Why Threats of Election Violence May Be Here to Stay
Both private sector businesses and police departments believe there is a good chance there will be postelection unrest. Both groups are taking steps to protect themselves in case of riots. Some left-wing protest groups state they plan to do “whatever it takes” to make sure the correct candidate—i.e., Joe Biden—wins. The National Guard has mobilized in several states in anticipation of riots.
It remains to be seen if this apocalyptic rhetoric proves to be well founded. If Trump wins, we may or may not see anything more than a few flare-ups of violence in a small number of cities. In a nation of more than 330 million people, that wouldn’t exactly indicate a state of general upheaval. On the other hand, if Biden wins, we may never know if the Left’s plans for chaos would have actually played out.
Nonetheless, the fact that the threat of widespread violence strikes so many Americans as plausible is itself an indication that something is deeply wrong with the United States in its current form. Citizens within a functional polity don’t have to board up store fronts and brace for riots when there’s a national election. A country that’s not on the edge of upheaval doesn’t have to debate whether or not the losing side will regard an election’s outcome as legitimate.
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This sort of thing is to be expected, on the other hand, within a country that is dysfunctional. It’s a sign we live in a country where a sizable minority—if not a majority—of the population apparently regards the electoral system as rigged, unfair, or conducted for the benefit of an illegitimate ruling minority.
Americans have lived in this kind of country before.
In the decades following the Civil War, the United States was still dealing with the fallout of a devastating war that had killed more than 2 percent of the population—that’s nearly 7 million deaths if adjusted for today’s population.
The nation was deeply divided and fought closely contested elections in 1876, 1880, 1884, and 1888. In 1876, the warring factions even threatened to set up two rival presidents. In 1884, numerous American cities faced rioting if the Democrats lost.
We may now be living through a similar period in which every four years the nation gears up for yet another acrimonious slugfest over the presidency. Now as then, however, this is not a sign of national strength or unity. This is a sign of great national fragility and disunity.
The United States’s ruling regime survived its post–Civil War divisions. This doesn’t mean it will survive the current crisis.
The Crises of the 1870s and 1880s
Immediately following the Civil War, the Republicans had dominated the presidency. But in 1876, the race produced no clear winner. Democratic candidate Samuel Tilden clearly the won the popular vote against Rutherford B. Hayes. Hayes managed to win the electoral college by a single vote.1
The response to the election from the general public was not especially serene. As described by historian Gregory Downs, predictions of general violence were widespread:
a southern Democrat worried a
Article from Mises Wire