Once in elementary school a schoolyard bully told me that if he lost a game of handball to me it would be because there was something wrong with the ball, and “it only works for girls.” It was a patently idiotic and sexist comment uttered by an immature child about to lose the game.
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump made an identical claim about the presidential election. His poll numbers cratering, Trump predictably chose the route of a petulant child and contended that the only way he would lose the swing state of Pennsylvania is if there is voter fraud in “certain parts” of the state.
We all know what he means. He made a barely coded accusation that minorities would commit voter fraud. It is, after all, minorities who live in these “certain parts” and who overwhelmingly favor Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
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Trump has called for “election observers” to ensure that the election is not “rigged.”
There are two striking problems with this proposal. First, the type of fraud that election observers would be able to prevent simply doesn’t exist. It is an understatement to say that in-person voter impersonation is exceedingly rare. And it simply could not change the outcome of a presidential election.
Second, in this context “election observers” is likely code for “election intimidators.” Trump doesn’t want his supporters to thoughtfully stand outside voting places, watching in some unexplained way to ensure that the election runs fairly. He wants his supporters staring down and scaring people who look like Clinton supporters. And how do we know that someone looks like a Clinton supporter? Look at the racial makeup of the audience of a Trump rally and you will find your answer.
Let’s be clear, simply observing an election is legal. But intimidating others who are about to exercise their right to vote is not. Trump is certainly hoping to spur the second scenario.
How can we be so sure? Because for more than a year Trump has showed us over and over and over again that he aims to incite our worst impulses.
Trump’s most recent escapades include “joking” about assassinating Clinton and/or her U.S. Supreme Court nominees, picking a fight with a Gold Star family and tweeting a graphic calling Clinton, “the most corrupt candidate ever,” with a picture of a Star of David over piles of money that came from a white supremacist website. But of course there is so much more.
Trump has famously insulted minorities, women, disabled people and prisoners of war. Trump has at times refused to disavow white supremacists, like the Ku Klux Klan. He has called into question basic facts like whether President Barack Obama is a citizen of the United States and whether there is global warming.
Elections should be about ideological differences. Liberals and conservatives, or Democrats and Republicans, tend to have different worldviews. Most people agree on a few broad and fundamental premises. We want to create a country with a strong economy, good educational opportunities and foreign policy that keeps the world as safe and peaceful as possible. We just do not agree on how to get there and so we espouse different views on, for instance, tax policy, foreign affairs, privacy rights, property rights, criminal rights and speech rights. There should be plenty of room for debate on the best path to our shared goals.
This election is different. It is not about ideological differences. It is about sanity vs. insanity. About tolerance vs. racism. About a fairness vs. sexism. About equity vs. discrimination.
We should respect different views from both sides of the aisle. But we should not respect hate, and that is what Trump espouses.
Jessica A. Levinson is a professor at Loyola Law School, Los Angeles, and the president of the Los Angeles Ethics Commission. Jessica.Levinson@lls.edu.