What does Donald Trump mean when he charges that the election is “rigged”?
There are at least three ways that Trump has applied the label. The first two are flatly absurd. But the third contains just enough truth to raise the specter of unrest, violence, and a destabilized democracy.
This usage—rigged—may stem from thimblerig, a swindler’s game played with three thimbles and a pea, like three-card monte. The sharp puts a pea beneath a thimble, and shuffles them around. His mark points to the thimble containing the pea, but when it’s lifted, there’s no pea to be found.
From there, it seems to have jumped to the stock market, to describe brokers manipulating stocks in an illegal manner. By the early 20th century, it was being applied to sports games or elections. In every case, though, it describes a con—where participants think it’s a game of chance or skill, but the outcome is actually being manipulated in an underhanded way.
But is that an accurate way to describe this election?