Evan Vucci / AP

If you belong to the “they’re both awful” school of politics and see no difference between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, think back to the defining moment of their last debate. It ought to give you second thoughts about opting out of the election or voting for Green Party candidate Jill Stein or Libertarian Gary Johnson.

The moment came when the moderator, Chris Wallace, asked Trump if he would “absolutely accept the result of the election?” Trump replied, “I will look at it at the time. I’m not looking at anything now. I’ll look at it at the time.” Wallace then said, “There is a tradition in this country, in fact, one of the prides of this country is the peaceful transition of power. … And no matter how hard-fought a campaign is that at the end of the campaign, the loser concedes to the winner.”

“I will look at it at the time,” replied Trump, who has based much of his campaign on the unproven charge that the election is rigged. “I will keep you in suspense.’’

When he said that, I was on the Truthdig team posting for our live blog, watching and writing comments. I couldn’t believe what I had heard. Disgusted, I posted: “That raises the possibility of a post-election marked by endless charges and challenges. He really doesn’t believe in traditional American democracy.”

In fact, Trump’s statement only confirmed what I thought of him from the beginning. The narcissistic, authoritarian, self-styled business mogul reminded me of Hitler on his way to power.

Last December I wrote:

Watching Donald Trump … urging that Muslims be banned from entering the United States was like listening to Hitler on the radio in the 1930s.

As was the case with Hitler, Trump appeals to a substantial number of angry people who cheer his call for making outcasts of members of a particular religion. At first scorned by decent people, as was Hitler, the presidential candidate is now enlisting a growing number of angry and scared Americans by promoting hatred of a religion and an ethnic group. That’s what Hitler did in regard to the Jews.

Trump’s attack on the elections is another example of his contempt for democracy.

He could stretch out the election long after Nov. 8 with lawsuits. That’s not going to worry a man who loves lawsuits and revels in the publicity they give him. Tying up the election in the courts would be his greatest case.

Trump’s inflammatory words come at a tense time.

The hacking of the Democratic National Committee files and big advances in computer technology have engendered widespread concern over computer security. Members of the American intelligence community blame the Russians, but have offered no evidence to back up their suspicions.

Concern increased when data centers were hit Friday by three waves of distributed denial-of-service attacks, which overwhelm targeted machines with junk data traffic. The source of the attacks is unknown. Anyone watching this should be concerned about whether computer technology will be used to attempt to change the vote for president and other offices, and Trump is capitalizing on these fears.

In September, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reforms held a hearing on the subject. Experts said they didn’t think anyone could change the presidential vote. Dr. Andy Ozment of the Department of Homeland Security said, “We have no indication that adversaries are planning cyber operations … to change the outcome of the election in November.” He and other witnesses said each state has its own election system. There are just too many systems for hackers to deal with on a national basis. And, most important, voting machines are not connected to the internet, where the big hackers work.

One skeptic was professor Andrew Appel of Princeton, who has studied how to tamper with voting machines. While they are not connected to the internet, he said, someone could reprogram individual machines to alter votes.

A national effort of such machine-by-machine vote fixing is hard to conceive. But committee member Ted Lieu, a California Democrat with a Stanford degree in computer science, said it wouldn’t be necessary.

“My view is they don’t have to hack 50 states,” he told the committee. “In a close presidential election, they need to hack one swing state or maybe one or two, or maybe just a few counties in one swing state.” He told the election experts, “I sort of challenge your premise that in 50 states we are robust. Is there a focus on those swing states to make sure that, in states where the election is close, we have done everything we can to make sure the integrity of the elections is protected?”

The potential for tampering with voting machines is one concern. Another is a general attack on the internet, such as the one seen last week.

One of the nation’s foremost election authorities, Professor Rick Hasen of the UC Irvine law school, wrote in his Election Law Blog on Oct. 21 how such attacks could affect the election:

Suppose this is Russia or another foreign or domestic actor intent on disrupting our elections, and suppose the next attack presents a greater series of outages. Here’s the kind of stuff that could potentially be disrupted on Election Day:

1. Emails, messages, and telephone calls … to and from election officials and volunteers dealing with problems at polling places that inevitably pop up (ballot problems, polling place problems)

2. Voters obtaining correct information on where and when to vote, and polling place problems.

3. Accurate journalistic reports of voting, vote totals, problems at the polls.

4. Law enforcement activities that may be necessary if there are acts of voter intimidation or other problems.

5. Lots of everyday other features of daily life, from electricity, to traffic control, to emergency services, and to the rest of what is connected to the internet grid.

If there are significant problems with people being able to vote on Election Day, this could lead to court lawsuits to keep polls open late, or even to extend voting to a different day, potentially throwing the results of not just the presidential election but numerous elections into question.

Further, a wide internet outage on any day could create a situation for uncertainty and the spread of misinformation. This is especially dangerous on an election day … between the Trump’s campaign charges of rigging and Russian and other interference with our process.

Let’s hope our cyber defenses are good, and that people act rationally and calmly in the event there are problems.

From everything Trump says, he would like such problems on Election Day.

My friend and former Los Angeles Times colleague, Henry Weinstein, now teaching at UC Irvine, wrote of the Trump danger in the Times on Sunday: “On Nov. 8 progressives need to be part of a loud message that what Trump represents is anathema to a democratic society.” Voting for Jill Stein or Gary Johnson, he said, “will mute a message about the dangers of Trumpism that must be delivered as forcefully as possible.”

I’ve interviewed Stein twice. She is an intelligent, perceptive and dedicated progressive. Her Green New Deal is a thoughtful proposal to restore jobs. I can’t stomach Johnson’s conservative desire to dismantle the safety net and return the country to a pre-Roosevelt laissez-faire state, or worse.

Neither will be elected president. Voting for them would be a protest in vain. Trump’s scorn for the electoral system and democratic institutions is reason enough to fear a Trump presidency. Added to that is his racist rabble-rousing against Muslims, those of Mexican descent and other immigrants. This is evidence of the real Trump—not a populist crusader but a threat to democracy.

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