Election 2020: Wrapping Up

A few days before Election Day, I decided it would be beneficial to record some observations about the election in real-time, recognizing that 2020 was likely to be an election of unusual historical importance, and thinking that it would be helpful in future years to have a reminder of the winding path the nation went down on its way to achieving clarity about the results of that election.

I think we all got more than we bargained for: A closer-than-expected election that took several days for the major media organizations to call; an incumbent President who refused to accept the results of the election or concede to his opponent, despite lacking any tangible evidence that the election was not free and fair; a series of increasingly absurd and fundamentally anti-democracy legal arguments advanced by the President and his advocates in an attempt for him to retain power; Senate control, and with it any chance for Biden to have a meaningful chance of advancing an agenda, hinging on two Senate runoff elections in early January; and, just yesterday, the completely unprecedented impeachment of a President mere days before he is scheduled to leave office due to his conduct in refusing to accept the results of the election he lost, leading to an insurrection of sorts against Capitol Hill.

This seems like the right time to “break the wand,” as Bill James once put it, and stop this series of blog posts. Yes, there is still some election-related news ahead of us: Georgia has not yet certified the Senate runoff elections, so Schumer has not replaced McConnell as majority leader; one House race in New York remains undetermined, and there’s some possibility that the losing candidate in another House race in Iowa could successfully plead her case with the House Administration Committee; there’s an impeachment trial to occur; and of course there is the inauguration itself, and the non-trivial possibility of further political violence before or during the inauguration. But, for all intents and purposes, the election is behind us.

Behind us, but far from forgotten. The events of late 2020 will reverberate, I fear, for many years to come. On that theme I want to end this series of posts by talking about an opinion piece published yesterday in The Bulwark by its executive editor, Jonathan Last, a conservative writer.

Last starts by talking about what he calls “the big lie”:

Trump’s contention that the results of the 2020 election are fraudulent is a lie. Not a mistake, not a difference of opinion, not a misunderstanding. A lie. …

Nothing can get better in American politics until this lie is repudiated by the main body of the Republican party in the public square, with enough force and repetition that the majority of Republican voters cease to believe it.

Even if armed insurrection is not a weekly occurrence, a government cannot function when a third of the citizens believe it is literally, not rhetorically, illegitimate. It is not be possible to legislate or build consensus or even enforce the laws when you begin with a substantial minority who literally believe that the government is the product of a coup.

What the Republican party has done over the last two months is akin to having dropped polonium into America’s political groundwater.

And the radiation from their lie has poisoned everything.

Last also helps put in some perspective the behavior of the Capitol Hill insurrectionists and their sympathizers:

[I]f this lie remains in American politics, there will be no peace or comity.

Think about it from the perspective of the person who believes the lie: They have been told by the president of the United States that the election was fraudulent. The vast majority of the president’s party has testified to the truth of this story. The only reasonable conclusion of this tale is that America is currently undergoing a coup. That the incoming government is not only illegitimate, but is an occupying, authoritarian force.

If you believe that—if you really, truly believe it—then how could you acquiesce in anything that is happening? How could you pay taxes? Why would you obey laws? Why wouldn’t you storm the Capitol? Because if you believe this lie—really, truly believe it—then you are trying to save our democratic republic.

If you believe the lie that Democrats have ousted the duly-elected president of the United States in a bloodless junta, then what could President Joe Biden possibly do to bring about unity?

Nothing. Because he would be—literally—a tyrant.

This, tragically, is the world we now have to live in, thanks in fundamental part to Trump’s inability to accept that he lost the election.

As Last indicates, for our nation to truly heal we need the Republican leadership to refute the “big lie”. Senator Romney already took steps in that direction, in his remarks on the Senate floor the evening of the insurrection:

The best way we can show respect for the voters who are upset is by telling them the truth. That is the burden, and the duty, of leadership. The truth is that President-elect Biden won this election. President Trump lost. 

I wouldn’t say I’m optimistic that enough other Republicans will ever follow suit for it to change the hearts and minds of tens of millions of my fellow Americans. And that saddens, and frightens, me.