Hoping Americans ‘do the right thing,’ as Churchill said we would
Published 5:51 pm Tuesday, July 13, 2021
As Independence Day approached two weeks ago, a county resident whose love for this country is unimpeachable sadly predicted that the Republic as we know it likely will not last another 25 years.
Most of us have talked about the decline of the Republic at one time or another, but this was a sobering comment because of the specificity of the time frame in his prediction. Basically, he didn’t think we would survive more than a few more presidential elections.
Evidence supporting his pessimistic view is certainly abundant. Eight months after our most recent presidential election and six months after the inauguration of the man who comfortably won that election, a substantial percentage of Republicans continue to claim falsely that their man actually won and that the election was somehow stolen from him. That, despite the fact that no substantial election fraud was found in any state, despite declarations by the former president’s hand-picked FBI director and attorney general that there was no widespread election fraud and despite rulings in numerous court challenges that there was nothing untoward in the election.
Compare what has happened to earlier elections. In 2000, when the U.S. Supreme Court decided the election by calling off the Florida vote count, Al Gore did what losers have to do to make democracy secure. He conceded graciously, acknowledging he didn’t agree with the court’s opinion but would support George W. Bush for the good of the country.
When Donald Trump stunned the world in 2016 by winning the electoral vote, Hillary Clinton graciously conceded and never challenged his win.
When Trump, on the other hand, lost last fall’s election, he simply declared he had won. He has continued to rant over totally unfounded claims of election fraud ever since. He called on supporters to gather in Washington the day of the Electoral College vote certification, and then to march on the Capitol. Since then, his continued whining over losing has disrupted the nation to an incredible degree.
Republican U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell got it right on Jan. 18 when he said, “The mob was fed lies. They were provoked by the president and other powerful people.” McConnell, being McConnell, has done the backstroke ever since then, but he was caught initially telling the truth.
I’m not quite so pessimistic about the nation’s future as is my friend, or perhaps I’m just choosing to be a bit Pollyanna. I prefer to believe in Winston Churchill’s comment that Americans will “do the right thing, after they’ve tried everything else.”
Yet, the evidence is compelling that we are in for a very difficult period in our history. Since the insurrection by Trump supporters on Jan. 6, the number of Republicans claiming to believe the election was “stolen” from Trump has actually grown, and a substantial percentage of the GOP refuses to acknowledge President Joe Biden as the nation’s leader.
The last time a significant portion of the country refused to accept a legitimate presidential election was in 1860. A civil war resulted, and three quarters of a million people died.
Democracy is difficult. It requires broad access to, and participation in, elections. It also requires acceptance of some ground rules, chief among them the peaceful transfer of power from one party to another when voters have made a change.
Once a significant portion of the population no longer believes in democratic elections, the damage snowballs. Today, the growing unwillingness to accept election results has driven numerous GOP-controlled legislatures to make voting more difficult and even overturn election results they don’t like.
Discouraging voting by making it more difficult to do so is a despicable use of political power, but planning in advance to overturn election results you don’t like may well become a stake in the heart of democracy.
China, Russia and other authoritarian nations are doing everything they can to capitalize on the political turmoil in America. They are not only predicting our decline but are trying their best to precipitate it in order to prove that they have always claimed — that people are simply not capable of governing themselves.
Neither my friend nor I are likely to be around in 25 years to know how it turned out, but for the sake of all who will be, I sincerely hope he’s wrong.
John Edwards is publisher emeritus of The Smithfield Times. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.