The closer to Election Day, the more disturbing the news and the hateful, partisan messages appearing in the nation's newspapers. Read or skim through a handful of daily papers from different parts of the country and you will find plenty of news, actual or fake, that will make you wonder whether we have reverted to a bygone era of political tribalism, social and racial violence, unbridled corruption and massive electoral fraud.
Let's start with news items of heightened and divisive political rhetoric. One party asserts that it is the best option to save the Constitution from dangers "greater than any which have threatened it" since the nation's founding. A renowned Ohio politician accuses the party in power of having "corrupted every branch of our government." His own party, another story in the same newspaper says, is seeking to end "the corruptions in which the present debased administration (has) involved the finances of the nation." The author of a letter to the editors of a New York newspaper exacerbates rural-urban hostilities, demonizing cities as godless places and "ulcers in the body politic."
Rhetoric has escalated to the point that it is not uncommon to read mutual accusations of treason and threats of violence and revolt.
Among the most incendiary preelection news stories are denunciations of widespread electoral fraud. One story assures us that Republican operatives found "no less than 935 fraudulent names" on a list of registered voters. A published appeal to Republicans claims that another list includes fake registrations, scandalously enough, among them those of two underaged sons of an immigrant woman. Another story denounces a brewing mass-fraud scheme in which citizens of one Midwestern state are crossing the border to cast ballots in another state.
There are numerous news stories of scattered arrests and charges of committing or conspiring to commit voter fraud, among them the notorious case of the former private secretary of a large-city mayor, who remains under custody.
Government authorities, other news stories tell us, have redoubled efforts to curb electoral fraud and rein in voter intimidation. The mayor of a large Southern city has expanded security around polling places after expressing concern over "recent exhibitions of partisan bitterness." Another Southern city mayor will dispatch additional officers to polling stations, promising that "ample security will be guaranteed to every voter."
Scores of groups of citizens are also organizing and mobilizing to guard against political fraud. One story tells of a group that has called for volunteers to intimidate potential "ballot-box stuffers."
It is disturbing to read about the mobilization of numerous paramilitary political action groups, some with histories of political and racial violence. Their names point to their militant and violent proclivities: Minutemen, the Blood Tubs, Rip Raps, Plug Uglies, Rough Skins and Red Necks. One such group, dressed in black capes and wearing "black fatigue caps," staged a torch-lit march in Cleveland.
Merchants, meanwhile, are peddling all sorts of political paraphernalia including party banners and uniforms. I could not believe my eyes when I read an ad in a Louisiana paper with the headline "Torches. Torches. Torches." It offers unlimited quantities of high-quality torches, otherwise known as tiki torches.
Rival political gangs — some call them clubs — have already clashed in urban and other settings. Printed news narrates violent confrontations that seem to come out of history books: street battles between groups armed with rifles, axes and even pitchforks.
Stories like these point to a convulsed election, calls for secession and civil war.
Why do I say this, you may ask? Because it actually happened.
These news stories appeared in the New-York Daily Tribune, the Cleveland Morning Dealer, the New Orleans Daily Crescent and Baltimore's Daily Exchange the day before the presidential election of 1860 — yes, 1860, when Abraham Lincoln was elected president.
The Library of Congress has digitized these and other historical newspapers. You can read them online at https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/search/titles/
Readers can reach Luis Martinez-Fernandez at [email protected] To find out more about Luis Martinez-Fernandez and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.