October 31, 2020
Today is Saturday and Halloween. In only three days my country will go through the election of a new president or give Donald Trump four more years.
I am 78 years old. So I have seen the coming and going of many presidents and congresses. In 1942, the year of my birth, this country was engaged in World War Two. One of my earliest memories is hearing my Father crying about the death of Franklin Roosevelt. I recall newsreel of his successor Harry truman appearing in public in short pants and somehow becoming aware that my parents were upset with him more because he had attempted to racially integrate the armed forces than because of his choice of attire. I also recall hearing that his re-election had come as a surprise.
I was 10 years old when Ike was elected and 14 when he was re-elected, results which satisfied me as well as my parents. In 1958 I was in the auditorium in which the President gave the commencement speech to graduating midshipmen at the Naval Academy in Annapolis. I still believe that it was a magnificent speech, despite Ike’s generally deserved reputation as a weak public speaker. He talked about the importance of young officers seeing human qualities like patience and a sense of humor above the trappings of military rank, which made everyone that officer’s “superiors” and “subordinates”. Ike always rose above partisanship and selfish desires, which is an explanation for the action results which have made him my favorite president—of my lifetime at least.
Most of my adult life I have voted Democratic, and I have already done so this year. And, like so many others, I believe this to be the single most important election of my long life. A few days ago I heard a Q and A on NPR with a self proclaimed lifelong and ardent “conservative” law school professor who said the same thing about the importance of this year’s election. She said that there was really only one issue: “Do the American people want to continue their experiment with constitutional government or will we now live under a monarchy?” It is already clear that the majority of us prefer the former, but that our electoral college is capable of delivering the second.
Twice in the last five presidential elections have resulted in a majority of votes going to the candidate of the Democratic Party, but the presidency being awarded to the Republican candidate. In 2000 that winner was created by a decision of 5 out of 9 votes by members of the United States Supreme Court. That result actually was achieved by the Court halting the voting process in Florida when a majority of one judge decided their judgement superseded that of the voters. The second time the process was skewed by the intervention of an announcement by the top federal cop (i.e., the director of the F.B.I.) that his agency was investigating the Democrat for possible felonious handling of government information.
This time the election process may not be marred by high handed intervention from any federal agency. This time the minority vote getter may win simply because the electoral college, our constitutional process for choosing a new president every four years, will not only be at odds with the decision of the voters, but also at odds with the continuation of genuine constitutional government. That possibility is what makes this election so desperately important. This would not make this United States of America the first republic to commit suicide through the machinery of its own constitution. But it would be the most spectacular failure of the democratic ideal in my lifetime. I pray it will not happen, and I have worked to do my part to avoid that result. I hope all my friends can say the same.