Trump Threatens Law, Order, Democracy

Danger.

Photographer: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Throughout this campaign, Donald Trump has fashioned himself as the “law and order” candidate. In Las Vegas on Wednesday night, in his third and final presidential debate with Hillary Clinton, he showed himself to be an agent of lawlessness and disorder.

Asked by moderator Chris Wallace whether he would concede the election in the event he loses, Trump confirmed the fears he has sown for weeks. “I will look at it at the time,” he said. “I will keep you in suspense.”

It is tempting to view this statement in the context of Trump’s long history of reckless utterances. But his refusal to abide by an election result is of a very specific, and disqualifying, character. It strikes at the heart of American democracy. Neither the nation’s government nor its politics can function if losing presidential candidates do not concede defeat and facilitate the peaceful transfer of power.

Trump’s statement was, as Clinton said, “horrifying.” But it was not entirely anomalous. At the previous presidential debate, in St. Louis, Trump vowed to try to jail his opponent if he wins. That statement, too, was profoundly anti-democratic and disqualifying.

There are ample reasons to doubt Trump’s competence and temperament, chief among them his campaign itself. But Trump has now made it clear that even his commitment to democratic norms, process and standards cannot be assumed.

He promises to impose law and order by subverting the rule of law and jettisoning any sense of order. The coming weeks could be a dangerous time for American democracy.

To contact the senior editor responsible for Bloomberg View’s editorials: David Shipley at davidshipley@bloomberg.net.