When Chelsea Clinton came to campus in September I had the opportunity to ask her whether or not she feared that her mother’s historic election as the first female president might face a campaign of delegitimization similar to that of the birtherism that followed Barack Obama’s election as the first African American president. She gave a non-answer, citing that the election had not been won yet. That was fair at the time.
But as far as I see it now, this election is over. Hillary Clinton holds formidable leads in most swing states, her support among minorities, especially women, is on the rise as Trump implodes, and she’s even positioning herself for potential upsets in historically red states such as Utah and Arizona. So it’s no surprise that Trump has essentially thrown in the towel. He’s spent the last week decrying a “rigged election” before the election even takes place, he’s abandoned all pretext for courting non-white, non-male voters, and he’s even succumbed to some of his supporters’ calls for Hillary Clinton to be jailed.
That’s right, an American presidential candidate called for the jailing of his political opponent on a national debate stage, but this isn’t as unprecedented as the pundits are claiming. Sure, no major party candidate has ever specifically called for the candidate of the opposite party to be jailed, but that’s not what the “lock her up” chants are about. They’re about delegitimizing Clinton’s presidency before it even begins, just as some have attempted to undermine President Obama’s legitimacy through the racist lens of birtherism.
Admittedly, Clinton’s numerous scandals played a considerable role in me voting for Bernie, just as I would imagine they did for millions of others who threw their efforts, money, and votes the same way. However, at the end of the day, any sane individual would come to the conclusion that Hillary Clinton is not a criminal, but rather someone who simply represents much of the political expediency and backroom politics that many Americans resent. The difference in our general collective responses to Clinton and to the election outcome as opposed to those of Trump supporters has hinged on two factors; an emphasis on policy agendas rather than on a person and having a leader with the decency to concede and move forward in the name of said policy agendas. Bernie lost a race that was a longshot from the start, and he graciously conceded and began to work with Secretary Clinton on matters of policy. Trump seems to be preparing to do just the opposite. Throughout his campaign, he has put very little emphasis on any sort of policy and the policy that he has put forward tends to do more for inciting hatred and fear into his base than it does for solving any legitimate issues.
What Trump is preparing to do, by calling for Clinton to be jailed and claiming he won’t accept election results that aren’t in his favor, is clear. He wants to delegitimize her administration from day one. The motive for doing this is a little less certain. Maybe he has a strategic goal of some sort in mind, or maybe he just craves the attention this brings. But if I had to guess, I would say that he and his base are simply reacting to the soon-to-be first woman President of the United States, thus revealing the implicit, and often explicit, sexism that exists in our country, just as they unmasked the racism that exists within our nation following the election of our first African-American President.