In his inaugural address four years ago, President Donald Trump declared a crusade against the “carnage” he said his predecessors had wrought on the nation, lining their own pockets while creating a nation of “forgotten men and women.” Five hours later, fired up and triumphant, Trump filed for re-election, the earliest incumbent to do so in memory. So it was that Trump set the stage for what a lot of people thought was him governing, but in effect has been the most foreboding, nerve-frazzling — and by far the longest — re-election campaign in modern U.S. history.
Just a week away from its climax, some of the country’s most sober voices say one cost of Trump’s term-long barrage of grievance and accusation is the possibility of civil unrest on and after Election Day. There is always the chance that fraught tempers will dissipate, either by luck or a landslide one way or the other that imposes a forceful quiet on the contest. But, with an animated Trump issuing daily allegations of a sinister plot to unseat him, and supporters of both sides apprehensive of how far the other is prepared to go to win, the fear is that Americans will erupt in the worst political violence since Jim Crow.
If there is trouble, it is expected to begin as soon as votes start to be counted, and even before — especially if it is favoring former Vice President Joe Biden. Trump has himself repeatedly described plans for an aggressive, state-by-state challenge to mailed ballots, with the ultimate aim of placing the election outcome before Congress or the Supreme Court, right-leaning venues he could dominate. Prior to getting there, Trump has suggested he may summon the power of the street, declining to promise a peaceful post-election transition and alerting the Proud Boys and other ultra-right militias, to “stand back and stand by,” a remark interpreted by one neo-Nazi leader as a message to “get ready for war.”