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This Election, Our Democracy Is On The Line

Submitted by Robin Messing on Wed, 10/21/2020 - 2:00pm

I wrote a column two weeks before the 2016 electon entitled "Donald Trump Is An Existential Threat To American Democracy."  I not only stand by that claim; I will double down on it. We are well on our way towards autocracy. Donald Trump has launched an unrelenting assault on the institutions that support our democracy, and his fellow Republicans are either looking the other way or they are rooting for democracy's demise. Mike Lee, a Republican Senator from Utah, let the cat out of the bag. He, at least, would not mind seeing our democracy die.




Donald Trump has launched an assault on our democracy on multiple fronts.

  1. He has politicized the Justice Department to help his friends and attack his enemies.
  2. He has attacked our courts and judicial system.
  3. He has attacked the free press and made it more dangerous for reporters to cover him.
  4. He is a stochiastic terrorist who has endangered the life of Michigan's Governor, Gretchen Whitmer, and others
  5. He has refused to commit himself to the peaceful transfer of power if he loses the election



Politicizing the Justice Department


The Justice Department is part of the Executive Branch of government and is under the control of the President--to an extent. The President can set broad policy for the Department and can pick, with the consent of Congress, the person he wants to lead the Department. But it was never intended for him to be able to use the Justice Department as tool to help his political allies escape punishment for their crimes or as a hammer to wield against his political adversaries. President Trump tried to use his influence via the Justice Department to try to reduce the sentencing guidelines for Roger Stone after Stone was convicted of obstruction of justice and witness tampering. This set off alarm bells, prompting Joyce White Vance, a former U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama, to write:


Among the Founding Fathers’ chief goals was to do away with a government where the king was above the law and had absolute power over the lives of his subjects. In our system, the President, like every other citizen, is meant to be subject to the law. The Founding Fathers were explicit about that intention when they debated the shape the new government they were creating would take. And that quintessentially American view that no man is above the law has been the case up until the presidency of Donald Trump.


The rule-of-law approach to government means not only that a President must himself be accountable, but also that he cannot be permitted to create special rules that he can use to benefit his friends or punish his enemies. . . .

If the President can get special treatment for himself or for those around him, we no longer have a system people can have confidence in. They will know that it’s rigged. A President who controls prosecutions in this manner has assumed the powers of a monarch or a dictator, not those given to the duly elected representative of the people.

Since his acquittal from the impeachment charges brought against him by the House, Trump has shown a dangerous tendency to retaliate against those he believes have wronged him. If he can corrupt the criminal justice system for the benefit of his friends, there is no reason he cannot also use it to retaliate against those he views as enemies. There is nothing that prevents him from “locking her up,” whether a crime has been committed or not, in a system that responds to his demands.

If a President can interfere in the way professional prosecutors conduct prosecutions, enforcing allegiance to him and stifling dissent, we no longer have a system of justice. No one is safe. Ultimately, a President could prosecute people he wants to jail and prevent prosecutions or lengthy sentences for his allies. If a President can lay claim to these expansive powers with a compliant attorney general at his side, then that President, who is fully above the law, has reduced our democracy to a sham. (Emphasis added)


Unfortunately, this was only the first of many incidents where Trump has used William Barr as his own personal lawyer and the Justice Department as his own law firm to carry out his personal agenda.  Bess Levin writes in Vanity Fair:


Since Donald Trump assumed the office of the president, he has made it clear that he believes the Department of Justice works not for the American people but for him personally, and not as an ethical personal lawyer but the kind willing to commit perjury and tamper with witnesses. While Jeff Sessions refused to intervene in the Russia investigation, much to Trump’s impotent rage, in his successor, the president has found an attorney general willing not just to do his dirty work but to do it completely out in the open and without a scintilla of shame. Since taking over the Justice Department in 2019, William Barr has claimed the Mueller report exonerated his boss when it expressly did not; told Congress it’s not a crime for POTUS to demand staffers lie to federal investigators; urged the Supreme Court to help keep Trump’s tax returns under lock and key; instructed the former acting director of National Intelligence not to send an “urgent” whistleblower report to lawmakers concerning the president’s attempt to extort Ukraine; interceded to change the sentencing recommendation for longtime Trump pal Roger Stone; and suggested Trump wasn’t committing a felony when he instructed his supporters to vote twice in the upcoming election. All of which was apparently a prelude to Barr’s most recent maneuver: having the Justice Department try to shield Trump from a defamation lawsuit.


This is hardly an exhaustive list, but for the sake of brevity I will not discuss in detail Trump's use of the Justice Department under Barr to investigate those who had investigated him over Russiagate. Nor will I delve into the Justice Department's investigation into the unmasking "scandal" which Trump made a big stink about, but which turned out to be a nothingburger.  I will, however, suggest you read my article on the defamation lawsuit referred to at the end of the previous paragraph. Trump is trying to stick the taxpayer with the legal bills for his defense in a defamation case that has arisen from a rape he is alleged to have committed in the mid-1990s. And if Trump loses the defamation case (which would imply that Trump had raped the plaintiff), then it is we, the taxpayers who will be stuck with paying Trump's fine.

When Vance wrote the above passage she was only speculating that Trump could use the Justice Department to go after his political enemies. But Trump has taken this possibility out of the realm of theoretical speculation by DEMANDING that they do just that.






And just to make sure everyone knew what he wanted, Trump went on FOX News and said it out loud--He wants Bill Barr to indict President Obama and Vice President Biden.


Unless Bill Barr indicts these people for crimes, the greatest political crime in the history of our country, then we’re gonna get little satisfaction unless I win. Because I won’t forget it. But these people should be indicted, this was the greatest political crime in the history of our country. And that includes Obama, and that includes Biden; these are people that spied on my campaign, and we have everything.


Now they say they have much more, and I say Bill, we got plenty. You don’t need any more. . . .


And just for good measure, Trump went on Fox News yet again to demand that Bill Barr open an investigation into Biden. Note that his demand was interspersed with his assessment of the election. Trump's need to win the election and his desire for at least a public announcement of a criminal investigation into Biden are two thoughts that are thoroughly intertwined in his head. Trump says he is confident he will win the election, but his stated confidence does not shine through here. If he were really that confident then why is he so desperate to announce an investigation before the election? (And very few, if any, criminal investigations start off with a public announcement. Announcements are not usually made until arrests have been made in order to keep the targets of investigations in the dark.)


We've gotta get the attorney general to act. He's got to act, and he's got to act fast. He's got to appoint somebody. This is major corruption, and this has to be known about before the election.

And by the way, we're doing very well. We're gonna win the election. We're doing very well. If you look at all of what's happening and all of the people that come in and don't come in, you take a look all around the country-- and with Texas early voting, those are our votes, too. And we're doing well in Texas. I mean, I just got a report. We're doing great in Texas. But we're doing great all over.

But forget that. This has to be done early. So the attorney general has to act. (Emphasis added.)




I expect this from a banana republic. I never expected to see this in the United States. But I'm not a lawyer, so my opinion might not count for much. Well, how's this: Over 2600 former federal prosecutors and judicial department officials wrote a letter calling for Barr's resignation after he interfered with Roger Stone's sentencing guidelines. They wrote:


Governments that use the enormous power of law enforcement to punish their enemies and reward their allies are not constitutional republics; they are autocracies.


We welcome Attorney General Barr’s belated acknowledgment that the DOJ’s law enforcement decisions must be independent of politics; that it is wrong for the President to interfere in specific enforcement matters, either to punish his opponents or to help his friends; and that the President’s public comments on DOJ matters have gravely damaged the Department’s credibility. But Mr. Barr’s actions in doing the President’s personal bidding unfortunately speak louder than his words. Those actions, and the damage they have done to the Department of Justice’s reputation for integrity and the rule of law, require Mr. Barr to resign.


Those were all former Justice Department officials. It is relatively easy for them to speak out against Barr. It takes real guts for those who are currently employed by the Justice Department to speak out against the Big Boss, but three have done so. James D. Herbert, assistant US attorney for the District of Massachusetts, writes:


The attorney general acts as though his job is to serve only the political interests of Donald J. Trump. This is a dangerous abuse of power. From his misleading summary of the Mueller Report, to his selective intervention in cases against political allies of the president, to his accusation that victims such as George Floyd are being used as mere “props” by those calling for racial justice, to his baseless claims about mail-in ballots, William Barr has done the president’s bidding at every turn. For 30 years I have been proud to say I work for the Department of Justice, but the current attorney general has brought shame on the department he purports to lead.


Michael Dion, a Justice Department attorney in Seattle writes that Barr


is turning the Justice Department into a shield to protect the president and his henchmen. He misled the American public about the Mueller report. He meddled to spare Roger Stone and Michael Flynn from the consequences of their crimes. He demeaned career prosecutors in a speech at Hillsdale College in Michigan.

Barr does these things because his goal is to protect his master, rather than the American people.


And Phillip Halpern, wrote a letter explaining why he was resigning in protest after working as an assistant U.S. attorney for 36 years in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in San Diego. Here is an excerpt, but I strongly encourage you to read the entire letter.


over the last year, Barr’s resentment toward rule-of-law prosecutors became increasingly difficult to ignore, as did his slavish obedience to Donald Trump’s will in his selective meddling with the criminal justice system in the Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn and Roger Stone cases. In each of these cases, Barr overruled career prosecutors in order to assist the president’s associates and/or friends, who potentially harbor incriminating information. This career bureaucrat seems determined to turn our democracy into an autocracy.


Halpern did more than just write an open letter of resignation. He also sounded the alarm when he was interviewed by Lawrence O'Donnell on The Last Word.




Attacks On Our Courts And The Judicial System


Our Founding Fathers established three co-equal branches with the intent that each branch would act as a check and balance to keep the other two in line. The Judicial Branch is a pillar of our democracy intended to prevent the Legislative and Executive branches from becoming too powerful and abusive. Autocrats abhor any checks on their power, and Donald Trump is no different. The Brennan Center For Justice has this to say about Trump and the judicial branch.


Donald Trump has displayed a troubling pattern of attacking judges and the courts for rulings he disagrees with — a pattern that began during his presidential campaign (and even before), and has continued into his presidency.


This threatens our entire system of government. The courts are bulwarks of our Constitution and laws, and they depend on the public to respect their judgments and on officials to obey and enforce their decisions. Fear of personal attacks, public backlash, or enforcement failures should not color judicial decision-making, and public officials have a responsibility to respect courts and judicial decisions. Separation of powers is not a threat to democracy; it is the essence of democracy.


There is no need for me to discuss Trump's attacks against our judicial system here because the Brennan Center has compiled a long list of attacks that does just that. I highly recommend visiting their site for more details.


Miles Taylor was the Chief of Staff of Homeland Security under Trump. He quit his job because he was disturbed by what he saw. One among many disturbing things that Taylor saw was Trump's desire to gut the judicial branch. Watch this video from 46:45 - 50:02. According to Taylor, Trump wanted his aides to draft legislation to bring to Congress to get rid of judges who were ruling against him.





Trump's Attacks On The Free Press


Every autocrat and dictator hates a free press that keeps the public informed of government corruption, and Donald Trump is no different. He has relentlessly attacked most of the mainstream media as "the enemy of the people" and he has created an intimidating environment for reporters doing their jobs. He has even mocked a reporter for getting shot with a rubber bullet when he was covering a protest. If he wins re-election there are indications that it will become far more dangerous to be a reporter covering his administration. I have discussed this in more detail in this post.



Donald Trump Is A Stochiastic Terrorist provides an unusually detailed definition and description of "stochiastic terrorism." Here is part of their article on the subject.

Stochastic terrorism is “the public demonization of a person or group resulting in the incitement of a violent act, which is statistically probable but whose specifics cannot be predicted.”

The word stochastic, in everyday language, means “random.” Terrorism, here, refers to “violence motivated by ideology.”

Here’s the idea behind stochastic terrorism:

  1. A leader or organization uses rhetoric in the mass media against a group of people.
  2. This rhetoric, while hostile or hateful, doesn’t explicitly tell someone to carry out an act of violence against that group, but a person, feeling threatened, is motivated to do so as a result.
  3. That individual act of political violence can’t be predicted as such, but that violence will happen is much more probable thanks to the rhetoric.
  4. This rhetoric is thus called stochastic terrorism because of the way it incites random violence. goes on to cite a passage from a Washington Post column by Juliette Kayyem, A former assistant secretary at the Department of Homeland Security.


Public speech that may incite violence, even without that specific intent, has been given a name: stochastic terrorism, for a pattern that can’t be predicted precisely but can be analyzed statistically. It is the demonization of groups through mass media and other propaganda that can result in a violent act because listeners interpret it as promoting targeted violence — terrorism. And the language is vague enough that it leaves room for plausible deniability and outraged, how-could-you-say-that attacks on critics of the rhetoric.

Kayyem wrote this after more than 20 people in El Paso, Texas were murdered in a mass shooting, followed closely by a mass shooting in Dayton, Ohio that killed 9. But she could just as easily have been talking about Donald Trump's incitement against Michigan's Governor Gretchen Whitmer and other politicians who had implemented work and travel restrictions as measures to fight the spread of the Corona virus. The following April 17 tweet was in obvious reference to Whitmer's lockdown.



On April 30, hundreds of protesters, including an armed militia, protested at Michigan's Capitol building against Whitmer's lockdown order. Over 100 people, some of them armed, were allowed inside the building. Donald Trump did not condemn the intimidation tactics of protesters who brought guns into the workspace of Michigan's lawmakers. Instead of trying to discourage their tactics, he endorsed their cause with this tweet the next day.




Protesters returned to Michigan's capitol building on May 14. This time one of them carried a doll with a noose around its neck. The protester who brought this doll later said that it represented any politician who would not stand up to Governor Whitmer's lockdown, but since the doll was that of a woman with brunette hair most would interpret it as Governor Whitmer being hung in effigy.

On October 8, the FBI and state authorities broke up a plot by anti-government terrorists to kidnap Governor Whitmer, kill police officers, and start a civil war. Though at least 4 of the 13 arrested terrorists attended the April 30 rally, there is not much evidence that they were inspired by Trump. In fact, posts on social media by some of the terrorists discussing potential attacks against the government drew the FBI's attention in March, well before Trump's first tweet. Thus, it seems unlikely that this particular terror plot arose out of Trump's rhetoric. However, Elizabeth Neumann, former assistant for counterterrorism and threat prevention in Trump's Department of Homeland Security, argues that Trump's failed leadership has created an environment where terrorist activities like this are more likely. First, she notes that the pandemic has increased the risk factors for violent extremism: "isolation, financial stress, job loss, loss of loved ones and significant changes or uncertainty in life." Next, she notes that "some groups would perceive public health measures as government overreach infringing on rights and liberties, which might encourage anti-government extremists." She writes:


A good leader can speak to the country — especially those most susceptible to radicalization — and contextualize the national and worldwide struggle against covid-19 in a way that unites people and discourages division, anger and grievance.


In March, anticipating the effects of the lockdowns and the need for national unity, my team developed a messaging campaign to help federal, state and local leaders build resilience within communities. Although the materials were approved within DHS, they never received the required approvals from the White House Covid-19 Task Force. . . .

Rather than bring us together, the president did the exact opposite. In April, he tweeted, “LIBERATE MINNESOTA!” and “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” and “LIBERATE VIRGINIA, and save your great 2nd Amendment. It is under siege!” . . .

Language from campaign materials and Trump’s extemporaneous speeches at rallies have been used as justification for acts of violence. The president has repeatedly been confronted with this fact. He and his supporters retort that he has, eventually, denounced violence and white supremacists. But the issue is not whether he has ever condemned those ideas and people; it is that he is inconsistent and muddied in his condemnations. Extremists thrive on this mixed messaging, interpreting it as coded support.

Combined with the president’s repeated efforts to undermine the legitimacy of the election and militaristic calls to “join Army for Trump’s election security operation,” law enforcement and counterterrorism officials have expressed concerns to me that the president’s rhetoric will lead to more civil unrest and violence. A survey by YouGov and Voter Study Group and published by Politico shows that “among Americans who identify as Democrat or Republican, 1 in 3 now believe that violence could be justified to advance their parties’ political goals — a substantial increase over the last three years.”


Even if the terrorists behind the recently busted plot were not inspired by Trump, Trump's actions have increased the probability that there will be more violence directed at Whitmer and others in the future. Trump gave mixed messages the day after the plot was exposed. Let's look at a series of his tweets on the day after the terrorists were arrested.





It's great that Trump denounced extreme violence. But look what else he is doing. He is demonizing Biden, the Democrats, and Whitmer while simultaneously demanding that Whitmer do what the terrorists wanted her to do. Perhaps it was unintentional, but there is a somewhat sinister feel to these tweets. Lurking unstated is the unstated message of, "I am denouncing violence, but if you do not give in to the terrorists' demands you may face future violence. Oh well. Nothing I can do. And by the way, let me demonize you in these tweets and further incite the mob against you."

Trump further demonized Whitmer when he went on Fox News on October 15 and said, "Michigan, she has to open up, She wants to be a dictator in Michigan, and the people can’t stand her."

And in case his message was still too subtle, Trump eliminated any doubts that he wanted to incite Michiganders against her when he whipped up his audience at a Michigan rally into a frenzy a week later. Trump demonized her and then basked in the glow of the audience's enraged chants of "LOCK HER UP." A more traditional president, a president who didn't rely on intimidation and thuggery to get his way, would have said,


Stop it! We are country that honors the rule of law, and though you hate what the Governor has done, the way to oppose her is to sue her in court. If what she has done has violated your constitutional rights, let the court rule against her and put her in her place. Unlike banana republics, we do not encourage vigilante justice. We do not incite violence. And we do not throw our political opponents in jail unless they have committed jailable crimes like embezzling money or accepting bribes. And even if our political opponents have committed crimes, they are only to be jailed after they have had a fair trial in which it is proven that they have committed crimes.


Trump not only failed to calm his audience down. He actually joined them in their chants of "LOCK HER UP."




Whitmer reacted as anyone would who was the target of Trump's incitement. She was backed up by her Deputy Digital Director





Olivia Troye, who worked as the homeland security, counterterrorism and coronavirus adviser to Vice President Pence, weighed in as well.



The Trump campaign should have dialed down the inflammatory rhetoric to prevent further violent attacks. Instead, they dialed it up to 11 with the following two tweets that could not have been more carefully tailored to generate rage and hatred towards Governor Whitmer.







The following two pictures, the first from Wikipedia and the second from the Urban Dictionary, were attached to the second tweet.





The Trump campaign had to reach and stretch and contort to come up with their claim that Whitmer was advocating Trump's assassination. Consider the following:

  1. Governor Whitmer was obviously Zooming in from her home or office. The 8645 was so tiny on this image that someone had to be looking for something, anything, they could use to inflame hatred against her. It was so obscure in the picture that the Trump campaign had to circle it so that people could see it. If Whitmer WAS trying to send out a message that people should kill Trump, this would be the most inefficient way of doing so. No doubt the 8645 decal was meant for Governor Whitmer's personal amusement or the amusement of those who visited her. It was not intended as a message to trigger potential assassins.
  2. Even if the decal were bigger and easily noticeable, not many people would have understood what "8645" meant without someone like the Trump campaign pointing out that this was a coded message.
  3. The Trump campaign used the Wikipedia's definition of 86 and the Urban Dictionary's definition of 86'd as evidence that Whitmer used the term as a suggestion to kill. However, Wikipedia is not a dictionary and is not the most authoritative source for definitions. As of this writing, the phrase "killing someone" has been removed from the Wikipedia page and there is a very hot debate among Wikipedia's editors over whether that term should be included in the definition. The definition that the Trump Campaign copied from the Urban Dictionary is just one of 6 entries for the term "86'd". There are six entries under the term "86" (without the 'd) in the Urban dictionary. One of these entries lists three definitions with the third definition being: "To get rid of (usually in reference to a person, often a coworker...sometimes viewed jokingly as a euphemism for killing them)." The other 5 references do not mention "killing." Miriam-Webster's Dictionary defines "86" as "to refuse to serve (a customer)  also : to get rid of : THROW compiles definitions from multiple sources including Random House College Dictionary, Princeton WordNet, Wiktionary, Webster Dictionary.  None of their definitions include the words "murder" or "kill" except for "To kill a plan or action." There is nothing in their definitions about killing people.


In short, the Trump campaign has drawn our attention to a barely noticeable decal, informed us it was a code rather than just random numbers, and used one of the most obscure definitions of the term "86" to definitively claim that Whitmer is inciting the assassination of the President. In doing so they ignored the far more common use of the term "86" which would imply that Whitmer wanted to get rid of or remove President Trump by voting him out of office. This would be outrageous under normal circumstances. But to do this less than two weeks after an assassination plot against Whitmer was exposed and when many Michiganders are already enraged at Whitmer for enacting measures to save lives by preventing the spread of the pandemic is inviting another assassination attempt. If this isn't stochiastic terrorism, I don't know what is.



Trump's Refusal To Commit To A Peaceful Transfer Of Power If He Loses


Donald Trump hates the idea of mail-in ballots. Democrats want to be able to use mail-in ballots to avoid crowded polling places during the pandemic. They don't want to be forced to risk their health in order to cast their ballots, and some may decide not to vote in order to stay healthy. Republicans will be less likely to avoid the polls because the President's continual downplaying of the threat has conditioned them to take the virus less seriously. Thus, Trump and the Republicans have done everything they can to undermine confidence in mail-in voting. I don't want to get too far into discussing the reliability of voting by mail other than to note that Trump and William Barr have greatly exaggerated its unreliability. Indeed, vote-by mail fraud has been exceptionally rare in the past. Unfortunately, the Trump Administration appears to be trying to undermine confidence in the security of mail-in voting by pulling Postal Police who ensure the security of postal workers and mail boxes in high-risk areas just two weeks before the election. Rebecca Smith broke this story for the Wall Street Journal.


An order by the U.S. Postal Service to pull its uniformed police officers off city streets has sparked a legal battle pitting it against a police union, when the agency is already under scrutiny for delivery delays in a presidential election that could hang on mail-in ballots.


The agency’s unilateral order ended daily patrols meant to prevent robberies of blue collection boxes and mail vehicles, and has left letter carriers without escorts on unsafe routes in some of the nation’s biggest cities, according to interviews with police officers and union representatives opposed to the change and a copy of the directive, titled “Postal Police Utilization,” reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

Mail thieves, in the past, often targeted mail for credit cards and checks. Now, the postal police officers said the fear is that thieves also will get ballots, which could be ditched. . . . 

Frank Albergo, president of the Postal Police Officers Association, said the order to stand down, coming so close to the election, is especially concerning. “If I was going to undermine public trust in the mail, one of the first things I would do is pull postal police off the street,” he said.


Smith discussed this story with Rachel Maddow in the following video.




A cynic might speculate that Donald Trump is setting up mail carriers to be robbed or mailboxes to be broken into in key swing states just so he could use a breech in security as an excuse to get mail-in votes annulled if he loses by a narrow margin. And it would take a truly warped individual with a wildly twisted imagination to suggest that stripping the postal system of its security is just the first step of a two-part plan by the Trump Administration, with the second step being to hire someone (through a third party) to  break into mailboxes to ensure that Trump would be able to use the robbery as an excuse to demand that mail-in votes be cancelled. Fortunately, I am not such a cynic and would never dream of suggesting this possibility. However, if mail carriers are robbed or mailboxes are broken into between now and election day, I would suggest that those who investigate these crimes keep an open mind to all possible motives.

What you will see in this next video hammers home just how much Trump hates mail-in voting. When asked whether he would agree to a peaceful transfer of power, Trump responded by saying, "We want to get rid of the [mail-in] ballots and you'll have a very peaceful---there won't be a transfer frankly. There'll be a continuation."



More alarmingly, Trump has told his supporters at least three times that the only way he could lose the election was if the Democrats rigged it. In other words, he has told them that if he loses, that will be proof that the election was illegitimate. This is especially disturbing in light of his remarks about the Proud Boys during the debate. As you can see in the video below, his instruction to the Proud Boys was to "Stand back and stand by." Though his instructions related to how the Proud Boys should interact with Black Lives Matter protesters, combined with his previous statements they raise the specter of Trump trying to use the Proud Boys and other militia groups to violently keep him in office if there is a close election.




To be fair, the President's Press Secretary, Kayleigh McEnany told a press conference that “The president will accept the result of a free and fair election. He will accept the will of the American people." But what she left unsaid was who would determine if the election was free and fair. If Trump's attitude is that any election that he loses MUST be rigged and his loss proves that the election wasn't fair, then McEnany's statement is meaningless. It is certainly no guarantee that there will be a peaceful transfer of power if the election is close.

There has been a peaceful transfer of power between administrations every time a new administration was elected since the beginning of our nation. It is a great American tradition that separates us from most of the rest of the world. The only correct answer to the question, "Will there be a peaceful transfer of power?" is, "Of course there will be. If there is evidence that the election was rigged then I will fight it out in court. But at the end of the day there will be a peaceful transfer of power. I will not try to plunge this nation into a Civil War if the Court rules against me." Donald Trump's failure to pledge to transfer power peacefully if he loses may be the biggest warning sign that our democracy is on the line in this election.