The quiet part is becoming very loud. Threats of left-wing political violence if President Trump is reelected have gone from subtext to the plain text. Writing at The Atlantic, Shadi Hamid warns of “mass unrest and political violence across American cities” if Trump wins. The Democrats are embracing their inner movie villain: It votes for Biden, or it gets the riots again.
Not that the rioting and related violence have stopped—from the attempted assassination of cops in Los Angeles to “mostly peaceful” protests in New York, the mayhem continues—but it is less intense than it was earlier in the summer. Now, prominent outlets of establishment liberalism are warning that the destruction can, and will, be turned up if the nation votes “incorrectly.”
The political extortion is not even hidden, with The Atlantic’s Hamid writing that a Trump win is “the outcome most likely to undermine faith in democracy, resulting in more of the social unrest and street battles that cities including Portland, Oregon, and Seattle have seen in recent months. For this reason, strictly law-and-order Republicans who have responded in dismay to scenes of rioting and looting have an interest in Biden winning.” A stereotypical mob line such as “Nice place you got here, shame if anything were to happen to it” is subtle in comparison.
Even if we accept that Hamid is “truly worried” about his predictions, and we absolve him of threatening the nation with riots if we vote the wrong way, the menace of his article is unmistakable. Whether Hamid is personally culpable in his role as messenger is irrelevant. Even in decline, The Atlantic represents establishment liberalism; if it is publishing predictions of mass political violence from the left, then the Democratic mainstream is willing to countenance political violence if it does not get its way.
For the threat of political violence to be credible, the Democrats have to seem likely to resort to it if they lose. This is an ugly look for a political party, and Hamid’s article, therefore, provides an extensive indictment of Democrats. Whether intentionally or not, Hamid has laid out why Democrats should be kept far from political power.
They appear detached from reality, unwilling to accept election results, let alone engage in self-examination about why they lost. Hamid writes that “Liberals had enough trouble accepting the results of the 2016 election. In some sense, they never really came to terms with it…This time, it would be worse.” A second surprise Trump victory might push them over the edge.
As he notes, they never really accepted the result in 2016. Shocked by Trump’s victory, Democrats embraced conspiracy theories to explain it. The Russian obsession was not just an effort to kneecap Trump’s administration, it also gave Democrats a palatable reason for why he had won. Many on the left found it easier to believe that Trump had cheated his way into the White House than to accept that he had beaten them.
This collective denial also obviated the need to understand Trump voters, let alone try to appeal to them. They could be dismissed as a bunch of suckers and bigots, rather than addressed as rational actors with legitimate reasons to support Trump.
Likewise, viewing Trump’s 2016 victory as an illegitimate fluke encouraged Democrats to complain about, rather than effectively compete within, the Electoral College. Hamid appears to join this condemnation of America’s presidential electoral system as an anti-democratic anomaly.
But as Charles C. Cooke recently pointed out in National Review, “Many other countries eschew direct popular votes when choosing their executives — and a good number of those do so explicitly in favor of systems that aggregate the results of local elections when staffing the national government.”
In nations with parliamentary systems, both the executive and legislative branches may be controlled by a party that received fewer overall votes than its rival, as recently happened in Canada. In the United States, as in many other nations, localities matter and are treated as more than interchangeable administrative units, including on election day.
The framers of our Constitution rightly feared mob rule, and the Electoral College was designed to preclude it in the selection of our presidents. That Democrats are threatening mob violence over the Electoral College shows that it is working as intended by keeping power away from the mob and forcing candidates to appeal to voters of various regions and factions.
In truth, Democrats’ complaints are less about principled constitutional theory and more about political opportunism. They were quite pleased with the Electoral College back when they thought they had a “blue wall” that would favor them forever in states like Pennsylvania.
Likewise, the threats of mob violence that The Atlantic is publishing may be little more than a desperate attempt at political jujutsu. The riots have become a problem for Democrats, who, along with their media allies, spent months downplaying and excusing the violence and conflating rioters with genuinely peaceful protestors.
But the damage is impossible to deny, and Trump is cudgeling Democrats with it. As he points out, the unrest, destruction, and violence are overwhelmingly caused by left-wing radicals and the worst of it is concentrated in cities and states controlled by Democrats, many of whom have ostentatiously rejected offers of federal help.
Perhaps the Democrats have decided that when your voters give you riots, make the riots into a political threat. Of course, the threat only works if voters believe that Democrats really are crazy enough to burn it down if Biden loses. That itself is a problem for Democrats: why would voters want to give more power to people who are that crazy?
Fortunately, Democrats’s threats of political violence may be empty, even if they mean them. Some may riot, but how far will they get? After all, if President Trump is reelected, he will have a mandate to use federal power to restore order, despite the objections of local Democratic officials who allow and encourage riots.
Democrats are trying to take America hostage, but even if they are willing to pull the trigger, the gun they are holding to the nation’s head may not be loaded.