Donald Trump has leaned on the word "rigged" to describe the media, the debate schedule, and most of the rest of this election season. But he's not the only candidate or politician to use the word. Senator Bernie Sanders campaigned to fix a "rigged economy" and Senator Elizabeth Warren has for years talked about "a rigged system."
BOB GARFIELD: Turns out that not only did Trump not introduce the notion of a rigged system to this election cycle, this election cycle did not introduce it to political debate.
ELIZABTH WARREN: People feel like the system is rigged against them, and here’s the painful part – they’re right, the system is rigged.
BERNIE SANDERS: Millions of Americans are giving up on the political process because they understand the economy is rigged…
BOB GARFIELD: While there is zero basis for any claim of a stolen election or even a manipulated one, it may be worth recalling that democracy and equity are not the same thing. Emily Bazelon wrote, “Is the Election Rigged?” over the summer for The New York Times Magazine. She’s noted that the word itself has had a special power.
EMILY BAZELON: There is, if you’re on the left, a kind of righteous wielding of this battle cry from Bernie Sanders, from Elizabeth Warren, which is talking about the ways in which, as Warren would say, the kind of fat cats on Wall Street are getting hidden benefits that other people don't get. Warren, importantly, was involved in starting the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and Bernie Sanders, you know, with his kind of quasi-socialist message, is talking about an idea about rigging that has to do with who benefits from our tax dollars and from the way the government is run, and does too much of that benefit go to a very small number of people?
BOB GARFIELD: Regrettably, we must now move onto Trump. He isn’t really talking about a system contaminated over time to pervert true democracy. He's alleging an active conspiracy involving voter fraud and media collaboration with his opponent, Hillary Clinton. But that's really just a distillation of his whole raison d'être for running, that the real America is being stolen from you. The difference, in this charge, is it just a question more of degree than of substance?
EMILY BAZELON: I think that’s right. I was talking to a Trump supporter this week who said that what he meant by the election being rigged is that a whole demographic, by which I think he meant people of color, they're all supporting Democrats. And so, the only explanation was that the system was rigged in some way that favored them; they were getting paid off. He didn’t [LAUGHS] actually mean that the party was paying them to go to the polls, but he did have some notion that what I think of as just straightforward people vote for the candidate who they think will benefit them, to him this seemed very sinister, but only on the Democratic side. And there is some kind of deeper set of suspicions there about America and the way it's changing that I think Trump is really tapping into.
BOB GARFIELD: In the way that demagogues are wont to do, and not for the first time, back in 1968, Nixon was the candidate for the Republicans, Hubert Humphrey for the Democrats, but there was a third-party perspective spoiler in there, George Wallace, the segregationist governor of Alabama. What did he have to say?
EMILY BAZELON: Listen to this. George Wallace said, “They lie when they poll. They are trying to forge public opinion in the country and professional polls are owned by Eastern moneyed interests and they lie. They’re trying to rig an election.” And that’s very familiar [LAUGHS] to us now from Trump, who’s also been talking about an international banking conspiracy, that is kind of code for anti-Semitic tropes from the past, and then again, this idea that the election itself is not gonna be fair.
BOB GARFIELD: Then there’s Clinton who recently has begun occasionally to mouth the word. Why was she so cautious about it and why is her rhetorical strategy shifting a bit?
EMILY BAZELON: She’s come around recently because she's trying to appeal to Sanders voters and to show that she does understand the ways in which working-class and poor Americans and middle-class Americans feel sold out. Hillary Clinton prefers more calibrated and abstract language. She tends to say “the deck is stacked.”
HILLARY CLINTON: American families have basically done whatever it took to make it work, but I think it's fair to say that as you look across the country the deck is still stacked in favor of those already at the top. And there’s something wrong with that.
EMILY BAZELON: There’s a kind of cautionary note to sound here too, I think, You know, President Obama did use the word “rigged” a little bit on the campaign trail in 2008. Then he kind of moved away from it. And by his final State of the Union this past January, he was really in a different kind of mood. Obama said, democracy breaks down -
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: - when the average person feels their voice doesn’t mat, that the system is rigged in favor of the rich or the powerful or some special interest. Too many Americans feel that way right now. It’s one of the few regrets of my presidency, that the rancor and suspicion between the parties has gotten worse, instead of better.
BOB GARFIELD: An August Gallup survey found that 62% of those surveyed believe that their vote will be accurately counted, though that means [LAUGHS] that 38% aren't entirely confident, which strikes me as pre-tty fundamental.
EMILY BAZELON: That number does seem really high. I wonder if some of it can be attributed to the kind of lingering memory of Bush versus Gore. The questions about counts and recounts and hanging chads in Florida really did call our basic mechanics of voting into question. And then you see what Donald Trump is doing. This is, I think, what we keep returning to with this word “rigged.” There’s always some way in which there are problems with the system and maybe it can be rigged or maybe it was once rigged. And then you have to somehow figure out what's real and what are the hyped-up fears that are being piled on top of that reality in a way that calls into question an entire system that we need and that [LAUGHS] most of the time does work well or at least well enough?
BOB GARFIELD: Emily, thank you very much.
EMILY BAZELON: Thanks so much for having me.
BOB GARFIELD: Emily Bazelon is a staff writer for The New York Times Magazine and the Truman Capote Fellow at Yale Law School.