Elections are, by definition, fraught with tension, because they create winners and losers. But never in our lifetime have we been confronted with the very real possibility – indeed, the probability – that violence could erupt in the aftermath of election day, if not during it.
A foundation of our democracy – the peaceful transfer of presidential power – is in jeopardy. Worse yet, he was endangered by design.
President Donald Trump’s repeated refusals to pledge to concede defeat throughout the campaign, his persistent and baseless claims that he can only lose if the election is rigged, his doubts over the integrity of the vote by correspondence – as well as his party’s and countless attempts to suppress voter turnout – raise real concerns that he may use legal or even illegal means to retain power.
If this sounds like hyperbole, consider a bipartisan report Transition Integrity Project said Trump is “likely” to challenge the results, and the group’s simulations of what might happen if he does: “practically it all ended with street violence“, a source told Politico.
It’s true that groups with names like “Protect the results“encourage a” massive mobilization “if Trump tries to undermine the election. Other groups such as Waging Nonviolence are raising awareness among citizens about how to “stop a coup“: Step one: Don’t wait for election night results. Step two: Call it a coup if the government stops counting the votes or declares someone the winner or allows them to stay in power if they did not win.
While we are wary of polls after 2016, there is virtually no way for Trump to win the overall popular vote. Instead, his strategy appears to be to try to get enough Democratic votes in the swing states to secure a victory in the Electoral College. As historian Heather Cox Richardson noted, “Never before in our history has a candidate openly planned to win an election by playing with the system, but here we are.”
And the president’s recent comment that he could “leave the country” if he loses a former army brigadier general saying in Politico that the escape of an American president would be “unprecedented” but “not exaggerated”, given Trump’s history, his personality and the consequences he faces if he no longer has the protections of the Presidency.
New, indeed. We are in for frightening days, weeks and even months to come.
As the Trump and Biden campaigns arm themselves with teams of lawyers to challenge near or contested state results, ordinary people arm themselves with more literal weapons. Gun sales, which apparently still rise ahead of national elections, have skyrocketed to record rates, especially among first-time gun buyers, including those on the left and right, prompting a participant in a gun show to be observed at the New York Times: “Everyone is arming themselves against their neighbor.“
Unfortunately there is already evidence that some people use these weapons to intimidate voters at the polls. Voting in person is already dangerous enough this year, given the coronavirus pandemic; citizens literally shouldn’t have to risk their lives to participate in our democracy.
In the midst of all this uncertainty and anxiety, what should Catholics do who care about free and fair elections, but who also follow the Prince of Peace?
Given the stakes, this is not the time for peace at all costs. No American can stand idly by while our democracy is undermined.
But any demonstration or witness must be non-violent. As nonviolent activists have long taught, only love, not hate, can bring redemption and reconciliation. Violence only harms the cause and fuels the lie that the left is the true source of tyranny.
When NCR asked five contributors to advise on what Catholics should do as a result of this election, all agreed that we must continue to work for our values of justice, inclusion and care for the youngest of us. we. As Bishop John Stowe of Lexington, Ky., Writes in our “What Now?” Series, “After the election, rather than in the middle, it is the time to form consciences for a faithful citizenship.”
We can take our instruction from reading the Gospel on the Sunday before election day, the Sermon of Jesus on the Mount. We must be peacemakers, we must hunger and thirst for justice, we must show mercy. In this sermon and elsewhere in the Gospels, Jesus overturns earthly power. Blessed are the meek, those who mourn, those who suffer persecution for righteousness.
We are in this mess precisely because of a president who sought earthly power beyond any politics or even ideology. To counter this, we would do well to follow the recommendations of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. principles and stages of non-violence, who seek to overcome injustice, not people, and through friendship and understanding, build Beloved Community.
Whether it is Trump or Biden who will lead our country for the next four years, there is a lot of work to be done to heal our divisions, to heal our earth, to heal our broken health care system and those suffering from this pandemic, to heal those hurt by all the policies – not just the past four years but decades – that favor the powerful over the poor. And we must try to heal our church, which has been torn apart by political extremism.
We see hope in the long lines of Americans waiting to vote, in Republicans crossing party lines to say “Enough is enough”, and in some church leaders trying to counter the message. which our faith demands a single vote on abortion at all times. Cost.
Whatever the outcome of the election, it is evident that democracy is on the rise. Let us work now – peacefully and inspired by the Sermon on the Mount – for justice and healing in the wake of this most extraordinary time in our nation’s history.