. By being willing to lose, you’re saying that you trust your political opponents so much, that you’re willing to give up power. You’re willing to give up the control of policy, of your authority over the guys with guns, of the freaking nuclear launch codes.
We’re a species that has spent thousands of years massacring wholesale the people who come in second place. We are still in the shadow of living memory of regimes that hustled entire continents into murder camps. And yet somehow democracy means that every four years, half of us look the other half in the eye, and say that while we disagree about everything else, we trust you not to kill us, not to abuse this power. That we trust you in another four years to hand it right back to us. And once that trust is violated, it’s gone for generations.
Don’t let Trump do that in defeat on election day.
Steven Lloyd Wilson is a hopeless romantic and the last scion of Norse warriors and the forbidden elder gods. His novel, ramblings, and assorted fictions coalesce at www.burningviolin.com. You can email him here.