tSS3po8ansmSrored · During World War II, there was a very real and rational fear that American democracy would not survive. The danger was obvious, visceral, and violent. It was promulgated by tanks, bombs, and battleships. It was measured on maps that traced the march of armies, the swarming of navies, and the decimation of cities by aerial assault. America sat within her borders and could feel a world of madness and hatred closing in. Since the attack came from the outside, the human inclination was to rally within one’s own community for safety. That community was riven with its own violent injustices of segregation and the ugliness manifested against its citizens of Japanese ancestry. But the threat from outside was so great and would be likely so unsparing that America hardened its resolve with nearly miraculous levels of selflessness and sacrifice to the cause of survival.
The cost was great in blood, particularly of the young overseas, and in treasure. It is likely that many of you have a sense of where this is going, the comparison I seek to make. American democracy is once again under a dire threat. Once again there is death at a scale that is incomprehensible. But the threat is of such a different nature that it may be too convenient to deny the full level of danger. This threat comes from within, a civil cleaving that instead of uniting the nation is dividing it. Perilously so. This is not a violent threat, at least not yet despite some low-level skirmishes. That could change, but there is nothing approaching the reckoning of Nazi forces sweeping into Paris or a Japanese strike on Pearl Harbor. Meanwhile, the mass death we face doesn’t lend itself to the visceral images of war.
Our killer doesn’t have a face or a flag. It is invisible. Instead of sending our young off to battle overseas, we have medical professionals, grocery store clerks, farmhands, and many others commuting daily into danger. We are mostly aware of what takes place within our four walls of isolation and the looming specter of hunger and homelessness for many of our fellow citizens. But there is of course another deep worry pervasive in this country. It is about America’s heretofore unbroken peaceful transfer of power between presidents. It is the notion that all of us, regardless of party, play by and revere the same democratic ideal that we the people have the power to fire our leaders in free and fair elections.
This election has revealed a president who doesn’t believe any of that, and a party and base that is eager to go along with him. This is not fringe; it is a movement that encompassess tens of millions of Americans. And to defeat it and preserve American democracy will require resolve, patience, ingenuity, and grit. I believe that the nature of this threat to American democracy is not being taken nearly seriously enough. And in an odd way I find some comfort in that. I still do not believe most Americans want our ideal of representative government by majority rule to end, not by a long shot.
It is tempting to laugh off the outrageousness of the court challenges and see a pathetic man desperate to hold on to fleeting power. There is truth in all of this, and I suspect Donald Trump will struggle to own the national conversation as much as he hopes once he loses his perch behind the presidential podium. Yet the fissures laid bare by this election, and its shameful aftermath, are not going away. And every Republican official who signed their name, or even spoke by their silence, bears responsibility for what has been the most serious attempt to wreck our union internally since the Civil War. I hope, and pray, we as a nation can walk back from the ledge, that the passions can cool, and a new administration can steer our American ship of state back into the safer harbors of our democratic traditions.
The struggle will not be easy, but if victory for American democracy does emerge, and I believe it will, we can resolve to make it much more secure so that this doesn’t happen again. In the dark days of World War II, it was almost impossible to imagine a bright and happy future. But that did happen. Today, we have a vaccine coming and a new government. There is danger still ahead, but hope is possible. It is a hope that must be built on hard work and action. But I would go so far as to say a realization of hope is the likely outcome. I have seen America tested many times, and usually we end up in a better place than where we started. Steady.