Culture Wars/Current Controversies

Is the “Democratic Process” Losing Its “Legitimacy”?

A reader offers the following observations on how the Red Tribe and Blue Tribe increasingly view victory by the “other side” to be inherently illegitimate, regardless of votes taken. For example, despite their objections to the Electoral College, there were Blue Tribers who were calling for the Electoral College to nullify the results of the 2016 election.

“Each side has raised a number of concerns over things that may imperil the “legitimacy” of the election, even if some of those concerns are being made in bad faith.

Mail-in ballots that go missing and never reach the voter, mail-in ballots that get filled out but then get lost on the way to being counted, mail-in ballots that arrive but somehow get miscounted, illegal immigrants voting, dead people somehow voting, voting machines malfunctioning, voting machines being prone to hacking, all polling places near a certain neighborhood suddenly and unexpectedly closing just before the election. (That’s not to mention, of course, things that some view as structural illegitimacies like Election Day being on a Tuesday when many have to work and might find it difficult to get to the polls, or simply the existence of the Electoral College and how it apportions votes in Presidential elections). There is also the additional layer of the pandemic, which some view as a legitimate issue that needs to be accommodated for the sake of the election, and which others view as a hoax being perpetrated in order to subvert the election.

The specifics or truth one way or another almost don’t matter; what matters more is that each side expects the other to somehow cheat, and talks about it all in a way that seems to imply that the other side winning is itself proof that they cheated (at least, that’s how they’re portraying it to their respective bases, who are ready to believe it regardless).

As you’ve noted before, this is potentially dangerous territory for any democracy to begin to enter, when even the idea of loss becomes unacceptable to either side.

And I say this as someone who rejects the validity of democracy, at least on the scale of an enormous nation-state like the United States. I’m inclined to think it could be more legitimate at the strictly local level (as in, neighborhood-level). Maybe. At that level, “love it or leave it” seems reasonable enough. Beyond that, it’s just old-fashioned tyranny with a new-fangled new legitimation ritual — and the breakdown and implosion of that ritual can end up inflicting a lot of collateral damage.

I guess the one hope would be that such a breakdown could also provide openings for alternative, state-skeptical systems to begin to develop, but we are not even close to being there. Too many people still want the ring of power, if only to prevent “the other side” from getting it. It’s all a fool’s errand.”

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