I grew up the product of a mixed marriage: My mother was a Democrat, and my father was a Republican. They had a loving marriage in which politics wasn’t a factor. He liked Ike, she liked Stevenson; he liked Nixon, she liked Kennedy. Politics was a quadrennial event. Dad used to say that Mom made all the small decisions like where to live, and he made the all the big decisions, like whether we should engage with China. In other words, a typical mid-century marriage.

Having grown up in the Depression, he and many other Republicans liked the New Deal and the idea of a safety net. She, like other Dems, wished for a bigger net. And that defined the difference between Democrats and Republicans in that more congenial time.

Our neighborhood in conservative Lincoln, Nebraska had plenty of liberals and conservatives who got on very well. Again, politics was not a blood sport—they had Nebraska football for that—and there wasn’t a heck of a lot of difference between them. I wonder what they would make of today’s cut-throat politics.

I have no argument with actual philosophical conservatives. Well that’s not true, I have plenty of argument with them, but that’s exactly the point. You can argue with them. You can have a fair fight. My argument, or should I say my unfair fight, is with people who stack the deck. I will never give any quarter to cheaters. If your ideas can’t prevail in the marketplace, under our system, you are supposed to relent, not try to tilt the playing field by changing or ignoring the rules—both the written ones, like the most votes in the Electoral College wins, and the unwritten ones, like good sports accept the results without protest or aspersions.

The new book from Bob Woodward and Bob Costa revealed a six-point plot to overturn the election. It was cooked up by the president’s lawyer, John Eastman. It wasn’t an inconceivable conspiracy from the tin-foil-hat crowd, either. No, this one was rational, if deeply flawed and unconstitutional, and nearly succeeded in undermining our democracy in ways that scare both responsible Republicans and Democrats, for it threatens fair play. Mr. Eastman was wrongly convinced that the vice president could ignore the will of the people and invalidate the election. The fact that he is a law professor means that his students are being taught by a man who went out of his way to undermine the rule of law and fair elections where losers graciously acknowledge defeat and publicly wish for post-election unity.

Robert Cavanaugh writing in the Washington Post highlights a frightening reality: “The United States is heading into its greatest political and constitutional crisis since the Civil War, with a reasonable chance over the next three to four years of incidents of mass violence, a breakdown of federal authority, and the division of the country into warring red and blue enclaves.

“We are already in a constitutional crisis. The destruction of democracy might not come until November 2024, but critical steps in that direction are happening now. In a little more than a year [after the 2022 mid-term elections], it may become impossible to pass legislation to protect the electoral process in 2024. Now it is impossible only because anti-Trump Republicans, and even some Democrats, refuse to tinker with the filibuster. It is impossible because, despite all that has happened, some people still wish to be good Republicans even as they oppose Trump.”

Republican state legislatures are changing the rules not just about who can vote, but more importantly, about who counts the votes. Their favored framework takes the count out of local precincts and puts it in the legislatures’ hands. To be crystal clear, they are reserving the right to make sure elections go their way.

Which is not to say Democrats don’t have their own problems. They have divided into a progressive faction and a moderate faction. The left wing doesn’t want to let us fix our physical infrastructure without agreeing to a transformational budget that fixes childcare and addresses climate change. Both things must be done, but first, can we please fix our roads and bridges? On leaving the Beijing Olympics in 2008, pundit Tom Friedman said that flying back to New York’s JFK from China was like “leaving the Jetsons and flying into the Flintstones.” That was 13 years ago. The American Society of Civil Engineers says it’s about time we made repairs. Let’s get ourselves ready to compete in a century that is already two decades old.

Radicals on the left want to transform America more quickly than many citizens can digest. But radicals on the right want to blow up the principles of democracy and majority rules.

Can the center hold?

©2021 Jon Sinton

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