November 25, 2020

A Republic If You Can Keep It

Guest Opinion
By Tom Gutowski | Oct. 24, 2020

After the constitutional convention in 1787, Ben Franklin was reportedly asked by Elizabeth Willing Powel, wife of the mayor of Philadelphia, what sort of government had been created. Franklin famously responded: “A republic, if you can keep it.” It seems the time may soon be upon us to prove that we can. 

The warning signs have long been evident. Demonization of immigrants and Muslims. Unsubtle encouragement of white supremacists and political violence. The bragging about, and multiple allegations of, sexual misconduct. Glorification of strength and disdain for weakness or vulnerability. The calls to lock up political enemies. Vilification of the press. Replacement of experts with loyal toadies. The firing of multiple Inspectors General. The muzzling of government scientists. The astonishing level of narcissism. The praise for dictators. The use of military force against peaceful protestors. The calls to “Liberate Michigan.”

And it’s getting worse. When the FBI foiled an alleged plot to kidnap and try Gretchen Whitmer, Trump responded by attacking Whitmer. He’s openly urging Attorney General Barr to arrest Biden. And he refuses to commit to accepting the results of the election if he loses. 

This is obvious wannabe authoritarianism, designed to appeal to people who have grievances and want someone to blame. The core of Trump’s base likes him more for who his enemies are than for his policies. They mistakenly interpret his rudeness, bluster, and contempt for norms as strength, and his bluntness and crudeness as truth-telling. As long as he keeps attacking liberals, immigrants, and the press, they’ll support him pretty much no matter what else he says or does. That’s why the GOP didn’t even bother to write a platform this year, and why Trump can’t offer a coherent answer to the question of what he would want to accomplish if given another four years.

This phenomenon, aided by voter suppression and by the lopsided power given to red states by the electoral college, could conceivably propel Trump to victory. But that’s a long shot; a majority of voters are tired of chaos, division, and lack of leadership on the pandemic, and Trump knows it. So he’s looking for a way to stay in power even if he loses. He’s prepared the ground by attempting to destroy public confidence in the electoral process, claiming without evidence that voting by mail is beset with massive fraud, and that the only way Biden could win is by rigging the election. His base believes these claims, and would likely support nearly anything he might do to remain in office.

In any event, Trump probably isn’t going to proclaim himself president for life, or give the military a blatantly illegal order; instead, he’ll try to cloak his actions with at least a patina of legitimacy. 

One possible approach would be for his campaign to argue that the voting process in some states was so flawed that their vote totals can’t be trusted. This could play out several ways, but the bottom line is that if they can sufficiently muddy the waters, it’s possible that no candidate would receive a majority of electoral votes, and the selection of the next president would thus fall to the House of Representatives.

In that situation each state would get one vote, so what would matter isn’t the total number of Republican or Democratic Representatives, but rather the number of states in which a majority of the Representatives are Republicans. Currently, that number is 26. The vote would be taken after the general election, so no one knows how many Republican-dominated delegations there might be at that point. But if the number were to remain the same, and if they were to vote along party lines, Trump would get another four years, whether he actually won the election or not.

And that’s just one of many possible scenarios. Right now both sides are researching the nuances of election laws and gearing up for court battles, each of course claiming that it’s just preparing to defend against the other’s trickery. 

What to do? Vote! In 2016, 97 million eligible voters — 40 percent of the electorate — stayed home. More people failed to vote than voted for either candidate. 

If you vote in person, don’t allow yourself to be intimidated; poll watchers aren’t even permitted to speak to voters, let alone harass them. If you do feel harassed, tell the supervisor at your polling place.

If you’re voting by absentee ballot, carefully follow all the instructions, then take your ballot to the official drop off location; there isn’t enough time left to use the mail. You can find the location of your dropbox at www.Michigan.gov/vote. Also remember to check online at that same website to make sure your ballot was received.

Don’t expect to know the results on election night. It’s important that every voter’s voice be heard, including those who voted by absentee ballot. That may take a while.

And remember that we’re all Americans. Whatever shenanigans happen in the interregnum between Nov. 3 and Jan. 20, the most important question at that point will be whether we can all come together peacefully, despite our differences, to demand a free and fair electoral process.

Tom Gutowski earned degrees in economics and history before entering the insurance industry, from which he retired a few years ago.

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