This past presidential election was the twelfth that I have voted in and because I had to be 21 years old to vote, I was able to observe two more in my teen years. The buildup to the 2016 election was different from previous ones in many respects. But what has happened after the election has never occurred in American history and has brought about what I fear will be the death of democracy in America.
Two ongoing events are destroying democracy in America. The first one is the fact that the losers in the election are refusing to lose. Heretofore, losers in presidential elections submitted to the outcome, whether they thought it was just or not, and the government got on with the business of governing. Regardless of who you voted for, the simple fact is the losers in the 2016 election are refusing to let the winners govern. They have the mindset that, even though losing, they can win if they can keep the winners from governing. This is as anti-democratic as one can get and I am afraid that it is setting the tone for future elections.
I lived for a number of years in a West African country that was populated by two main tribes. The tribes had their own parts of the country that they populated and controlled (much like the blue states and red states in America). That country has been trying to have a democracy since it became independent in the 1960s. The country’s president always comes from one of the two main tribes. The problem is the tribe that loses refuses to be governed by someone from the rival tribe. The losers will destroy infrastructure in the territory controlled by the winner and even resort to killing ministers of the opposing government if they venture into certain parts of their territory. It is tribal warfare clothed in democracy. The net result is that the winners seek to benefit only those of their own tribe and the nation as a whole suffers and has not prospered but digressed since becoming independent. I see this same pattern evolving in American politics. It has become tribal warfare.
The 16th century philosopher, Jean-Jacques Rosseau wrote in The Social Contract, “The law of majority voting is itself something established by convention, and presupposes unanimity, on one occasion at least.” The convention Rosseau is talking about is what he calls the “first convention” by which a group of people decides what kind of government it will submit to. The unanimity he talks about is the fact that every citizen in the group, by remaining in the group or by becoming a part of the group, is in effect casting his or her vote for the kind of government the majority selected in the beginning. In America’s case the founding fathers adopted a Federal Republic to be governed by a Constitution. Even if all did not agree that was the best form of government for the new nation, all agreed to submit to it because the majority ruled. Since its founding, every citizen of America has agreed to submit to that form of government and to uphold the Constitution that guides it. Those born in America acquiesce to submitting to that form of government (what Rosseau calls the “first convention”) by not leaving the country. The immigrants that become citizens of America must swear an oath that they renounce all allegiance to any other government and that they will support and defend the constitution of the United States of America. By doing that, they accept the first convention that defines the group of people called Americans. There is unanimity in that we have all agreed to be governed alike. Should anyone refuse to be governed accordingly, they would be a traitor and/or an anarchist.
Back to what is going in 2017. Some people, I am sure, believe that the personalities involved gave them the right or permission to refuse to submit to the form of government they have previously agreed to live under, by staying here if born here, or by oath as an immigrant. Personality may govern who one wants to be friends with, but has nothing to do with the Constitution or the authority of the President of the United States. Whether we like the person elected or not in no way negates the obligation to be governed by the winner of that office.
If any presidential elections should have elicited the rebellious response that we see to the 2016 election, two come to mind. In 1960, John F. Kennedy was the first Catholic elected President, much to the chagrin of many Protestants. If religion was going to bring death to the American democracy that was the time; but it did not. In 2008, Barack Obama was the first black to be elected President, much to the chagrin of many whites. If race was going to bring death to the American democracy that was the time; but it did not. In both cases and in all cases previous to 2016, the losers submitted to the winner and went about doing what they thought needed to be done to win the next election. That is how democracy works. Any departure from that will set a pattern for losing that will bring death to democracy.
For the losers to think they can win by keeping the winner from governing is politically anarchistic and personally selfish and childish. The losers are not submitting to their obligation to lose under a constitution democracy. They are submitting to their feelings.
That brings me to the second ongoing event that I see as potentially destroying democracy in America. It will be the subject of my next post.