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Democracy on the Line?

We are four days into the election and nobody knows who will win the vote or what will happen after the results are known. I frankly cannot imagine what I can say about it that everyone else has not already said, and by the time anyone reads this half the facts may have changed. Maybe even the totals will be known. But I just have to express what is on my mind and in my heart now, whether anyone really cares or not. Maybe it is just because I have always been best able to sort out my thoughts about things by writing about them. So here goes.

I want to start by making my own bias clear, so no one will have to guess at or suspect that I have a hidden agenda. Nothing hidden here. I am a registered Republican who voted against Trump in both elections. In 2016 I thought he was totally unqualified to be President and now I think Joe Biden may have been right when he called Trump the worst President America has ever had. I think he has already seriously damaged country and my political party. The GOP is supposed to be the party of Abraham Lincoln, not the party of a narcissistic, incompetent would-be dictator. Is that clear enough?

As I write this, the vote count is still not complete but it looks very good for Biden. He currently has two possible paths to victory. If he wins Pennsylvania he wins the election, and he pulled ahead there a few hours ago. If not, Biden can still be elected if he wins a couple of currently close races, such as Arizona and Nevada. I strongly hope that he will win both Pennsylvania and the states he would need without it. I think that would make his victory much solider than if it depends on only one state, especially because the vote in at least one or two states will be close enough for Trump to legitimately call for a recount.

The very fact that this election is so close on the fourth day shows that it has fallen far short of what many Democrats were hoping for. They yearned for a “blue wave” that would mark the end not only of the Trump Presidency but also of Trumpism. Instead, we are all seeing that Trumpism is alive and well.

Even if Trump loses it will not be by much and the Republicans have gained several House seats and may retain control of the Senate. Mitch McConnell and Lindsay Graham survived massive efforts to unseat them. Trump supporters are energized, determined and angry. So what is “Trumpism?” Politically, it has several elements of “America First” thinking, which often incorporates some isolationism and includes protectionism for American business and workers. Socially, it is traditionalist and wants to stick with traditional values like opposition to abortion, homosexuality, and gender nonconformity. Perhaps the strongest element is a distaste or diversity. Although this can include some racism, it goes much farther than that. It is suspicious of non-Christians, non-Americans, non-heterosexuals, and so on. At heart it is about culture, and wants the government to protect members of a traditional American culture that has been losing its dominance for at least seventy years. It is about “traditional values” and has no patience for political tolerance toward new and competing values. And for some reason its adherents think that the person who cares about their values is a billionaire from New York.

Trumpism also has a lot of room for violence in defense of its cultural norms. It’s adherents like guns a lot more than most liberals. They like to organize into “militias” and claim the right to enforce their values in ways that the law reserves to law enforcement officers. But they also want the police and even the military to limit things like freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. To be fair, however, Trump supporters are by no means the only Americans prepared to resort to violence. The rioting and looting that tainted the racial justice demonstrations this year makes that only too clear. The great risk now is that the anger on both sides over the outcome of the election may become the match that ignites an explosion that has not been seen in this country since the 1960's.

If Biden wins, the risk of violence and general social upheaval will depend less upon the election itself than on what happens next. The President has givens a lot of hints about that. He has declared that the election is not legitimate and that the result should be declared by the Supreme Court. A court that he thinks he controls because it has a majority of conservative justices, especially the three whom he himself appointed. He expects their loyalty in return for giving them their high offices. But he may be missing an important point. Those appointments are for life. As a result, once they are confirmed he loses any control over them. Now, as jurists and constitutional scholars, they are free to interpret and apply the law as they see fit, not to satisfy the ego of the man who is not their boss, no matter how much he wants to be. There will of course be an onslaught of lawsuits. It has already begun and I think there is a good chance that one or more will make it to the high court. My hope is that when they get there, their fate will be determined by honest jurists not by the fantasies of a President who neither likes nor believes in the American political system.

Or is that system about to be irreversibly changed? In other words, is democracy truly on the line? I honestly do not think so. The United States has survived huge challenges in the past. Is this the worst one yet? Maybe. But so was the worst one before this, and we survived that. Maybe my optimism is just wishful thinking. But the one sure way to lose our democracy is to give up on it. Democracy is worth defending. I began doing that by voting for a Democrat. It wasn’t easy. But I’ll keep working toward the day when there is once again a Republican I can vote for.

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