Commentary \ The Crisis of American Democracy
In the BICC-Webinar "After the storm of the Capitol: How endangered is democracy?" Thomas Mockaitis, Professor of History, DePaul University, explained about the drivers (such as “echo chambers” and “alternative facts”) and perpetrators (such as white supremacists and Christian nationalists) of the outbreak of violence on 6 January 2021 in Washington, DC. In his recent commentary, he reflects upon how deeply the democratic consensus in the United States is endangered.
Democracy requires a consensus, not on policies or political agendas, but on the electoral process itself. Candidates and their constituencies must have confidence that elections are free and fair for the political system to work. Without that confidence, the legitimacy of any government can be questioned. By insisting that he won an election he clearly lost, Donald Trump and his enablers have undermined the consensus that has sustained the American democracy for more than 150 years. The insurrection of January 6 was the almost inevitable result.
Prior to 2020, only two US presidential elections since the end of the Civil War have been controversial. In the election of 1876 between Democrat Samuel Tilden and Republican Rutherford B. Hayes, 19 electoral votes in three states were contested. A bipartisan commission with eight Democrats and seven Republicans awarded the states to Hayes. In return for Hayes’ promise to withdraw federal troops from the South and end reconstruction, the Democrats accepted the result.
For more than a century, no one contested a presidential election. Then in 2000, the race between George W. Bush and Al Gore came down to a few hundred votes in Broward County, Florida. The state declared Bush the winner. Gore demanded a recount, but the Supreme Court ordered it halted. With his last avenue of appeal exhausted, Gore graciously conceded a month after the election.
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