Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Today Is the Day

For Democrats in Georgia and throughout the U.S., this is a day of historic change and the real possibility of a functioning, legislating, Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate,  the greatest gift Georgians could have given to the incoming Biden Administration. Meanwhile in Washington, this is the day the electoral votes are finally counted, and Congress declares, once and for all, that Joe Biden has been elected President, normally a ritual celebration of how government is constituted in a democratic society, where citizens choose their leaders (albeit in the American case via the circuitous mechanism of an electoral college). In most years, it would be just that and no more. In some - 1961 and 2001 for example - there has been the added personal drama that the one announcing the results was also the losing candidate, which if anything further reinforced the underlying message about how the constitution and democracy are supposed to work.

This year, however, while the actual votes are not in any serious doubt, the process itself is, because of the anticipated antics of over 100 Republicans in the House and 12 Republican Senators. It is not unheard of for an individual member to grandstand on this occasion, but it is unprecedented in modern times for so many, following the lead of a recalcitrant defeated president, to challenge the results in such a coordinate effort. 

"These are people," Anne Applebaum wrote in The Atlantic, "who have consciously, deliberately abandoned our political system of nearly two and a half centuries in order to declare that Congress, not the Electoral College and not the voters, has the right to choose the president; that conspiracy theories invented and promoted by the president deserve to be heard and repeated; that rules can be changed at the last minute to accommodate the whims of the White House."

It is possible that the anti-democracy faction will find ways to prolong the counting session for hours or even days - to their eternal discredit, but also to the long-term humiliation and shame of the United States in the eyes of the rest of the world.

The only comparable event in our history was the disputed election of 1876, resolved only two days before the inauguration. That election was awarded finally to the Republican, Rutherford B. Hayes. But it was the country that lost decisively, because Hayes then removed federal troops from the south, thus ending Reconstruction and leading to the era of Jim Crow, undoing much of what the Civil War had accomplished. Then the "lost cause" lie prevailed in the South, just as now Trump's lie about the election prevails among his recalcitrant supporters.

As Isabel Sawhill recently wrote in Foreign Affairs: "Americans have a new president but not a new country." Just as the "lost cause" lie lasted a long time and did irreparable damage to our country, the Republicans' lie about the election and the Republicans' apparent belief that only their minority of 74 million votes are legitimate and that the votes of the majority of 81 million Americans shouldn't count will continue to do damage to our nation for a long time to come.

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