In an ominous dispatch out of Colorado Springs on Thursday, The New York Times found trouble in Trumpland, with some of the Republican nominee’s supporters beginning, reluctantly, to gird for a loss. The paper discerned encroaching thunderclouds in Red America, “a dark fear about what will happen if their candidate is denied the White House.”
“Some worry that they will be forgotten, along with their concerns and frustrations,” Ashley Parker and Nick Corasaniti reported. “Others believe the nation may be headed for violent conflict.” Indeed, supporters spoke of “another Revolutionary War” and doing “whatever needs to be done” to oust Hillary Clinton from office if she wins.
“If push comes to shove,” one Donald Trump supporter told the Times, she “has to go by any means necessary.”
Worries about post-election violence certainly aren’t unfounded. Trump incited brawls at his rallies earlier this year and spoke about the violence of “the old days” with wistful nostalgia. His recent attempts to delegitimize the results of the election by insisting it’s “rigged,” and calling on supporters to “go around and watch other polling places,” certainly create conditions ripe for conflict. After recounting how the worst fears of bloodshed in this campaign haven’t come to pass, I myself concluded earlier this month that “The Violence May Yet Come.”
But preparing for isolated incidents of low-level violence is different than bracing for some sort of mass uprising, which remains highly unlikely. The Hill recently “reached out to more than a dozen police departments across the country to inquire if they’re preparing enhanced security plans for Nov. 8. Those that responded said they aren’t making different security preparations than usual, at least for now.”
That’s because, although it’s been a revolutionary year in American politics, an actual revolution isn’t imminent.
Like their candidate, plenty of Trump supporters talk tough. Milwaukee County Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr. said it’s “Pitchforks and torches time.” Joe Walsh, a former Republican congressman for Illinois, said, “November 9th, if Trump loses, I’m grabbing my musket.” (He subsequently defended his remark as a call for peaceful protest, asking, “If I wanted people to take up arms, why would I recommend people take up an antique like a musket?”) Cable news has repeatedly found people at Trump rallies flirting with armed insurrection if not advocating it openly.
But there’s every reason to believe this talk is hollow. Contrary to a popular mythology, Trump’s voters are better off economically than most Americans. They may believe the country’s headed in the wrong direction, and feel anxious and resentful about the nation’s cultural and demographic shifts, but most aren’t desperate enough to risk their lives in a standoff with a heavily militarized state.
This week provides a useful reminder of how anti-government grandstanding typically gets resolved in contemporary America. On Thursday, the Bundy brothers and five other militants were acquitted on federal charges after their armed takeover of a government wildlife refuge headquarters in Oregon for six weeks early this year. All but one of the militia members in that incident ultimately surrendered peacefully to authorities; Robert “LaVoy” Finicum was killed in a standoff with police.
Writing about Trump last month, The Atlantic’s Salena Zito argued, “The press takes him literally, but not seriously; his supporters take him seriously, but not literally.” Maybe we should all adopt the latter attitude about his supporters who are primed for revolt. You say you want a revolution? Well, you know.