Can you think of any country where democratic elections did not guarantee responsible leadership? Unrelated: Obama delivers remarks alongside the Chancellor of Germany.
Can you think of any country where democratic elections did not guarantee responsible leadership? Unrelated: Obama delivers remarks alongside the Chancellor of Germany. Emmanuele Contini /

Is the election rigged? Well, yes and no, depending on what you mean. And it's hard to know what anyone means by "rigged," even people who really ought to.

"Of course the election will not be rigged. What does that mean?" President Obama asked yesterday, then added, "This will be an election like any other election."

Okay, so then yes? It will be rigged? Because you don't have to look hard for examples of people gaming the system, tweaking the rules, and putting their foot on the scale to snatch an election out of the hands of voters. Does that not count as rigging?

"I'm afraid the election’s gonna be rigged, I have to be honest," Trump told a crowd a few days ago. "I’m telling you, November 8, we’d better be careful because that election is going to be rigged."

This is probably Donald's way of preparing to blame anyone but himself for his forthcoming loss (Five Thirty Eight's predictions are zooming further and further into Hillary country by the hour). But he's actually on to something here: yeah, elections are unfair. Because of Republicans.

Our best research shows that voter fraud is a vanishingly rare occurrence, and yet the GOP loves to use it as an excuse to disenfranchise Democrat-leaning voters. In North Carolina, for example, Republicans eliminated every method they could that facilitated African-American voting. A court just forced the state to temporarily reinstate measures like same-day registration and early voting, finding that GOP measures "target African Americans with almost surgical precision."

And then there's the redistricting scheme launched by Republicans after the last Census; if you want to talk about surgical precision, take a look at how the GOP redrew congressional boundaries to effectively lock Democrats out of office for a decade. Using technology called REDMAP, the GOP targeted races that would give them control of redistricting, and now voting in those districts is nigh-futile until the next Census. (Or longer, if the Democrats don't develop a sophisticated gerrymandering scheme of their own.)

And of course, there's also good old fashioned money. Voting sure does feel nice, but it's just one vote; whereas a donation of a couple thousand dollars, properly leveraged, can sway lots of votes. And then after the election, donations can also be cashed in like Chuck E. Cheese tickets for access to politicians. Does that qualify as rigging? It sure does give rich people more control over politics than poor people, whose only means of participation is a puny vote.

I hate to type the words "Donald may be right," because nothing could be a surer sign of the apocalypse. But even our chief apologists, the people whose job depends on their ability to reassure us that our participation in the system matters, are having a difficult time defending the process these days. Here's a recent interview with John McCain:

QUESTION: Are you comfortable with Donald Trump possibly having control of the nuclear arsenal?

McCAIN: [Silence, followed by unintelligible stammering.]

McCain then went on to engage in a tortured avoidance of the question, and an explanation that whoever wins a presidential election must definitionally be a responsible leader.

Given how winners are chosen in our system, I think I agree more with the unintelligible stammering than with what followed it.