On Tuesday, the chairman of the Capitol riot committee, Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), claimed that “the rioters came dangerously close to succeeding” in their effort to “upend American democracy.” That statement is, quite frankly, ludicrous, but there are serious threats to American representative democracy at work today, and we need to fight against them.
While the Capitol riot was a national disgrace, it did not represent a serious threat to America’s constitutional system of government. Rioters broke through the strangely weak police lines and breached the Capitol, but the senators and congressmen evacuated safely. Vice President Mike Pence did not bow to pressure, Congress resumed a few hours after the violence, and both chambers certified the Electoral College results, declaring that Joe Biden would be the next president.
Although serious concerns about the 2020 presidential election remain unresolved, the Constitution is clear: the Electoral College makes the decision, and the Electoral College chose Biden. Even if audits cast doubt on the results in key states, the Electoral College decision stands. Republicans are right to demand election integrity laws, but it does not help to re-litigate the 2020 election.
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The Capitol riot did not seriously threaten America’s representative democracy, but that democracy does indeed face serious threats.
First, the public’s increasing skepticism about the electoral process is dangerous. The counting of votes should not be partisan, and election reform should also not be partisan. Americans should want every legally eligible voter to be able to vote and they should want every legally cast ballot counted. Representative democracy only works if the people trust the officials who count the ballots, and those officials need to earn that trust.
Sadly, many election officials rushed to loosen election integrity protections for the 2020 election — ostensibly in order to facilitate voting during a pandemic. Even if these practices were the correct path forward during the pandemic — an extremely debatable point — Americans should broadly support the restoration of election integrity protections after the pandemic. Yet Democrats like Biden have excoriated these efforts, going as far as calling them “Jim Crow on steroids.” What’s the reason for this?
Time magazine may have provided a hint when it published an astonishing story about a “cabal” and a “shadow campaign” that pulled the levers behind the scenes in the 2020 election. While the article claims these efforts aimed at preserving a free and fair election, organizations like the Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL) funneled money into blue areas of the country, boosting turnout that helped Biden prevail.
CTCL practices were not, strictly speaking, illegal, but they shifted the playing field in Biden’s favor — perhaps decisively. Many states have moved to outlaw such practices.
Contrary to Biden’s rhetoric, the efforts to restore election integrity — largely advanced by Republicans — represent an important move to shore up America’s representative democracy. Meanwhile, the Democrats’ key piece of election legislation, H.R. 1 or the “For the People Act,” represents a federal takeover of election law, complete with restrictions on free political speech and the same 2020 election practices that raised red flags.
Perhaps the greatest threat to democracy isn’t H.R. 1 but the increasing ideological polarization between the two parties. Democrats and Republicans agree that the election system needs reform, but they disagree on the central reason why it needs reform. Democrats crow about “voter suppression,” patronizingly suggesting that blacks lack the ability to acquire legal voter ID, while Republicans rightly champion voter ID requirements, which are broadly popular.
Republicans have the better argument, but the real tragedy is the divide itself. If Republicans get election integrity laws passed, Democrats will claim that the election is illegitimate due to “voter suppression.” If Democrats get H.R. 1 passed, Republicans will claim that the election is illegitimate due to the excessive use of mail-in ballots and outdated voter lists. It almost doesn’t matter who’s right in this argument — the problem is that there is a fundamental impasse when it comes to whether or not democracy is at all reliable.
The basic worldview divide between Republicans and Democrats makes the situation even worse. Democrats increasingly claim that the world is about to end due to climate change, that males can become “women” based on how they identify, that human babies mysteriously gain the right to life only after birth, and that American society is shot-through with racism that must be systematically dismantled. These claims almost amount to a religion, and the fact that they fundamentally clash with reality matters less than the fact that they divide America roughly down the middle.
Americans increasingly distrust one another, and that distrust traces all the way back to first principles. Representative democracy relies upon a basic agreement among the populace — an agreement on essential bedrock values that is steadfastly eroding.
While I and my fellow conservatives blame the Left for this erosion, and while we attempt to reveal the big lie behind the Left’s nefarious worldview, we must acknowledge that the division itself is the greatest threat to American representative democracy today.
Americans can disagree on whether the Capitol riot was a protest gone wrong or an attempted “insurrection.” We can disagree on which party should be in power. But if we disagree on the very methods for securing an election, and if we cast doubt on the legitimacy of elections due to the identity of the winning candidate, our representative democracy is truly lost.