My first participation in elections is close to ancient history. It started when Adlai Stevenson ran against Dwight Eisenhower for President in 1952. My parents were dedicated Republicans. Family loyalty dated all the way back to Abe Lincoln and the founding of the Party. It’s not surprising that they sent their 9-year-old child off to school proudly wearing an I Like Ike button on election day. Another set of parents, equally devoted to the Democratic Party, sent their fourth grader off to school wearing a Vote for Adlai button. It was inevitable that we would meet up for a debate.
It took place in the boys’ bathroom, conveniently away from adult supervision. Neither of us knew enough about the issues to carry on a rational discussion, however. After about five words, we reverted to describing the other person’s candidate with as many expletives as we knew. Sound familiar? I was well-practiced in the art form. When I was younger, my brother and I had often held swearing contests where we creatively cussed each other out for fun. My opponent lacked this experience and I easily won the debate. I was still teasing him when we went outside for recess.
Unfortunately, his sense of humor had gone south and he was carrying a baseball bat. He reared back and smashed me across the thigh. (I’ve often suspected he had a slightly higher target in mind.) As it was, I ended up in the hospital with my thigh muscle the size of a softball, or was that a basketball. I was ever so glad that my man Ike won. Revenge can be sweet.
It was a painful lesson, but I learned two things from the encounter.
The first was quite obvious: Never get in a political argument with someone carrying a baseball bat. The second was more complicated. There had to be a better way to resolve political differences.
The best answer that we have been able to come up with as a nation is democracy.
There is nothing guaranteed about our form of government, however. As astute leaders have noted for the past two hundred years: The price we pay for our liberty is eternal vigilance. There are always people who will rob us of our independence for their own personal gain or ideological beliefs. But there is more, our system of government is based on a few simple concepts. These are some that came to mind.
- Reflects the majority view of Americans while, at the same time, protects the basic right of minorities.
- Provides stability while adjusting to new challenges and changing needs.
- Is more pragmatic than ideological when it comes to solving problems.
- Recognizes that compromise, coalition building, and across-the-aisle cooperation are essential to the decision-making process in determining the nation’s best interest.
- Provides for a peaceful transition of power.
More than anything else, people have to believe that democracy works, that their concerns and interests are represented and addressed, and that they receive a fair hearing. When they lose this faith, our democracy loses. We all lose.
The single most important element in protecting American democracy is our right to vote and an uncompromising commitment to a smooth and peaceful transition of power.
While getting out the vote is a time-honored practice in American democracy, suppressing the vote of those who don’t share a particular perspective is a dark and dangerous path that will inevitably lead to a dark and dangerous future. Numerous examples of suppression exist today in the 2020 election from tampering with the mail system, to making voting difficult, to spreading misinformation, and to threatening voters via the mail, phone and internet. When direct physical intimidation of voters is encouraged, whether it is people carrying AR 15s— or baseball bats— to polling places, the dark times are that much closer.
There are reasons why the Putins of the world, both outside and (sadly) inside our country, wish to reduce our faith in the democratic process. It weakens our nation and points toward an autocratic future— a future that few of us want to see.
Americans are a hardy breed, however. We have been fighting for our rights ever since the founding of the nation with an ever increasing and inclusive definition of citizenship that reflects the changing world we live in.
And we are not going to stop now.
Millions of Americans have already voted regardless of how many hurdles have been thrown up. In fact, they are dancing and singing in the multi-hour-long lines that voter suppression has played a role in creating.
If you haven’t voted yet and are a citizen of voting age— regardless of your sex, ethnicity, color of skin, age, health, economic position, religion, sexual preference, occupation, other differences, or political party— PLEASE VOTE. Our democracy is depending on you.
Curt and Peggy