One recent afternoon, while messing around in the kitchen, I watched a Grade C movie—The Phenix Story. It’s about John Patterson, who ran for Alabama attorney general after his father is murdered by a criminal syndicate operating in Phenix City. Patterson and his father are intent on ridding Phenix City and Alabama of corruption. Patterson was elected attorney general and subsequently governor of Alabama. The film, I want to say immediately, fails to mention that Patterson was a staunch segregationist until later in life when he renounced his former beliefs.
The point of the movie, though, is how the citizenry of Phenix City, after living with the lawlessness and corruption of the syndicate that controls the city, finally revolts and rises in righteous anger to elect a reform regime. At some point in the movie, John Patterson utters the famous quote attributed to Edmund Burke: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” More about that a little later.
It seems that every four years when the presidential election rolls around we are told that this election is the most important one in our lives. And maybe they were. I’m tempted to go through all the “what ifs” starting wherever one likes, but I won’t. What I will say is that however true or exaggerated it may have been to claim the ultimate importance of past elections, this coming one really is the most important of our lifetimes.
It is impossible to contemplate the choice we’ll face in November without considering the very real and permanent damage that will result from another four years of incompetence, ignorance, dishonesty, corruption, indifference, racism, xenophobia, lawlessness, mendacity, recklessness, demagoguery, greed and betrayal that we’ve experienced since January 20, 1917.
These past three and a half years should be a wake-up call to all of us about the fragility of democracy and the absolute necessity of not taking it for granted. The truth of the matter is that our institutions rest on a very small foundation of public support. The vast majority of citizens, meaning them no disrespect, don’t inform themselves about current events and pay little attention to them. They are too busy living their own lives, struggling to manage. In many respects, that many not be ideal, but in other ways it’s fortunate. If the Bill of Rights were put to a popular vote today, it might very well be rejected. Anyone who has seen a Frank Capra film knows how the public—in Capra films the public is usually a mob—can turn on a dime. Lyndon Johnson won the 1964 election by a record margin, but had to ignominiously withdraw from consideration four years later.
Now we are faced with the prospect that Joe Biden could win the election, and, by a process of fraud, chicanery and flimflam be cheated out of it. In 2016 Trump repeatedly claimed that the system was “rigged”. He is doing much the same thing this year, casting doubt on the validity of mailed-in ballots, and apparently claiming that the Chinese are counterfeiting ballots to defeat him. (Never mind, by the way, that the Chinese would probably prefer another four years of Trumpian rudderless incompetence while they increase their influence on the world stage.)
Just a word of constitutional reminder here. If the election were to be thrown into the House of Representatives for resolution, each state gets only one vote. A majority of states, large and small, have majority Republican delegations. So it wouldn’t matter if the House is controlled by the Democrats because a majority of states have more Republican representatives than Democrats.
If that prospect seems far-fetched, just think back over the past four years when a thrice-married, supposedly billionaire businessman with a history of bankruptcies, a megalomaniacal personality, with no political experience who is found—while married—to have had an affair with a porn star and a former Playboy Playmate, who is captured on tape discussing his ability to sexually assault women with impunity because he is famous, that person is elected president. He then proceeds to systematically dismantle institutions built up over decades to provide for the security and protection of the country he is sworn to defend. Engage your imagination. Don’t dismiss wild thoughts out of hand because we have learned—or should have learned by now—that almost anything is possible with this person. https://www.newsweek.com/how-trump-could-lose-election-still-remain-president-opinion-1513975
So, once again, as Lenin asked: What is to be done?
The issue for us as concerned citizens is to get involved. Tell your friends and neighbors. Start talking about it. Find organizations to join. Get ready. And if this prospect fails to develop, don’t be embarrassed. This is one of those better safe than sorry moments. Get involved, and stay involved, to show up in presidential election years, and in the off-years, in elections large and small, to react and make our feelings known by communicating with our representatives, to make demands on them, hold their feet to the fire and just generally pay attention. That, in theory and it turns out in practice as well, is what citizenship is all about. It’s easy to forget with all the other things we have to worry about; but look how much more we need to worry about now because not enough of us showed up four years ago.
And don’t be put off by the realization that we’re a nation of 330 million persons. We—each of us—need to act as though we were a multitude, and if each of us does, then we will become a multitude.