Speaking in Columbus, Ohio on Monday, Donald Trump told Republican voters he fears the election in November may be rigged in favor of his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton.
“I’m afraid the election’s gonna be rigged, I have to be honest,” he said.
Others have explained this away by imagining that Trump knows he is likely to lose and is already creating an excuse.
Trump, after all, proclaims he wins at everything. Losing the presidential election, to a woman no less, would be a humiliation.
I don’t think that’s wrong, but I think what he’s saying is more insidious than that.
What Trump is doing is eroding Americans’ trust in the very institutions that could stop a would-be strongman like him: political parties (he also claimed the primary process was rigged against him, before he won), free and fair elections, the judiciary (remember his attacks on Judge Gonzalo Curiel?) and the news media.
At the same Columbus rally, Trump toyed with the idea of revoking The New York Times‘ press credentials because its coverage about him, he said, is “very dishonest”.
Trump already bans reporters from BuzzFeed, Politico, The Huffington Post, The Washington Post and the Spanish-language news network Univision from his events.
This may all be simply due to Trump’s small-mindedness. He can’t stand criticism, so he bans the critics. He could lose an election, so he claims it’s rigged. But the effect is more serious and the damage it is doing to American democracy could outlive Trump’s candidacy.