Donald Trump and the Ghost of Boss Tweed.
Here is Jim Broadbent, playing infamous mid nineteenth-century Tammany Hall political fixer Boss Tweed in Scorsese’s Gangs of New York.
Boss Tweed is long dead, but his phantom is regularly summoned back around election time. Tweed was associated with a very old fashioned and cumbersome form of voter fraud which is no longer practiced. Apparently, among other ingenious practices, he enlisted a great many people with facial hair (and facial hair was pretty spectacular in the mid nineteenth century), hoping that you could get one vote for a bearded man, shave off the beard and get another for a moustached man, get rid of the moustache, then the sideburns etc. etc. and get at least five votes out the same man. Say what you like about Tweed, but he certainly “rocked the vote”, sometimes delivering 200%, or 300% of the eligible electorate to the polls at any given election.
Tweed’s method of electoral fraud did not survive him. The late nineteenth-century, following the abrupt conclusion to the Reconstruction era saw a far more cost effective way of controlling democracy – voter suppression. Voter suppression is far cheaper than paying people to vote lots of times and has had an infinitely more significant role in disfiguring elections since about 1870.
Independent investigations have found virtually no examples of Boss Tweed style multiple voting fraud in recent decades. It just doesn’t happen. But Tweed is regularly excavated and dangled because the threat of Tweedery is used to justify a variety of preventative measures whose real purpose is to make it harder to get registered and more inconvenient to vote. 1850s style Tammany Hall corruption is not coming back, but its ghost (or rather its Scooby Doo style manufactured ghost) is noisy and busy. It non-threat of people voting lots of times is used to prevent people voting even once.
Donald Trump has now said that if he loses Pennsylvania, it can only be because of Tammany Hall style multiple voting. Pennsylvania is HIS you see, its an entitlement that only a hereditary aristocrat like Trump can claim. The idea that he has to earn and re earn the trust of Pennsylvanians whose loyalty cannot be taken for granted is a notion far too plebian and democratic for Trump to entertain.
“We’re going to watch Pennsylvania. Go down to certain areas and watch and study make sure other people don’t come in and vote five times.”
Yes, Trump wants a bunch of angry people to surround the polls to police a form of voter fraud that hasn’t really existed for more than a century on the basis that it is morally impossible for a majority of Pennsylvanians to exercise their choice to vote for someone who isn’t Donald Trump.
As Trump continues to trail in the polls, expect this kind of flirtation with fascism to accelerate. Trump doesn’t do sanity. Neither he nor his supporters have specific evidence of voter fraud, any more than they have any new evidence proving that Hillary Clinton is a “crook”. The vaguer and more ungrounded the systemic “crookedness”, the louder the accusations will become. And with thousands of well armed people now convinced that anything other than a Trump victory represents some kind of grand conspiracy, the chances of violence have greatly escalated.
Trump will deny that he has incited violence, partly because he’s a coward who feels no need to stand behind his own words, but partly because in a related sense he feels, as a billionaire, that words can mean anything he wants them to mean only for as long as he wants them to. Other people may suffer, but other people aren’t real.