What Are Elections Supposed to Do?

We live in a time of great change. New holidays like Juneteenth and new heroes such as George Floyd will soon eclipse our traditional Independence Day and our first national hero, George Washington. Along these lines, January 6 now looms large in the “bloody shirt” category of political symbols.

On the anniversary of the mostly peaceful breach of the U.S. Capitol, solemn ceremonies, prayer vigils, comparisons to Pearl Harbor and the 9/11 attacks, and mountains of sanctimony about “Our Democracy™” issued from the managerial class and its leaders.

While the political wisdom of these outbursts is debatable, their intent is pretty clear. Amplifying January 6 as an attack on the country and democracy creates an “us versus them” dynamic, lumping all-but-the-most-cucked Republicans into the category of enemies of the state. 

At the same time, the overheated rhetoric galvanizes the Left’s urban bugman base with flattering suggestions of struggle and danger. The entire ritual gives people devoid of spirituality a sense of purpose and superiority. 

Our Democracy 

The Left makes a fetish of democracy, but their support for it is qualified. They don’t really believe in majority rule, otherwise they wouldn’t be so intent on upholding extra-democratic limits on majority rule, such as Roe v. Wade, nor would they be so hostile to populism. 

They purport to believe in the voice of the people, but they support the people only when their collective voice coincides with that of the Left and the managerial class. They believe this happens more often than not, because they believe in a thoroughly “Whig” view of history, which conceives of historical events as an ascent towards the progressive promised land. Thus, when Barack Obama was elected, it was the “arc of history” bending toward justice. 

Of course, there are anomalies and backsliding, but when this happens, the facts must be shaped to conform to the theory. Thus, when Trump was elected, the event was immediately suspect, because he prevented the first woman president from rising towards her rightful place in the march of progressive history. Everyone in power joined to defame his victory: he was a bad man, he did not win a majority of the popular vote, and the election itself was supposedly tainted by Russian collusion. In a similar way, the same people denounced George W. Bush as “selected, not elected.” Disrupting the norms of loyal opposition and the peaceful transfer of power are perfectly OK when the winner is on the “wrong side of history.”

One of the problems with all the democracy talk is that both sides think they are upholding democracy. The Left thinks whatever went down in 2020 was a perfect expression of democracy, and any inquiry into what exactly happened is disloyal and subversive conspiracy talk

At the same time, the chief objection of Trump and his supporters, whether they were present on January 6 or not, is that something really fishy happened in the 2020 election, and that the result was the opposite of democracy. 

Elections, Audits, and Recounts

The disputes over the 2020 election demonstrate a real weakness in the system. The procedures, records, and structures we have in place do not permit a timely audit of most states’ presidential elections. Previous elections were saved by larger margins in more states. In all but the closest elections, a rotten precinct in Atlanta or Philadelphia wouldn’t change the outcome. 

That was not the case in 2020. In fact, a tiny sliver of votes, obtained late at night in Michigan, Georgia, Wisconsin, and Arizona put Biden over the top. Before the recounts and legal challenges were complete, the media and most of the establishment began to insist that Trump was obliged to concede. He did not. Even after the Electoral College spoke, a good swath of his supporters refused to concede Biden’s victory, other than as a practical matter. 

Those who breached the Capitol on January 6 were simply the most passionate of the bunch. But the media and managerial class, with their constant demonization of those protesters, know that they’re only the tip of the iceberg. Approximately 75 percent of Republicans believe there was significant election fraud in 2020. In maintaining this view, this class believes that these Republicans deprived Biden and the system as a whole of its legitimacy.

This is a problem. 

Elections and Legitimacy

Biden and his supporters would benefit from reflecting on the function of elections themselves. Elections do many things. They choose who will make up the leadership. They provide a sense of ownership and participation among citizens. Most important, elections are supposed to establish legitimacy and provide a peaceful means of transferring power. In other words, the losing side is supposed to respect the outcome because of the meaning and power of the majority’s will.  

The last point is important. Like most aspects of modern life, elections and voting are not so much an expression of virtue, but rather of “enlightened self-interest.” While the aspirational rhetoric imagines a “national conversation” in which the election is the capstone event, elections typically commanded ascent in the past because of their other function: they are a substitute for war. 

Instead of meeting on the field of battle, we count votes. Whoever has the most votes, probably would have won a hypothetical conflict. If someone is not willing to get off the couch to vote, they’re also less likely to get up and fight for their side. Thus, a certain amount of hassle is appropriate for voting, because elections are supposed to measure both numbers and commitment. An electoral victory is supposed to impress the losing side.  

Biden’s fall in popularity simply confirmed what everyone already felt: he was not elected president in the normal way, with all the prestige, power, and support that entails. His inaugural celebration only reinforced this suspicion, as it consisted only of insiders surrounded by security forces inside a literal “Green Zone.” While Biden has complete control of the state, no one thinks he has much support outside of the state and its adjacent institutions. 

It does not feel like Biden won, because his numbers were augmented by a variety of tricks. By extending voting times, collecting absentee ballots door to door, mailing ballots to people who never would have otherwise voted, filling out ballots for cognitively challenged nursing home residents, and the proliferation of misleading poll numbers to depress Republican turnout, the votes he technically received do not mean what they ordinarily would have meant. Trump supporters were more passionate as seen with Trump’s numerous well-attended rallies, and there is little doubt Trump would have won an ordinary election if both sides had been subject to the ordinary burdens of voting on Election Day.   

Understanding elections as a substitute for real fighting is even more important in a disunited country, populated by unassimilated people from every corner of the globe, increasingly at odds because of regional, racial, economic, and ideological strife. Without a sense of community and fewer and fewer shared values, these conditions encourage both sides to take seriously non-electoral politics, including political violence.

With little else holding America’s factions together, a clear demonstration of who is more powerful through ordinary elections has some real value to both sides in deterring such a fraught path.

Is There a Peaceful Way Forward?

Because of the disuniting of the American people, the Left’s worry about January 6 is not altogether out of place. But rather than championing democracy or seeking some peaceful way forward, their focus on January 6 really is an expression of the spirit of pure partisanship, with no standards of the good outside the good of one’s team. 

The January 6 protest was a modest, spontaneous, and mostly symbolic form of violence, where much of the actual violence was either perpetrated by agents of the state or egged on by their agents provocateurs. Even so, the Left and the managerial class have compared it to the mass murder of 9/11. This is particularly galling after the sustained and coordinated antiwhite and anti-police violence of the summer of 2020 was excused as “mostly peaceful,” even as 25 people were murdered. 

Divided countries can resolve their differences in several ways: greater autonomy to reduce tension between incompatible regions, separation into two or more political entities, the cultivation of a common identity through shared experience, or complete suppression of one faction by the other. The latter appears to be the Left’s approach at the moment, with January 6 as the rallying cry. 

Unfortunately, rather than upholding Our Democracy™ and the Constitution, this is the approach most likely to lead to significant political repression, political violence, and even civil war.

About Christopher Roach

Christopher Roach is an adjunct fellow of the Center for American Greatness and an attorney in private practice based in Florida. He is a double graduate of the University of Chicago and has previously been published by The Federalist, Takimag, Chronicles, the Washington Legal Foundation, the Marine Corps Gazette, and the Orlando Sentinel. The views presented are solely his own.

Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

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