A year ago, the nation almost came undone. That it didn’t is testament to the durability of our democracy, the bravery and sacrifice of police officers whose lives were threatened – or taken – and the determination of many Democrats and Republicans to do their duty, come what may.
But we’re not out of trouble. More, and possibly worse, awaits as Donald Trump continues to push the Big Lie, as many states add gerrymandered voting to gerrymandered political lines and as too many Republicans, forgetting their own rich history – and their oaths of office – hammer at the guardrails meant to protect American democracy. That’s a threat not just to today’s Americans, but to millions yet to be born – and to global stability.
Few before the Trump years would ever have predicted the crisis that befell the country on Jan. 6, 2021, when a mob, summoned and incited by Trump, swarmed the Capitol, intent on preventing the certification of Joe Biden’s presidential victory by whatever means necessary, up to and including homicide. They did so absent any evidence of fraud beyond the seditious lies of the outgoing president.
Worse, some members of Congress went along, voting that same evening to reject legitimate election results. They sided with the seditionists and sold out the country, even as its democracy hung in the balance. Among the turncoats was Rep. Chris Jacobs, R-Orchard Park, who has yet to apologize for his infamous vote.
Since then, the evidence of Biden’s win has only grown. In Arizona, for example, a vote audit prompted by pro-Trump skeptics ended up adding to Biden’s margin of victory. Yet a majority of Republicans continues to insist, still without evidence, that the election was stolen from Trump.
In that, they ignore one of the fundamental character flaws of the former president, a man who habitually accuses others of the misdeeds he, himself, is committing. It’s classic misdirection: Look at him, not me.
Trump’s allegations of election theft fit that mold. They are a cover for his own larcenous effort, as actual evidence is making clear, beginning with the recorded telephone call in which he pressured Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find” more votes for him.
Yet the Lie persists.
So, as the country marks the anniversary of a dark day, it needs to take stock. The guardrails are shaking loose. How do we stabilize and strengthen them so that Americans, irrespective of party, don’t lose faith in their own democracy?
One thing is for doubting Americans to recognize that recent history repudiates Trump’s lies about the likelihood of broad-based election fraud. The only truly close election in recent years occurred in 2000, when the Supreme Court considered legitimate questions about the Florida vote. Its ruling ultimately led to Democrat Al Gore’s classy and patriotic concession, an act that safely ushered George W. Bush in the White House.
The fact is that the United States holds secure elections and, until Trump – a chronic liar – losing presidential candidates of both parties routinely moved to heal the country and bolster our democracy. Trump seeks to sabotage it. With that, it’s become urgent not just to ensure that elections are fair, but that Americans believe them to be fair.
That’s a more difficult hurdle when a large chunk of an influential political party suspends disbelief and chooses to accept whatever their crooked leader says. Then what?
Persuasion is what remains and, in that regard, Americans can be grateful for the House committee investigating the insurrection and, in particular, for the two courageous Republicans serving on it – Reps. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois.
Although many Republicans are bound to reject their opinions out of hand, they could help in persuading those who are persuadable. In that, they are doing the work of patriots: putting the needs of country over party. Their refusal to be bullied into traitorous submission is the stuff of history. Together with their Democratic colleagues, they hold out hope for a necessary reckoning.
The country also needs to take note of the shameful efforts in some states to restrict voting and even to allow politicians to change outcomes they don’t like. That’s insurrection under color of law and this week it led to a justifiable, if unfortunate, proposal to revise Senate filibuster rules aimed at allowing Congress to respond to a direct threat to fair elections.
Although Democrats may later pay a price for any changes to the filibuster, what is the alternative? To allow renegade states like Texas, Florida and others – all Republican-led – to rig their elections and push the nation to yet another precipice? That can’t be permitted.
To be sure, problems can arise when the federal government intrudes on elections, which are the constitutional province of the states. But there are worse problems in failing to respond to the threat of such undemocratic machinations. Loss of faith would be only the start.
Looking forward, American schools need to return to basic civics education. Students at a young age need to understand the processes and expectations of our system of government. Fewer people might have credited Trump’s lies if they had that grounding.
Lesson No. 1: Losing an election isn’t evidence of fraud.
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