Politics is the alternative to violence. In 21st-century America, one could forget that this is the case thanks to the pageantry, showmanship, and high-flying rhetoric of our politics. At its core, though, politics is not glamorous. It is a process for maintaining order and warding off violence.
History is riddled with stories of human beings disagreeing with one another and then resorting to force to resolve their disagreements. A fundamental dispute arises – over possessions, religion, etc. – and the differing sides resort to force. Lives are lost, families are torn apart, and violence reigns.
In the modern era, for the most part, human beings resort to politics when confronted with disagreement. Rather than resolving their differences with one another through violence, we talk through them. We barter. We compromise. We restrain ourselves. We reach some form of an agreement through discourse rather than death and then abide by that agreement. The deal is enforced by a legitimate authority (i.e., the government) following a rule of law. That is politics: a process-oriented alternative to violence. When politics breaks down, the only available means of settling our inevitable disagreements is violence.
Democracy is simply a way in which we legitimize our politics. It gives citizens a say about how our system of working through our disagreements will be run. Thus, democracy helps create broad-scale buy-in to politics, the process whereby we avert violence. This is why democracy is essential. It strengthens politics – the only means we humans have to live together peacefully.
When viewed in this light, the Republican Party’s denigration of democracy in the aftermath of the 2020 election is not only fact-free; it is downright dangerous. Democracies live and die from within. If we trample on our system of governance, we will not have any legitimate means of peacefully working through our many disagreements. This is not about partisanship. It’s about peace.
As of this writing, the Trump campaign refuses to concede the 2020 election to President-elect Joe Biden. President Trump and his allies have made a series of conspiratorial claims that the election was “rigged.” Apart from those still in possession of sound judgment and courage like Mitt Romney, Ben Sasse, Larry Hogan, Lisa Murkowski, Susan Collins, President George W. Bush, and a few others, most Republicans are actively supporting Trump’s accusations of voter fraud and election illegitimacy.
Allowing Trump to continue to spew his baseless accusations of fraud without hard evidence is having real, adverse effects on the health of American democracy. According to a recent POLITICO/Morning Consult poll, “70 percent of Republicans now say they don’t believe the 2020 election was free and fair.” Seventy percent. Perhaps I’m wrong, and all of this hysteria will blow over in a week or so, but this statistic does not portend a bright future for American politics. If we cannot accept election results as legitimate, we will have taken one massive step towards losing trust in our democracy. Without faith in our democratic institutions, we will have lost our grip on an essential tool for creating buy-in to our politics – our way of warding off violence.
Right now, the Republican Party should be rejoicing in the gains it made in the U.S. House of Representatives, in state legislatures, and governors’ offices. The party should be thinking about how to substantively deliver for the many African American and Latino voters who voted for GOP candidates this election cycle while further diversifying the party’s base. It should also be focused on winning the two U.S. Senate seat runoffs in Georgia come January 5th.
These should be hopeful times for the Republican Party. However, instead of looking to the future, far too many of the party’s leaders are aiding the Trump campaign as it wields a sledgehammer to our democracy. Republicans ought to find the common sense and courage to speak up and do so this instant. They should congratulate President-elect Biden and quit allowing these untruths to fester. Allowing false claims of widespread, systemic voter fraud to gain purchase in the minds of large swaths of the American citizenry will prove destructive to our democracy. It further denigrates our politics. It inches us towards a reality where we no longer can rely on healthy politics to serve as a bulwark against violence.
Politics is the alternative to violence. So, let’s not wear down what undergirds the legitimacy and the strength of our politics: our democracy.