As a veteran of the Bush/Gore presidential election recount in 2000, where I spent 32 days in nine cities across Florida, the still-unresolved 2020 presidential election is eerily familiar.
The day after election day this year, I was standing in the brilliantly sunny white-marbled plaza of The United States Supreme Court having a series of existential moments. Exactly 20 years ago, upon departing Florida after those punishingly-exhaustive days, a campaign colleague of mine quipped, “Despite the craziness of it all, look on the bright side: you will never have to experience something like this again.”
I am sure I nodded in agreement. Two decades later, that conversation is still ringing in my ears. Here we go again.
There are, of course, significant differences between the Bush/Gore recount and this year, and they are worth mentioning. In 2000, the national focus was on one state and not seven states. Then, the lawyers and hanging-chads and general hub-bub were centered solely on whether the question of whether a recount should proceed or halt across various Florida counties. This time, it is matrix-combination of a possible state recount, possible vote-halting, and layered lawsuits of both federal and regional flavors.
What both have in common, though, and the thing that should deeply concern every American citizen, is the question whether we still really have a national presidential election or whether, in fact, we have devolved into a kind of national plebiscite. If the latter, we should decide whether as a nation we really want to continue down this fraught road. Here’s why.
In a large, complex, continental nation of 330 million souls like the United States, it is important, relatively speaking, that we are all voting within the same reasonable timeframe, and within the same relatively-shared environment of information that helps to inform our votes. Voting within the same period of time gives us national cohesion.
There have been, and always will be, reasonable and lawful reasons that people need to vote early ranging from health-concerns to work-related matters. This election, inside a year defined by its highly-lethal pandemic, especial precautions need to have been taken about in-person voting versus other methods.
Yet we have become so sadly unmoored from the concept of a national election that it is more accurate to acclaim ours is elementally a system now of various mini-elections that eventually flow into a kind of national result. What I am describing is in reality a voting season which has devolved into a yawning chasm, stretching across weeks and months. My grandmother used to employ a phrase that fits this new frustrating voting paradigm: “It is no way to run a railroad.” No, it isn’t.
There is one major silver-lining in all this. The fury of polarization, deepened by an election day that comes and goes with no winner, causes all us, Left and Right, to ask an elemental question: what matters ultimately? Presidential elections really matter, to be sure. But what matters more are God, our friends and families, and the concept of the nation. These are the timeless verities that ultimately define a healthy nation.
As we await the answer to who will be our 45th president, it is worth revisiting the great words of our 16th president Abraham Lincoln; his observations of 1865 seem more apt than ever. Hours before his murder, he wrote of a vision he had for America: “ … a Union of hearts and minds as well as of States.”
He was using simple words to paint an elegant picture of inspired national unity. It is sage 19th-century wisdom we are starved for in 21st century America. Lord, may it be so.
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