For many on the right, this is no ordinary election but the showdown over who owns and runs the US.
It has long been part of Donald Trump’s so-called post-election defeat strategy to cry foul and declare the system rigged against the self-declared people’s billionaire champion. Now, just ahead of the third and final debate with Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, former Republican House speaker Newt Gingrich has blamed the corporate media for a ‘coup d’etat’ against Trump who, Gingrich claims, would be leading by 15% were it not for a media bias. The latter is most apparent in the time devoted last week to the video showing Trump boasting of sexually assaulting women as contrasted with the scant attention to speeches by Clinton released by Wikileaks, Gingrich suggests.
Post-truth politics rarely paid attention to reality but a coup d’etat indicates a further slip into the Alice in Wonderland world of the Trump roadshow. The ‘reality’ TV star candidate’s supporters are desperately trying to rescue a campaign that’s been on the rocks since their leader attacked a Gold Star family and has approached freefall since Trump was exposed on television for boasting about his licence, as a TV star, to do whatever he wished to women.
According to the Encylopedia Britannica, a coup d’etat is “the sudden, violent overthrow of an existing government by a small group. The chief prerequisite for a coup is control of all or part of the armed forces, the police, and other military elements.” Not only has there been no violence against Trump, he is yet actually to win any political office, let alone be removed from it by military coercion.
Gingrich, who has a doctorate in history, appears to need reminding that claims require substantiation in terms of concrete evidence.
Asked if the election is literally being “rigged” or “stolen” at local voting centres, Gingrich replied that he was referring only to media bias in covering the Trump sex tape as compared with the Clinton speeches exposed by Wikileaks. That still does not explain Trump’s repeated calls at recent rallies urging his supporters to ‘monitor’ voting at their polling stations, including following “illegals” attempting to vote.
The Trump campaign has begun recruiting “election observers”. At a rally in Pennsylvania, Trump warned, without evidence, of vote rigging: “We’re gonna watch Pennsylvania,” he said. “Go down to certain areas and watch and study and make sure other people don’t come in and vote five times. The only way we can lose…is if cheating goes on. I really believe it.”
“So I hope you people can sort of not just vote on the 8th [of November] – go around and look and watch other polling places and make sure that it’s 100% fine,” he added.
Trump’s focus on Pennsylvania obliquely alludes to the fact that in over 50 voting districts – mainly in majority African-American localities – Republican candidate Mitt Romney did not secure a single vote in 2012. This was also the case for Republican John McCain when he ran against Barack Obama in 2008. Obama secured well over 90% of the total African-American vote in both election victories.
Steve Webb, a Trump voter in Ohio, declared he’d be an election monitor: “I’ll look for … well, it’s called racial profiling. Mexicans, Syrians … people who can’t speak American. 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.”
A study by Loyola Law School in 2014 demonstrated a mere 31 “credible” cases of voter fraud from a total of one billion ballots cast.
It is the case, however, that the Trump sexual assault boasts received several times more air time than did the leaked emails concerning Clinton’s speeches to Wall Street firms, knowledge that a key US ally, Saudi Arabia, has been funding ISIS, among other things, which certainly merits further investigation. But given that Trump made Bill Clinton’s sexual adventures a campaign issue for Clinton, he would automatically draw attention to any revelations of his own scandals, especially ones so serious as normally to be considered illegal sexual assault.
In addition, Trump has generally garnered far more TV airtime than any other candidate either in the Republican primaries or in the presidential campaign. One survey showed Trump receiving in excess of $2 billion worth free airtime in contrast to Clinton’s $700 million and Bernie Sanders’s pitiful $250m. Trump’s media strategy – to make outsized claims to draw media attention and to keep the spotlight has finally produced serious blowback and damaged his polling numbers.
But there is a bigger issue at stake in the claims made on the right about the likely defeat of their champion – the leader who is making a last ditch stand against the satanic forces of evil, as some evangelicals, birthers and alt-right extremists prepare for Armageddon. This is no ordinary election for them but the showdown about who owns and runs the US.
A collection of white supremacists, Christian evangelicals and anti-globalists believe Trump when he says the country is ‘going to hell’ because of the presidency of Obama and the prospect of Clinton as chief executive. They are preparing either for an ‘end of days’ apocalypse or a race war to halt the inevitable – a US which, in a few short decades, will feature whites as a minority of the population.
Asked repeatedly during the first presidential debate whether he would concede to Clinton if he failed to secure the presidency, Trump reluctantly concurred but later toyed with rejecting a Clinton victory. While there is no rule stating that the losing contender must graciously concede, given the vitriolic character of Trump’s campaign, and the complete rejection of the legitimacy of his opponent and of the very electoral system, there could well be a violent reaction from a minority of the millions of voters – many of them gun owners and second amendment diehards – Trump has rallied with his fiery message.
A Survey Monkey poll suggests that around 30% of Trump voters would reject a Clinton victory as illegitimate, with just under a third saying they would accept it.
Trump’s message has been a long time in the making, however, and seems to be the logical development of trends deep in post-1960s Republican and Democratic party politics. The apocalyptic calls from southern segregationists against civil rights; President Richard Nixon’s thinly veiled racist calls for law and order and espousal of a racist ‘southern strategy’; the FBI’s war on civil rights and black power; Ronald Reagan’s championing of coded racist ‘states rights’ at a rally in Philadelphia; Mississippi – the scene in 1964 of the killing of three civil rights activists; and the marrying of religion and politics in a new cold war against the ‘evil empire’ built a platform for Trump.
And in the 1990s, with the victory of Bill Clinton, the anti-globalists and puritanical purists felt the forces of UN and NAFTA darkness, led by Gingrich’s counter-revolutionary ‘contract with America’ and the general slide into the rejection of Clinton and Democrats, and their ethnically- and racially-diverse coalition, as legitimate actors on the political scene.
Mainstream party politics, dominated by big money and championing low taxes for the rich and small government for the working and middle classes, created the foundations of both of this election cycle’s insurgencies – led by Trump and Sanders. Both leaders claim the system is rigged against ordinary people and call for a revolution.
But anger and bitterness are almost exclusively the domain of the Trump campaign, whose white ethno-nationalist base seems to want a final showdown to win ‘their country’ back.
Inderjeet Parmar is professor of international politics at City University of London and a columnist at The Wire. Follow him on twitter @USEmpire