US: When asked about the Republican control of the House in 1994, I replied that as a gay, left-wing Jew, I was used to being in the minority. I now have an addition to that list: I believe that the outcome of Donald Trump’s malicious, ridiculous attack on the election results is not proof of the fragility of our democracy but of its durability.
On the charge that I kept to a minimum the seriousness of the horrific parade, which culminated in the ‘Trump’ of the place where the voting math was stored, my answer is that this is precisely the depth to which Trump and his henchmen dived, which convinces me that the pro-democratic forces in our country are vital today and will become stronger.
Most importantly, the increasingly desperate plans of the Trump-Giuliani-Hawley-Cruz-QAnon alliance to undermine democracy have never been nearly successful.
From the uninterrupted series of legal defeats inflicted on them by Trump and non-Trump-appointed judges, through the universal failed attempts to force Republican civil servants to lie about the outcome of the election, to the unsuccessful pressure on Republican leaders state legislation to appropriate them Constitutional powers, and ending with the spectacular counterproductive attempt to prevent Congress from registering the results, have at no stage posed a real threat to Joe Biden’s inauguration in this contemporary version of ‘The Gang That Couldn Couldn’t Shoot Straight.
This is not just good news about today. This is very good for the future.
Some of the concepts I had to become familiar with during the financial crisis of 2008-2009 were the bank ‘stress test’. It consists of constructing scenarios where dire conditions prevail to see if financial (or other) institutions can survive.
Over the past few weeks and months, our political system has gone much further than passing a challenging stress test. It emerged unbroken from a stressful reality with conditions that were so sad that it would be dismissed as excessively gloomy if presented by the regulators as hypothetical.
Our political system has only withstood an all-out assault by a deceived president in a society plagued by a debilitating pandemic with its devastating economic and social consequences, in which one of our two major political parties was mostly complicit – everything facilitated by unlimited access to social media. I can not imagine a more significant threat to democracy that does not involve heavily armed alien beings and the endowment of Trump supporters Rudy Giuliani and Michael Flynn with superpowers.
Nor is it plausible to argue that our escape from the abyss was accidental, a series of happy endings of events that could easily have ended badly. The attempt at a January 6 attempt was a total failure due to a combination of several strengths – and one weakness – that are firmly embedded in our existing reality.
The most compelling point is that the majority of Americans’ commitment to our constitutional processes has survived the turmoil of the past decade. That majority is, unfortunately, smaller than the almost unanimity he enjoyed. However, it is still clearly large enough that the more blatantly anti-democratic Trump’s crusade became, the more unpopular it was.
In the future, it is the continued strong support of a large majority of voters that has created the dilemma for Republican politicians who have a choice between losing primary elections to the hardline Trump supporters or losing general elections to candidates who true democracy support.
The next importance is the steadfast loyalty of the army to democratic rule. The fear that army leaders would be ambivalent or worse was never substantiated. It now stands as one of the most transparent boundaries between America and societies that succumbed to authoritarianism.
Next is a facet of human experience that is not peculiar to America – this is actually the wrongest mistake by an Englishman. In modern democratic societies, Lord Acton’s assertion that power corrupts was often the opposite of the truth as its expression. It is the absence of power that encourages irresponsibility. The powerlessness protects politicians who do not have the ability to influence events against the charge that their advocacy had detrimental consequences.
Although most Republican federal officials actively attempted to corrupt the election process or participated in the attempt, it was overwhelmingly those who had no real power. Contra Lord Acton, Republicans with real power – in the Supreme Court, in Republican states like Georgia or Arizona in the Senate.
The last source of my optimism for the future is a weakness. Specifically, it’s the false bravado of the Trump followers whose attempt at insurrection did not end in a bang, but in moaning: “Do not arrest me; Trump made me do it; I was just there to prove it. I did not know it was illegal, etc. ”
We cannot count on them always being intimidated into real action, as on Inauguration Day, and it is sad that our leaders will have to live with added security measures for some time to come. But the people with whom Hillary Clinton was too friendly when she called them ‘deplorable’ are, ironically, a threat to the preservation of the ‘law and order’ they claim to support – but not at all to the survival of democracy not.
There is a danger – not that the results of free elections will be ignored, but that they will be fully implemented. Despite a growing majority of voters opposing intolerant populism, the balance between the Electoral College between the two government approaches is ominously slim.
But here, too, the impact of the past year will be on strengthening democracy. The combination of the renewed appreciation of the government’s positive role, evident from strong public support for COVID-19 relief, and the continuing weakening of the Republican Party in itself give President Biden a better chance than his two Democratic predecessors to decide. Policies that reduce the anger that fueled the populist boom.
Barney Frank represented Massachusetts for 16 terms in the U.S. House of Representatives (1981-2013) and was chairman of the House Financial Services Committee from 2007 to 2011.