Choose one or more of the following writing prompts:
What’s your reaction to the Electoral College vote? What are your own takeaways? Do you think that President Trump and his surrogates’ actions since the election were a legitimate attempt to ensure a free and fair election or a dangerous attempt to subvert democracy? For many of you, this is the first presidential election you have followed: What is your takeaway about the process? About our political leaders? How will you remember the 2020 election?
The system worked — or did it? In the Debatable newsletter “Where Does American Democracy Go From Here?,” Spencer Bokat-Lindell looks at what the failed efforts of Mr. Trump and his Republican allies portend for our future:
As The Times editorial board writes, the electoral system itself has proved remarkably resilient despite the stresses placed on it, including a pandemic and the largest turnout ever recorded. “The votes were counted, sometimes more than once,” the board notes. “The results were certified. In the states that have attracted the particular ire of Mr. Trump and his allies, most officials, including most Republican officials, defended the integrity of the results.”
That includes judicial officials, too, as Daniel Drezner points out in The Washington Post. “For all the fears about the Federalist Society and conservative court-packing,” he writes, “Politico’s Kyle Cheney and Josh Gerstein reported last week that ‘several of the most devastating opinions, both Friday and in recent weeks, have come from conservative judges and, in some federal cases, Trump appointees.’” Perhaps the most decisive defeat for Mr. Trump came from the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Texas lawsuit, which all three of Mr. Trump’s appointees voted to shut down last week.
However, Mr. Bokat-Lindell continues:
The incompetence of Mr. Trump’s attempt to subvert the election is not a reason to discount its seriousness, Zeynep Tufekci argues in The Atlantic. The end he seeks may be out of reach, but the means — a mobilization of executive, judicial and legislative power to contest election results, implicitly and explicitly endorsed by one of the country’s two major parties — will now be available to more competent successors.
Consider that of the 249 Republicans in the House and Senate, 220, or 88 percent, refused in a recent survey to acknowledge that Mr. Biden had won the presidency. (Two said that Mr. Trump had won.) And when the Supreme Court handed down its ruling on the Texas lawsuit, the head of the state’s Republican Party suggested that “law-abiding states” secede from the union.
“The next attempt to steal an election may involve a closer election and smarter lawsuits,” she writes. “Imagine the same playbook executed with better decorum, a president exerting pressure that is less crass and issuing tweets that are more polite. If most Republican officials are failing to police this ham-handed attempt at a power grab, how many would resist a smoother, less grossly embarrassing effort?”
How worried do you think we should be about the health and resiliency of our democracy? Does the Electoral College vote show that our system works? Or does the election and the last six weeks reveal its grave vulnerability and weaknesses? What dangers do the 2020 election portend for the next close and contested one?
Both democracy optimists and pessimists can draw the conclusions they want to see from this example. Optimists can say that our election system faced the 2020 test admirably, and those who run it will be better prepared for future efforts to undermine their work. Pessimists can say that Mr. Trump’s attacks will leave lasting scars. Next time, election officials might give in to political pressure. Or the damage might be invisible, like a tree’s weakened root system, deterring people from running for office or working at the polls …
There are already many reform proposals that could help rebuild democratic resilience. Many are focused on what can be reformed: institutions and the rules that govern them. For example, the nonpartisan Election Reformers Network’s proposal to reduce conflicts of interest among secretaries of state, based on successful models in other countries, and other proposals to rectify Mr. Trump’s attacks on checks and balances across the government.
But a healthy, resilient democracy also requires sufficient citizen support for democracy across the political spectrum. And that, in turn, depends on both parties embracing a commitment to democratic principles — a tall order given the Republican Party’s recent behavior.
What do you think can be done to protect the integrity of our elections? Do you agree that “healthy, resilient democracy also requires sufficient citizen support for democracy”? How can ordinary citizens, like you, help?