The two biggest dangers that the scenario process uncovered were the possibility that a false “fraud” narrative could take hold, or violence in the streets could escalate. President Trump indeed appears to be laying the groundwork for both. Trump is already working to convince the public that the election results can’t be trusted. He’s started this campaign already by claiming that voting by mail will lead to voter fraud, a claim his own intelligence officials have consistently rejected. The President and rightwing online media personalities already have a well-established routine for generating and amplifying rumors and conspiracy theories. Much will depend on whether these fringe perspectives get picked up and uncritically reported or even endorsed by “mainstream” rightwing media such as Fox News or the Wall Street Journal op-ed pages. Now is not a time for Democrats to be complacent. They need to meet these narratives head-on, and early.
The possibility of political violence is also significant, both as a voter intimidation tactic in the runup to and day of the election, and in the aftermath, particularly if the result is contested. In several of our scenarios, militant groups on both right and left took to the streets to challenge political authorities. Some irresponsible parties are likely to propagate blood-curdling messages predicting and even calling for civil war should their side lose. Add to this the possibility that foreign troublemakers may once again try to stoke violent confrontations between different factions, and the situation is clearly combustible. For anyone who has studied the history of electoral violence in comparative international perspective, all the warning signs are flashing red that we are at grave risk of widespread civil unrest unless immediate action is taken.