Maintain the faith against a narrative of fear


“It may well be the last real vote you ever get to cast.” Those words from former Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., capture the mantra of this election season from politicians and pundits. It is narrative that preys on the fear of Americans that our constitutional system is on the verge of collapse.

Yet, it is untrue and ironically shows the lack of faith in our democratic systems that many of these figures ascribe to others.

If one briefly surfs cable news, you would think that this election is the only thing that stands between democracy and tyranny. On MSNBC, hosts like Joe Scarborough have repeatedly told viewers that former President Donald Trump will “throw away” democracy if elected.

President Joe Biden himself has taken up this claim. In his speech Friday near Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, Biden insisted that “democracy itself is on the ballot” and said that this election would determine if democracy can survive in the United States.

This campaign tactic holds obvious advantages for a candidate who has the lowest polling numbers of the past seven presidents at the same point in their first term in office. Biden and others are calling for citizens to vote not for Biden, but for democracy itself.

The pitch would be more compelling if Democratic activists were not trying to remove Trump from 2024 ballots and Democratic leaders in Florida, North Carolina and other states are refusing to allow other candidates to run against Biden in the primary. In those states, the primary ballots themselves might not be very democratic.

Trump helps to fuel such dire predictions with his reckless rhetoric.  After the Supreme Court accepted review of his disqualification from the ballot in Colorado, he said at an Iowa rally, “I just hope we get fair treatment. Because if we don’t, our country’s in big, big trouble. Does everybody understand what I’m saying?”

The answer is that it depends on whom you ask. For Democrats, the comment seemed to threaten more violence like the kind we witnessed during the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, especially given Trump’s pledge to pardon rioters.

For Republicans, it was a frank acknowledgement of the deepening anger and divisions in the country.

Those divisions are manifest in a new Gallup poll showing that only 28% of U.S. adults are satisfied with the way democracy is working in the country. It’s down from 61% in 1984. Only 17% of Republicans and 38% of Democrats are satisfied with our current state of democracy.

While I do not believe that the Jan. 6 riot was a true insurrection, I immediately denounced it as a desecration of our constitutional system. I criticized Trump’s speech that day as he was giving it. I also supported Vice President Mike Pence’s actions at the Capitol and rejected the legal basis for opposing the certification of the election.

Jan. 6 was many things, and all of them bad − save for one vital thing: Our system worked.

The Capitol riot was only the latest stress test for a system that has survived wars, economic collapse and social divisions. Despite an assault inside our Capitol, the system held and functioned as it was designed. And despite the claims of some partisans, we were never “dangerously close to losing it all.”

It was a desecration of our system but also the triumph of that system. Members of both parties quickly reassembled to carry out their constitutional functions. Our nation’s vice president held firm despite pressure from the president and threats from an angry mob against his very life to certify the election.

As the legislative branch fulfilled its constitutional duties, the judiciary did the same. Trump-appointed judges and justices voted against the incumbent president’s claims and cleared the path for the Biden inauguration.

We can recognize the gravity of that riot without engaging in the type of hyperbole that is now being bantered about in the campaign.

Once again, Trump has stoked such claims with comments like saying that if he were reelected, he’d “want to be a dictator for one day.” The former president stressed that he was speaking of ordering the building of the border wall and drilling for oil − unilateral actions that the host of the interview, Sean Hannity, immediately noted would not make Trump a dictator. However, Trump did not take the helpful nudge to clarify his words.

Yet, even if Trump did mean that he would attempt to be a dictator (and to do so past the first day), it is not up to him. For more than two centuries, presidents have sought to act unilaterally or assume extraconstitutional powers only to be checked by the legislative and judicial branches.

To suggest that this may be our last democratic election is to suggest that both branches (and the population at large) would stand idly by as a president assumed tyrannical powers. That did not occur, even when this country was united by wars and national emergencies. With the nation now divided right down the middle, it is even less likely.

That is why the “democracy is on the ballot” claims border on defamation against our Constitution. We have the most successful and stable democratic system in history. The success of that system is not measured by those who would riot or challenge our values. It is measured by how the system responds. Our system works because it was not only written for times of relative unity and calm, it also was written for times like these.

What remains is a crisis of faith for some and a preying on of those fears by others. Our Constitution ultimately is a leap of faith, not only in government but also in one another. This faith should be strong in a system that has met every challenge, including Jan. 6.

Many things will be on the ballot in 2024, but democracy is not one of them.

Dan Butcher

Dan Butcher (aka HP Pundit) is not a Democrat or Republican. He is a free thinking independent bringing you news and commentary with a dose of much needed common sense.

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