It’s almost over. Will we heave a sigh of relief, or shriek in horror? Nobody knows for sure, although early indications clearly lean Clinton. Whatever happens, however, let’s be clear: This was, in fact, a rigged election.
It was rigged by state governments that did all they could to prevent nonwhite Americans from voting: The spirit of Jim Crow is very much alive. Voter ID laws were used to disenfranchise thousands; others were discouraged by a systematic effort to make voting hard, by closing polling places in areas with large minority populations.
It was rigged by Russian intelligence, which was almost surely behind the hacking of Democratic emails, which WikiLeaks then released with great fanfare. Nothing truly scandalous emerged, but the Russians judged, correctly, that the news media would hype the revelation that major party figures are human beings, and that politicians engage in politics, as somehow damning.
It was rigged by James Comey, the director of the FBI. His job is to police crime — but instead he used his position to spread innuendo and influence the election. Was he deliberately putting a thumb on the electoral scales, or was he simply bullied by Republican operatives? It doesn’t matter: He abused his office, shamefully.
The election was also rigged by people within the FBI — people who clearly felt that under Comey they had a free hand to indulge their political preferences. In the final days of the campaign, pro-Trump agents have clearly been talking nonstop to Republicans like Rudy Giuliani and right-wing media, putting claims and allegations that may or may not have anything to do with reality into the air. The agency clearly needs a major housecleaning.
It was rigged by partisan media, especially Fox News, which trumpeted falsehoods, then retracted them, if at all, so quietly that almost nobody heard. For days Fox blared the supposed news that the FBI was preparing an indictment of the Clinton Foundation. When it finally admitted that the story was false, Donald Trump’s campaign manager smugly remarked, “The damage is done to Hillary Clinton.”
The election was rigged by mainstream news organizations, many of which simply refused to report on policy issues, a refusal that clearly favored the candidate who lies about these issues and has no coherent proposals to offer. Take the nightly network news broadcasts: In 2016 all three combined devoted a total of 32 minutes to coverage of issues — all issues. Climate change, the most important issue we face, received no coverage at all.
It was rigged by the media obsession with Clinton’s emails. She shouldn’t have used her own server, but there is no evidence that she did anything unethical, let alone illegal. The whole thing is orders of magnitude less important than multiple scandals involving her opponent. Yet those networks that found only 32 minutes for all policy issues combined found 100 minutes to talk about Clinton emails.
Clinton still seems likely to win. If she does, you know what will happen. Republicans will deny her legitimacy from day one, just as they did for the last two Democratic presidents. But there will also be a lot of deprecation and sneering from mainstream pundits and many in the media, lots of denial that she has a “mandate” because some other Republican would supposedly have beaten her, she should have won by more, or something.
So in the days ahead it will be important to remember two things. First, Clinton has actually run a remarkable campaign, demonstrating tenacity in the face of unfair treatment and remaining cool under pressure that would have broken most of us.
Second, and much more important, if she wins it will be thanks to Americans who stood up for our nation’s principles — who waited hours in voting lines contrived to discourage them, who paid attention to the true stakes in this election rather than be distracted by fake scandals and media noise.
Those citizens deserve to be honored, not disparaged, for doing their best to save the nation from the effects of badly broken institutions. Many people have behaved shamefully this year — but tens of millions of voters kept their faith in the values that truly make America great.
Paul Krugman, winner of the Nobel Prize in economics, is a New York Times columnist.