Editor's note: A clarification has been added to reflect Walmart's updated policy.
One of the most bitterly divided presidential campaigns in U.S. history has primed a potentially protracted and tumultuous post-election period that could test the resilience of the political system, and end more than 200 years of history of peaceful transitions of power.
Barring an unlikely landslide, it's possible neither President Trump nor Joe Biden will concede for weeks — if at all. Meantime, the integrity of the presidential election, and the government itself, will face unprecedented challenges in the courts and in the streets, leading to a constitutional crisis.
Americans — Republicans, Democrats, and third-party independents — must resolve now to preserve an honest election and defend an orderly transfer of power, acting with a unity not seen during the last four years. That’s especially true in decisive battleground states like Pennsylvania.
Public interest groups have identified Pennsylvania, an open carry state, as a high risk for election-related interference from militias and other armed civilians. Much of the focus has centered on possible Election Day shenanigans. Pennsylvania Homeland Security Director Marcus Brown, however, said the greater concern is what could happen after Nov. 3. Small wonder Walmart, the nation's largest retailer, were removing guns and ammo from its shelves. (The company reversed this decision Friday evening.)
"I think either way, it's going to be a battle that will go on for quite some time after Election Day," Lawrence County commissioner Loretta Spielvogel said.
Stand back and stand by
Trump didn't help matters when, during a nationally broadcast debate a month ago, he told the Proud Boys to "stand back and stand by," after asked to condemn white nationalists. Proud Boys took Trump's remarks as a salute.
The Proud Boys are one of several militant right-wing groups who could cause trouble in Pennsylvania. Others include the Oath Keepers, Patriot Prayer, Civilian Defense Force, and Light Foot Militia.
Cultural fault lines, arguably wider than any since the post-Civil War Reconstruction era, have supercharged passions over climate change, economic dislocations, a surging pandemic that has killed 220,000 Americans, and George Floyd's death at the hands — or rather the boot — of a white Minneapolis police officer. In this toxic landscape, any opinion outside the lines is incendiary.
Just ask Dan Biddle.
A lifelong Republican, Biddle, in a letter to The Herald ( “Republican Party has lost its way by following Trump,” Oct. 23, A-4), explained why he could not support his party’s candidate. Biddle, 65, argued the Republican Party of late had stirred racial divisions and hate.
The day after the letter appeared, Biddle and his wife found "Trump 2020" spray painted in red in front of their driveway." A Biden/Harris campaign sign was stolen and another sign, "Vandalism courtesy of Donald Trump's law and order party " was planted on the lawn.
Leaving aside the irony of "law and order" loyalists breaking the law, one wonders why a Republican questioning the direction of his party would trigger enough animus to vandalize property (under the cover of darkness, of course).
Will history repeat?
As some Americans openly wonder if Trump would use his power as president to obstruct a clear legal victory for Biden, they can take some solace in history. The 2000 election between Republican George W. Bush and Democratic nominee Al Gore didn't end until a month after Election Day, when the U.S. Supreme Court, by a 5-4 vote, halted the recount in Florida. Gore then conceded and Bush won the state, and the presidency, by 537 votes, even though Gore won the national popular vote, as did Hillary Clinton in 2016.
Gore's defeat left half the country bitterly disappointed, but his supporters accepted the outcome of a flawed election — if only grudgingly — and moved on. But the 2000 election came before 9/11 and COVID-19; before social media instantly foisted every malicious and ignorant thought instantly upon a waiting world; before the loss of millions of more good-paying manufacturing jobs; before the senseless deaths of George Floyd, Trayvon Martin, Breonna Taylor, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, and Eric Garner; and before a retired concrete industry executive from Mercer County could expect to write an innocuous letter to the editor without having his property vandalized.
Much is at stake in this presidential election, but how Americans conduct themselves after Nov. 3 will shape the future of their country as much as who wins the election. Everyone — civil servants, elected representatives, and ordinary citizens — must remain patient but vigilant. They must stand back and stand by, as an honest and legitimate legal process moves forward.
Only if Americans permit it can this election be stolen.