Good morning, it's Thursday, Nov. 5, Day Three of Election 2020. As of this writing, Donald Trump is making up ground in Arizona -- though probably not enough to change the outcome -- while trailing narrowly in Nevada and Wisconsin. The president is clinging to dwindling leads in North Carolina, Georgia, and Pennsylvania. Georgia officials say they'll announce the outcome there by noon today. Joe Biden and his campaign continue to express confidence they will win, while Trump and his forces are heading to court.
What else would we expect from the Hell-year that is 2020? The answer to that question is: arson and vandalism.
In New York City, Minneapolis, Denver and -- of course -- Portland, Ore., protesters took to the streets. "Count every vote!" said the signs from the crowd in New York. Were these crowds "mostly peaceful," and my brothers and sisters in the media like to say? I suppose so, but it doesn't take many bad apples to spoil a bushel.
Joe Biden signs off on his public speeches by saying, "God bless our troops." In Denver, protesters burned an American flag and marched behind a banner reading, "Death to fascism and the liberalism that enables it."
A small mob in Minneapolis spray-painted storefronts, tossed traffic signs into the street, set fires, and shot fireworks at responding police officers. Fourteen arrests were made, though they probably made bail by the time you read this.
In New York, marchers also set numerous fires, threw garbage at police, and one woman spit in the face of an NYPD officer. Stun guns and knives were confiscated from some of those apprehended. In Portland, the weapons seized by sheriffs officers included hammers, a rifle, commercial grade fireworks, and bottles -- one of which was reportedly used as a Molotov cocktail thrown at police. Business windows were smashed and ATMs looted. Oregon's governor called out the National Guard.
It's a stretch to blame any of this on Donald Trump, let alone Joe Biden. On the other hand, if a candidate alleges that a presidential election has been stolen from him, it is incumbent on that candidate to produce evidence -- and fast.
Four years ago, Chris Wallace of Fox News moderated the final debate of the 2016 presidential campaign. In contrast to 2020, Wallace emerged unscathed from the experience. Near the end of the debate, he asked a pointed question. Noting that Donald Trump had been complaining -- before the first votes had been counted -- that the system was "rigged" against him, Wallace posed this query: "Sir, will you absolutely accept the result of this election?"
By way of an answer, Trump replied that the media has chosen sides in the campaign, that the FBI investigation of Hillary Clinton's email scandal was a whitewash, and that "millions" of people were improperly registered to vote, presumably because they aren't U.S. citizens. Trump then flatly declined to offer any assurances about what he'd do or say after Election Day. I'll let you know afterwards, he replied. This brought a grim smile from Hillary Clinton, who termed Trump's answer "horrifying," notwithstanding how happy she was that Trump had given it.
The reaction in the Las Vegas media filing center was frenzied glee. Meanwhile, Trump's critics in the press, and in the Democratic and Republican parties, treated this answer not as gaffe but as a glimpse into his soul.
Joe Biden, then the incumbent vice president, described Trump's words as "a threat to our democratic process," adding that perhaps the candidate is "so stupid" he doesn't know the damage he's causing. "This is more than just the usual standard lie," added President Obama, who also called Trump's words "dangerous." Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said Trump was doing the country "a great disservice."
The mainstream media concurred. A USA Today headline claimed that Trump's comment "echoes former segregationist George Wallace." Reuters characterized the remark as reflecting "scorched earth tactics." Wall Street Journal editor Bret Stephens called it "the most disgraceful statement by a presidential candidate in 160 years."
Trump's words were jarring, to be sure, but to characterize them as beyond the pale was a demonstration of collective amnesia. For starters, it wasn't Trump who first invoked corrupt election processes in the 2016 campaign cycle. It was Bernie Sanders and his loyalists. Their claim was that in everything from the Democrats' sketchy debate schedule and delegate apportioning methods to little tricks played by the Democratic National Committee, the primary season was "rigged" -- yes, that was the word they used -- to favor Clinton.
Then WikiLeaks produced hacked DNC emails showing that Team Clinton was doing its own dirty little tricks such as trolling Sanders on the Internet, placing moles in his campaign, and coordinating strategy with the DNC. Clinton's response was to accuse "the Russians" of attempting to manipulate the U.S. elections in favor of Trump.
It was a dubious defense, but it turned out to be more than a Democratic Party talking point. It was the line of attack that Democrats used to undermine Donald Trump's candidacy, delegitimize is presidency, and ultimately try to remove him from office. In other words, Democrats and their allies in the media never accepted the outcome of the 2016 campaign either -- just as Donald Trump might not have done. This is the backdrop to Trump's current temper tantrum, and a fair-minded person, paraphrasing Joe Biden, might ask whether Democrats are "so stupid" they don't understand that their own talk sowed doubts in many Americans' minds about the integrity of the electoral system long before now.
Twenty years ago, the Florida recount that put George W. Bush in the White House revealed a profound truth about electoral democracy: A concession speech isn't a quaint formality. It's an essential component to the election itself. It demarcates the end of the campaign and signals to the losing candidates' supporters that it's time to stand down.
Al Gore handled this duty with great class. It couldn't have been easy. Yet Gore behaved heroically. It's an example that the most prominent members of his party and their allies in the media haven't followed. Sometimes, the way to win in life is to shake hands with your rival and simply acknowledge that you lost. That doesn't make you "a loser." It makes you a patriot.
Carl M. Cannon is the Washington bureau chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.