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Beware of post-election riots

James Schall

‘If we do not get what we want, we tear down what we have.” This is the classic justification used to justify violent reaction to election results that do not go our way.

Elections were intended to eliminate the violence that often went with change of rule. All participants were presumed to be “rational.”

They had agreed to accept the results of the voting, but on the presumption that the voters were legitimate and the votes correctly counted.

A much discussed moment in the pre-election debates between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump was a question about whether he would abide by the results. His response, that he would wait and see how things went, caused massive ridicule and warnings. Something sinister was afoot if the elections did not go Trump’s way.

Trump, not the astute debater that he thought himself to be, should have replied: “Why, yes, Mrs. Clinton, I will agree to the results if you win, provided that you agree to abide with the results if I win.” The chances of riots hitting this country are probably much greater if Clinton loses than if Trump loses.

The polls, in which Trump does not much believe, tell us that Clinton will easily win. Trump is said to be favored mainly by white, uneducated, mostly “red-necked” workers. Not enough of these can be found to put him over the top. All the “elite,” including the Republican elite, are arrayed against him — the universities, the media, the diplomats, the businessmen bigger than Trump, voting immigrants, educated women, the gay lobby, the abortion industry and Hollywood.

Aristotle said that “the greatest crimes are caused by excess and not by necessity. Men do not become tyrants in order that they may not suffer cold, and hence great is the honor bestowed, not on him who killed a thief, but on him who killed a tyrant.” We seem to now have an election in which each opponent is looked on by the other as tyrants — and not just a potential one.

In this context, the election needs to produce a clear winner with a significant margin of victory so as to leave no doubt, even if some electoral manipulation takes place. Otherwise, half the country will claim it is being ruled by an uncontrolled tyrant, and not a suave one like President Barack Obama who issues myriad “decrees,” but a ruthless one like Clinton or a blundering one like Trump.

It is difficult to see in the country that moderation of desire that makes elections, as a method of choosing leaders, acceptable. With the help of ISIS, at least some of our citizens understand that we have among us young men and women willing to give their lives in killing anyone they consider guilty of opposing their idea of what the world should be like.

The observation of Aristotle that the man who kills the tyrant would be considered noble cannot be taken lightly in the present rhetorically violent atmosphere with almost non-stop vilification of one party or the other.

This situation is especially dangerous when the police themselves, even the FBI and Justice Department, are seen to be part of the problem. Victor Davis Hanson has observed that this country, in the eyes of its most obvious foreign enemies, is at its weakest moment during this election period. Saddled with the current president’s weaknesses, the two candidates for his position stand at radical odds with each other.

The candidates are considered to be incompetent, corrupt or both. In this context, we will be fortunate to see a riot-less aftermath of this election. Much of the country knows the terrible moral leadership in recent years. They look for a radical change. If they do not get it, again riot and even civil-war images dance before our very eyes.

The Rev. James Schall, S.J., author of “Docilitas: On Teaching and Being Taught,” is professor emeritus at Georgetown University.