Jay Bookman

Opinion columnist and blogger with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, specializing in foreign relations, environmental and technology-related issues

The foundation of democratic trust is crumbling

As long as you are willing to allow control of your government to be decided through free and fair elections, as long as you are willing to live by the result even if those opposing you may win, then democracy can survive. But that’s more fragile than we might want to believe.

It requires trust that the constitutional system and its institutions are strong enough to protect you and your rights even when you are on the losing end. It requires trust that what you have in common with your fellow citizens outweighs your differences. And unfortunately, trust of both types is wearing thin in these United States of America. Politics has taken on an air of desperation, as if the price of losing has become a price too dangerous to pay.

Look, I believe that Donald Trump is a bad man who will prove a very bad president, and that many who have supported him will one day cringe in shame at having done so. That said, some of the reactions I have witnessed on the left go well beyond a critique of that sort, with words such as “treason” and “Hitler” being bandied about. Those are nuclear terms, terms that imply the need for responses outside the bounds of the electoral and political system, and thus should never be used cavalierly.

Yes, socialist candidate Jill Stein demanded recounts in some states, anti-Trump protests popped up in some cities and some liberals launched an effort through social media and other means to convince members of the Electoral College to honor the outcome of the popular vote by voting against Trump. However, none of that was backed by the Clinton campaign or the Democratic establishment.

In fact, I have no doubt whatsoever that the reaction would be worse — much worse — if the roles were reversed. Imagine if Trump had been the one who overcame blatant foreign intervention and who won the popular vote by 2.8 million votes, yet had still lost the presidency? The man would have lost his ever-loving mind, and the protests from the right would have made those of the left seem mild.

Remember, Trump whined for weeks prior to the election that the outcome was being rigged, thus poisoning the minds of his followers against acceptance of potential defeat. Even now, in victory, he claims that the only reason that he lost the popular vote is because because millions of illegal immigrants were allowed to cast ballots. In effect, he remains unwilling to acknowledge the legitimacy of his popular-vote loss even though it is merely symbolic.

In North Carolina, where the GOP governor narrowly lost a re-election battle, things have really gotten weird. Republicans hurriedly called the Legislature into special session to strip the governor’s office of power before turning it over to the Democratic victor, the political equivalent of a retreating army burning down the capital city rather than letting it fall to the enemy.

Republican reaction to Russian intervention into our presidential election is even more troubling. As President Obama noted, those Americans who buy Russia’s denial of involvement despite unanimous confirmation by the U.S. intelligence community are making a choice. They “genuinely think that the professionals in the CIA, the FBI, our entire intelligence infrastructure — many of whom, by the way, served in previous administrations and who are Republicans — are less trustworthy than the Russians.”

As noted earlier, polls also demonstrate a growing Republican appreciation for Vladimir Putin, a fact explainable only by the maxim that "the enemy of my enemy is my friend."  Just as many Republicans who would otherwise despise Trump have instead embraced him as a means to defeat their most hated enemy, the Democrats, they are also embracing Putin, a murderous dictator.

That’s how much they have come to fear losing.

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About the Author

Jay Bookman writes about government and politics, with an occasional foray into other aspects of life as time, space and opportunity allow.