Opinion | Morgan Liddick: A nasty election in a long line of nasty elections
On your right
No, the decision can’t be postponed further. At the end of the day we will have elected either a lout with poor impulse control or a greed-addled sociopath, and the nation will be stuck with the choice.
Worse than that are the wounds we have dealt each other. Both parties have engaged in the politics of attack and calumny, and in self-mutilation not seen since the 1970s; expect Republican bloodletting to continue, perhaps until the party dies of shock. And just because the Democrats have decided to postpone their reckoning until November 9 doesn’t mean there won’t be one. People cheated by someone who laughs at their outrage will not easily forgive or forget. It’s more likely they will join their former foes in a smoldering hatred of the political class which has betrayed them all: not an auspicious beginning for the reconciliation necessary to prosper our nation. Parties formed from such stews of alienation and despair have destroyed nations — and we have no special immunity against that.
We have had nasty elections in the past. In 1800 Republican candidate Thomas Jefferson accused his Federalist opponent of wanting to sell the United States back to England, or at least to become a king himself. John Adams’ partisans replied that Jefferson would embrace the French Revolution, whose terrorist government, they claimed, would see every American wife and daughter prostituted. The contest was so heated that afterward, the two formerly close friends and associates did not communicate with one another for 14 years. It also resulted in the 12th Amendment to the Constitution and was the beginning of the end for the Federalist party.
So when Jefferson gave his inaugural address in 1801, he uttered the famous line “We are all Republicans — we are all Federalists” and pled for national unity based on the Constitutional principles of freedom of religion, speech and person; of peace, commerce and equal justice under law. It worked, and Jefferson went on to double the size of the fledgling nation, outlaw the slave trade, eliminate the national debt and project American power abroad for the first time.
The election of 1828 was particularly vituperative, with the Democratic-Republican candidate John Quincy Adams accusing his rival of being an uncontrolled hothead, an uncouth barbarian (sound familiar?), a murderer and a bigamist. In turn, Democrat Andrew Jackson accused Adams of being a pimp for Russian Czar Alexander I (sound familiar?) and of having bought his office in a “corrupt bargain” with Henry Clay, a popular contender in 1824. The race was one of the most scurrilous in American history; its issues — including the personality of Jackson — nearly provoked a civil war, and fatally wounded the Democratic-Republican party.
The aftermath of this election was dramatically different from that of 1800, not least because Jackson made few efforts to reconcile or even address the deeply held convictions of the parties involved. As a result, 1828-1836 was a period of great political turmoil which continued off-and-on through the next two decades until metamorphosing into something else on April 12, 1861 in the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina.
This, then, is the real question: What will be the results, not only immediate but longer term, of this election?
Do not expect magnanimity. Because of the scope of federal power and its potential for both coercion and profit there are enormous stakes, especially for the professional political class, including Hillary Clinton. If she loses expect her to screech about a defeat she doesn’t dare understand; expect violence from some of her followers whose expectations are dashed, and truculent irredentism from the rest. Faith in the government will be sapped in the name of politics.
Donald Trump has expressed several times the common thought among his supporters that the election is rigged and that it will be, to use a term of art, “free, but not fair.” Particularly if the margin of victory is narrow, there will be a seething anger among his followers which won’t result in the unpleasantness of 1861, but will certainly shred some of the few remaining cords binding citizens and their government — poison to Republics from first century B.C.E. Rome to 1936 Paris. Faith in the government will be sapped in the name of frustration and alienation.
Decline, lack of cohesion and confidence, and eventual Balkanization is the most probable outcome, given current events. This fate could be forestalled, but that would take conscious effort — a speech by Tuesday’s winner to the effect that “we are all Democrats; we are all Republicans” would be a good start.
Don’t hold your breath.
Morgan Liddick writes a weekly column for the Summit Daily.
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