In my previous month’s offering I stated that the United States, in the 2020 presidential election, dodged a bullet. That is to say, somewhat less briefly, that we avoided an attempted insurrection, one that was based on little more than imaginative fabrications and rumors and partisan spin. All of that was promoted by media, both social and traditional, that reflected and repeated it, over and over, until millions of citizens had been convinced that the vote count was fraudulent and that the losing candidate actually won (but, oddly enough, only at the presidential level). The ultimate expression of this was the January 6th attack on the Capitol Building, a violent riot that had our highest legislative representatives huddled in safe rooms while the capitol police and their eventual reinforcements from the D.C. police battled the mob and worked to force them out of the building. That event, fortunately, has been followed by a nationwide FBI enforcement and apprehension operation and a massive security presence in Washington and in most of our 50 state capitals. These enforcement and control efforts together managed to make it possible for the remaining election events—the installation of new members of congress and the presidential inauguration ceremony—to proceed almost as if this were a normal peaceful transfer of power.
However, this election cycle was anything but normal, and the aberrancy began well before the voting. It began, months before the election, with President Trump insisting that the only way he could lose was if the election was rigged. That in itself was not surprising, because after he won the electoral college vote in 2016 he never gave up the obvious lie that he lost the popular vote only because of millions of illegal ballots. That provided us with ample notice that he would refuse to accept a loss and that he would do everything he could to label the 2020 election as fraudulent, too. He initiated a variety of attempts to reverse President Biden’s win, and in this effort he had an army of co-conspirators. There were, of course, many self-styled “whistleblower eyewitnesses” who claimed that they had seen fake ballots brought in, or legitimate ballots trashed or shredded or burned. Some of these stories even included videos that they said showed the alleged infractions. Other partisan observers complained that they had not been allowed in to observe and challenge decisions that were being made as ballots were being received, verified, and counted, and still others claimed that there were more votes cast in certain cities than there were registered voters. Finally, there were political operatives and media observers who accepted and repeated such statements uncritically. That included the several legal teams that filed more than 60 Trump-inspired lawsuits challenging the accuracy of the vote count in six states in which challenger Biden won. All but one of those suits were rejected for lack of evidence.
So at the point I write this, three weeks after the inauguration and at a time when most of the Biden cabinet has been approved by the Senate and begun work, there are still congressional representatives and millions of people, almost all Republicans, who refuse to say that the election was legitimate, that Trump’s stories were lies, and that Biden won. Most Republican senators have even concluded, in their impeachment votes at least, that Trump’s endless lies and hyperbolic attacks did not inspire the insurrection of January 6th. We must now recognize that the United States is very fortunate that we survived the 2020 election and that our government is now capable of moving on in a fashion that can be referred to almost as “normalcy.” My desire here is to give recognition and express thanks to the many citizens who made this favorable result possible.
I’ll begin with the millions of election workers who processed a record number of votes this year, including a massive increase in the number of mailed-in ballots, all while we were threatened by the rapidly-spreading Covid-19 virus. It was a major undertaking. It involved, as it always does, the creation and printing of the millions of versions of ballots required by candidacies for local elected positions and a plethora of city, county, and state bond issues and constitutional amendments and other local measures. Those ballots had to be distributed to each individual voter according to their registered residence in specific electoral districts, boundaries defined by their city council or water board or state legislature representatives. Distribution of ballots could be either in person or through the mail. In-person voting required a vast army of workers to set up equipment and verify voters and securely handle ballots at millions of voting centers, both for early voting and for election-day voting. All of that, again, occurred in the face of a virulent pandemic.
Then these same workers tabulated the ballots. This required them to work long hours, often for several days in a row. In every case in these election centers there were representatives from each party present to make certain that the procedures were unbiased and the tally was accurate. They are the honorable partisans who believe in the system and who make it work. In too many cases this time, however, there were noisy partisan crowds surrounding the election offices demanding access to challenge every step from validation of the signatures on ballot envelopes to counting the votes, in effect demanding insertion of highly biased motivation into a process designed to be non-partisan. Many of the election workers had to be escorted to and from their buildings, through the angry mobs, at the beginning and end of their shifts.
In charge of these essential workers were local government officials such as county clerks, and they, too, were often subjected to pro-Trump pressures, in some cases including death threats. Infamously, the Secretary of State for Georgia received phone calls from Senator Lindsey Graham and President Trump, both of whom encouraged him to find ways to either disqualify Biden ballots or to “find” more votes for Trump. The Trump call was recorded. In it, the president began with attempting to cajole the Secretary of State to find just enough votes to reverse the Biden win. When those repeated appeals were rebuffed, Trump moved on to threats. This despite the fact that the vote count in Georgia had already survived an audit and two hand recounts. Similar tactics were used by Trump and his supporters on election officials in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Arizona. In all cases the state officials resisted the improper “lobbying” (i.e., bullying) and insisted that their election results were, in fact, correct and that there was no fraud and no improper counts, and nothing they would or could change. This was true whether the election officials were Republicans, Democrats, or Independents. We should recognize and praise the honesty and devotion to fairness, the insistence on upholding reality, that was demonstrated by all these public servants despite unprecedented political pressure and negative scrutiny.
The same is true of all of the legislators who voted to certify the results in their states and to approve the teams of electoral college representatives chosen by their voters, even when the results favored the other party, and despite being lobbied by the president and his legal team inveigling them to choose pro-Trump electors. Remember that many Republican legislators have been, and are being, threatened with being “primaried” (opposed by well-funded GOP adversaries in the 2022 primary elections) because they were considered to be insufficiently loyal to Trump.
We must also express gratitude for all the judges, in many states across the country, who presided over the more than 60 pro-Trump lawsuits and who rejected all but one for lack of evidence. Some of these judges had been appointed by President Trump, yet they asked for real evidence, not innuendo, relating to the contested elections. In response to Trump legal offerings they used phrases such as “did not prove” and “record does not support” and “lack of evidence.” Even our highest judges, those on the Supreme Court of the United States, proved that their loyalty was, as it should be, to the Constitution and not to the President or to the party that gave two-thirds of them their jobs.
The military leadership and soldiers of the United States also deserve praise. In other countries we have seen the military use their overwhelming force to help reverse elections and take over the government; in the past 50 years, military coups have removed duly elected governments in Chili, Haiti, Honduras, Mali, and the Republic of the Congo, and only two weeks ago there was a military coup in Myanmar. In his efforts to illegally retain his position President Trump repeatedly hinted that he expected to have the support of “his” military, but to their credit, “our” military leaders refused to get involved, except to the degree that they helped avoid another capitol hill riot. As part of this, we must recognize the sacrifices made by tens of thousands of National Guard troops and police officers who have been protecting public buildings and employees during the past month and who made this year’s peaceful inauguration ceremony possible.
So, yes, the United States, after 231 years of constitutional governance, dodged a bullet fired by a would-be autocratic dictator who tried to subvert the will of the voters solely to keep himself in office. We have a lot of people to thank for that. In fact, no democratic government can continue long without the cooperation of the many people, the large and small cogs in the system, who do their jobs without preference for their own personal political beliefs or party affiliations. Let us give thanks and praise to all those who, by insisting on the usual nonpartisan procedures and the rule of law, helped to preserve our constitutional system and allowed the legitimate expression of the voice of the people, the vote, to be heard, recorded, and implemented.