The Biggest Lesson from the Election? The System Worked

At no other time in US history have we had an election like this one. Not only did Donald Trump, in an effort to keep power, claim that dozens of judges, and hundreds of Republican state legislators in Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Georgia conspire with Democrats to steal the election from him but his supporters attacked the very seat of our government and forced lawmakers (including Trump’s own Vice President) to flee for their lives. Trump’s former National Security Advisor even suggested that he declare nationwide martial law.

Despite all that-a time that will make an indelible mark in the history of our country-the biggest lesson coming out of the election is that the system worked.

Despite the periodic rants from the radical left about the need to re-write the Constitution and the character flaws of the ‘Founding Fathers’, their wisdom showed itself in the last three months-possibly in ways never so clearly expressed. Yes, the people who wrote the Constitution were human and had flaws, some of them serious flaws. Yet that does not take away from the careful foundation laid for our country and the wisdom that not only has endured for two and a half centuries but was the foundational document for developing democracies worldwide for over two centuries.

The Constitution laid out a careful system of checks and balances. Coming from the experience of abuses by a king, its writers knew first hand of the potential for abuse of putting too much power in one person’s hand. Yet they also foresaw the danger of putting too much power in the hands of a group, even if that group may be one that held office through an election. So the Constitution, written and agreed upon after long and careful deliberation, required sometimes cumbersome but deliberately balanced mechanisms to guide how we govern ourselves and how we decide disputes, even if those disputes are over elections.

The process has been painful, and quite possibly will be remembered among our nation’s darkest hours outside of the Civil War. Yet it worked. The election was held, the disputes over counting were addressed at the state level and at the Federal level, first by state election officials, then by state legislatures, then by state courts and then by federal courts. And in the end, a transfer of power based on election results took place as outlined in the Constitution.  (We will leave aside the claims by Trump followers who still claim fraud in the presidential race, yet don’t think the exact same ballots that saw Republicans make gains in Congress were fraudulent—the courts decided those questions unanimously over forty times).

The Constitutional process worked, but it also worked because men and women made it work. When there were charges of voting machine fraud in Georgia, state election officials—everyone a Republican—ordered a manual recount to make sure the results were accurate and then reported the hand recount results, even though it went against ‘their party’. When questions were raised in Michigan and Wisconsin, the Republican controlled legislature in Michigan held hearings and found that the results in Michigan were accurate and took no action to overturn them, even though it went against ‘their party’. In Wisconsin, the Republican controlled state Assembly held hearings, investigated and issued a report that found no reason to overturn results.

The process the moved to state courts in several states. In each case, the courts reviewed the lawsuits and made a judgment. The cases then moved through at least three Federal District and one Federal Appeals Court. Those courts made a judgment. The opinions written in at least four of the Federal cases were written by judges appointed by President Trump, so we objectively believe they were based on law and evidence. Appeals were then made and issues brought to the US Supreme Court. The Supreme Court rendered a review and twice gave its judgment.

Each of those avenues was pursued as outlined in our Constitution and our laws. In each case, the matter was heard and the party that lost the hearing was able to take it to the next level, first to several levels of elected officials and then several levels within the court system.

Even when Trump’s staff discussed using the military to declare martial law and later when his supporters attacked the US government, the system worked. The day before the Jan. 6 rally and attack on the Capitol, the potential for abuse was predictable and ten former Secretaries of Defense (including Trump’s former SecDef) released a public letter saying that any use of the military to change election results should not and could not be allowed and the military did their job and stayed out of elections. When the mob attacked the Capitol, after initially forcing our government to stop functioning, law enforcement eventually restored order and later that same day, Congress resumed its deliberations.

The process was long, at times it seemed like it went on forever but the Constitution and our laws are careful to allow any potential injustice to have its opportunity to be addressed. It was. Institutions such as the military and law enforcement did their jobs. People of integrity did their jobs, not based on their wishes for a certain election result, but based on the law and their belief that we are, and must be, a nation of laws even if it may go against their personal desires.  

At the end of the day, it was painful, it was tension-filled and we will be working out the implications of the violence for some time, yet it worked. And for that, people who believe in free elections and in the rule of law can be thankful.

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