I am so grateful that the political ads, robocalls and news melodrama surrounding the 2020 election is winding down. It’s a relief that numerous lawsuits uncovered no systemic voter fraud. All of the states’ electoral votes have been cast consistent with results as certified by state election officials. The electoral process has held, despite many attempts to corrupt it. I should be relaxed, but I’m not.
Our democracy is unraveling around the edges. Remember North Dakota getting creative with voting rules, to disenfranchise Native Americans? Georgia dubiously purged voter rolls in 2016, and again last week. There was that plot to kidnap the Michigan governor. In Wisconsin, after a Democrat was elected governor, the legislature stripped powers from the executive branch.
We had some close calls in the election. Detroit’s votes were almost not certified, just because. President Donald Trump leaned on election officials and politicians right in broad daylight. The Wisconsin Supreme Court threw out Trump’s baseless claims of fraud. But three of the seven Justices voted to delay certifying the state’s election results, despite a lack of proof. Georgia courageously respected the election. For this they were pilloried, and received death threats.
Then, there was the Texas Attorney General’s lawsuit to the Supreme Court. Texas wanted to intercede in the electoral outcomes of other states. But only in a few swing states that voted for Biden. Astoundingly, 17 other states attorneys general filed briefs of support. One hundred and six congressional Republicans also voiced their support. To Rep. Don Young’s credit, he did not. Even Gov. Mike Dunleavy voiced support for this conspiracy-themed suit. The system has held, just barely.
All of this flows from extreme polarization. Abe Lincoln had it right when he said a house divided against itself cannot stand. A recent American National Election Study showed that out-party hate is much higher than at any time since 1980. Mutual contempt is toxic to marriages, or countries.
If we don’t lower the temperature, I see two baleful outcomes. The first is secession and civil war. We almost went down this road. Recently the Texas GOP called for “law abiding states” to “form a union.” There have been other calls for secession in recent years. This talk is creeping closer to the mainstream.
Civil wars never end well. Our own civil war ended slavery. But it cost over 600,000 lives, and trashed the South. In Syria the people rose up against Bashar Al Assad. Cities became bombed-out shells. Around 400,000 Syrians lost their lives. There is a famous quote from a Syrian activist that sums up the wages of civil war: “We thought we’d get a present, and what we got was all the evil in the world.”
The second outcome is hardly better. A demagogue claims to speak for “the people.” They sieze power and corrupt the judiciary. Then, they consolidate power by tweaking electoral rules so he and his party always win show-elections. People forget that Vladimir Putin was elected. His opponents were driven to exile, or they are poisoned like Alexei Navalny. Putin set up a mafia state, where his friends loot all the wealth of the nation. The average Russian’s standard of living and life expectancy have plummeted. Unchecked power only serves the oligarchs. Everyone else gets ripped off.
How do we save Lady Liberty? First we have to acknowledge that democracy, while messy and frustrating, is better than the alternatives. You’d think that goes without saying. But man on the street interviews show that an alarming number of Americans don’t necessarily think democracy is the only way to govern.
More fundamentally, we need to put down the cudgel, and acknowledge that people in the other party are good Americans, too. I have friends and family who disagree with me politically. But I know they also love our country. They are not morally inferior. We lower the temperature by talking to each other. Also by stepping out of our information silos. We all need to think outside the partisan box.
We need to put our differences aside, and work together. I’m just an old man in a provincial town. But it’s my New Year’s resolution to try. Let’s all try.
• Robert Welton resides in Douglas.