I oppose the recount.
There are, to my mind, only two reasons to re-examine ballots in a presidential campaign, as Green Party candidate Jill Stein has raised money to do. The first is in the event of error or fraud, but there is no evidence thereof in the 2016 election, as Stein herself has admitted. The second is in the event the margin of victory is especially slim. And yes, in the three states where Stein is pushing for a recount — Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania — the margins are indeed thin, particularly in Michigan, which Hillary Clinton lost by just 11,612 votes.
But in a case like that, the recount must begin immediately — and preferably automatically — to be seen as credible. A recount three weeks after the fact cannot avoid the appearance of dirty tricks. Indeed, if the results in any of the states in question were overturned at this late date, Donald Trump’s supporters would suspect malfeasance — and be justified in doing so.
Don’t misunderstand: I remain unalterably convinced that the new president is an awful person and that America made a generations-defining mistake in choosing him. But that does not give us license to casually undermine the integrity of the election.
You’d think, what with recruiting the political equivalents of Darth Vader and Victor Von Doom for his cabinet and presumably ordering a new Oval Office rug with a giant golden “T” in the center, he’d be too busy for such things, but you’d be wrong. On Monday, Trump tweeted, “I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.”
It was hardly the first time he didn’t know what the hell he was talking about. Not only is there zero evidence this supposedly massive fraud happened, but simple logic says that it could not. To be here illegally is to live off the grid, to be paid in cash, avoid interactions with police, steer clear of City Hall. Why would one such person — let alone millions — jeopardize the security of anonymity to cast a fraudulent vote?
It’s an idiotic idea. News organizations dutifully dubbed it “baseless,” too polite to say that his claim contained enough steer manure to fertilize Central Park. And at this point, anyone who ever believed in an ideal called America should be unnerved.
A democracy is, in many ways, a fragile thing. As Thomas Jefferson wrote, it depends for its very existence upon the “consent of the governed” — meaning not our support of every action a government takes, but rather, our willingness to believe in its integrity. It is from this that democratic government derives its power. Democracy, then, is an act of mutual agreement.
In a nation of 320 million people who share no one ancestry, culture or faith, it is also connective tissue. The idea that my vote matters no more — or less — than yours is the tie that binds an Inuit in Bethel, Alaska to a Haitian refugee in Miami to an Irish Catholic in Boston to a Mexican-American in San Diego to a Muslim in Kansas City.
And it’s the thing Trump burned down in his scorched earth appeal to bigotry and resentment. Now, here comes Stein in a desperate bid to deny the electorate its appalling choice. Avatars of a demoralized left and a hateful right, they are alike in at least one respect: their apparent willingness to damage what they purport to love.
So we find ourselves at a no-win crossroads. Trump’s victory is a terrible thing. Stealing it would be even worse.
Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald. Readers may write to him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.