The Universal Notebook: This is the way democracies die

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For months I have been worried sick about what might happen if Donald Trump wins.

These days, I’m almost as worried about what might happen when he loses.

Trump’s irresponsible rhetoric could get someone hurt, or worse. He has openly discussed the assassination and imprisonment of Hillary Clinton and, now that it is clear that he will not win, he is attacking the very roots of our democracy, the sanctity of the ballot box.

In the third presidential debate, Trump refused to pledge to accept the results of the election, an unprecedented position for an American presidential candidate and one widely viewed as disqualifying him from the presidency. Trump couldn’t possibly lose, so the system must be rigged.

Trump has been abandoned by the rational members of the Republican Party and by the very media that helped legitimize his soundbite candidacy. He is left isolated and alone with the most virulent and dangerous of his supporters. No responsible citizen, corporation or newspaper would endorse Trump, but his frightening genius is that he has been able to turn his rejection into a fictional conspiracy, one that has the nastiest of his supporters threatening violence, bloodshed, assassination and coup.

This is the way democracies die.

We have the Republican Party to thank for the awful mess we are in. The Party of Lincoln has become the Party of Lies. Led by Trump, they first tried to delegitimize the presidency of Barack Obama by promoting the birther lie that he was not an American. Then they just spent seven years trying to block everything Obama tried to do.

Republicans have also spent a fortune in taxpayer money trying to blame Hillary Clinton for deaths in Benghazi, a failed effort Colin Powell has called “a stupid witch hunt.” Even the family of Ambassador Chris Stevens, who was brutally killed in the attack on the American embassy, doesn’t blame Clinton. They blame a Republican-controlled Congress for repeatedly denying budget increases for diplomatic security.

Then there’s the ongoing hogwash about Clinton’s use of a private email server. The FBI investigated and found her actions careless, but not criminal. In the words of FBI Director James Comey, “Although there is evidence of potential violations of the statutes regarding the handling of classified information, our judgment is that no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case.”

But egged on by conservative talk radio (one of the most corrosive forces in American civic life) and aided and abetted by WikiLeaks (a global criminal enterprise) the Clinton emails have become a favorite hobby horse of the far right – despite the fact that they have revealed nothing.

Now we have the great Trumpean lie that the presidential election is somehow rigged.

To hear Trump tell it, Clinton, Obama, the Department of Justice, the Department of State, the FBI, every mainstream media outlet and now even the Republican Party establishment is involved in a vast conspiracy to deny him the White House. Never mind that there is not a shred of credible evidence of massive voter fraud; for Trump, “rigged” apparently means lots of people are opposed to him.

Clinton has her faults, but she is better prepared to lead America than anyone else who ran this year. Even Republican strategists now concede she will win a decisive victory. Trump’s chances of winning have sunk to a marginal 13 percent; on Nov. 8 we should be celebrating the election of America’s first woman president, but instead we will be holding our breaths and bracing for the blow-back from the fanatic fringe.

Those fanatics include unprincipled Republicans hoping to ride Trump’s flaming coattails to power, people like Gov. Paul LePage, Trump’s Mini-Me who has also spoken of shooting and jailing his opponents and how voter fraud is rampant. LePage says the dead can vote in Maine, and zombies voting would certainly help explain his two gubernatorial victories.

Trump’s fervent fans also include evangelical Christians hoping the profane billionaire’s rise signals the arrival of the End Time and the coming of the Rapture. They include blue-collar working stiffs who have been beaten up by the global economy and don’t know who to blame. But most worrisome are the alt-right extremists who now pose a more immediate threat to this country than foreign terrorists.

Clinton will win easily. But I fear for her and for the country if Timothy McVeigh types, whipped up by Trump and convinced she did not win fair and square, start attacking federal facilities, government officials, minorities and immigrants.

Trump’s candidacy, which started out as a bad joke, has become a real nightmare. This is the way democracies die.

Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Brunswick. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.