State Republican Party chairman J.R. Romano sent out an email to supporters late last week asking the GOP faithful to join the “Army for Trump” and become poll-watchers to “ensure a fair and honest election.”
You better believe that got my attention.
It got the attention of lots of other people, too. Connecticut Democratic Party Spokesperson Patty McQueen chastised Romano for using “militarized language” meant to “be intimidating and to undermine legitimacy,” while Democratic Party Chair Nancy DiNardo said that Romano was “joining in Donald Trump’s campaign to undermine the constitutional rights of Connecticut voters.”
To which I’m sure Republicans will say with a big trollish grin that poll standing is perfectly legal and that everyone wants to have a fair election free of fraud, right? So what’s the problem?
Oh man. Where to even start.
Taken at face value, sure, having volunteers stand outside polling stations with signs and literature is legal and both parties do it (Connecticut does not allow poll watchers, or partisan observers who are actually inside the polls). Heck, when I was a baby politics junkie I stood outside a polling station in Wilson with cards for the local Green Party candidate, repeating “campaign finance reform” over and over again to disinterested voters passing by. And who doesn’t want an election where we can trust the process and be sure that there’s been no fraud?
But nothing the Republican Party has done in the Age of Trump can be taken at face value.
This is not an honest attempt to ensure the validity of our elections. At best, it’s the kind of pointless, smirking trolling we’ve come to expect from the president and his allies. At worst, it’s an attempt to intimidate voters and suppress Democratic turnout.
But don’t take my word for it. In a video posted by the official Facebook Team Trump account on Sept. 21, gormless presidential son Donald Trump Jr. tells viewers that “the radical left are laying the groundwork to steal this election from my father,” and that “their plan is to add millions of fraudulent ballots that can cancel your vote and overturn the election.” Trump Jr. stresses, “We need you to help us watch them,” and ends with a call to “enlist today” in the Army for Trump.
There’s nothing benign or even remotely normal about any of that. First, it’s peddling information that is so false that even the craven Neros at Facebook slapped a warning on the video saying that voting by mail is trustworthy and that absentee ballot fraud is extremely rare. And I love the idea that the far left, which mostly spends its days arguing about how real communism hasn’t been tried yet in YouTube comment sections, is organized enough to do anything like what they’re implying.
Trump Jr. is also wrapping the call in military language and imagery; volunteers are supposed to “enlist” in Trump’s “army” to stop the enemy from stealing the election. In the background, stirring martial music plays.
It’s about as subtle as being hit over the head with a cinder block. J.R. Romano’s message is a lot less overt, but hinting at this kind of language and imagery means it’s not entirely innocent, either.
The end result of this effort, the Trump campaign is clearly hoping, is that a lot of middle-aged white people with Trump shirts, hats and flags will show up at polling places where a lot of Democrats vote. Then all they have to do to be intimidating is be themselves.
If I were a person of color in this country, I’d want to stay as far away from that crowd as possible. Heck, even as a generic white lady I’d have to steel myself to walk past them. Will it stop anyone from voting? It’s hard to say, but in this ultra-tense climate, all something like this does is pour gas on the fire.
I hate that this sounds like a bunch of conspiracy theory nonsense. But here it all is, happening right in front of us. A president who constantly uses authoritarian language and tactics, who inspires white nationalists, and who desperately wants to cling to power at all costs is making something called an army to stand at the polls to “watch” the opposition. If this were happening anywhere else, the America I used to live in would condemn it.
I don’t know what’s going to come of the Army for Trump. Maybe it’ll be nothing. But it’s not innocent and it’s not okay. J.R. Romano and Connecticut Republicans should disavow it as soon as possible.
Not that they will. And that’s the problem.
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.
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