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The Current Balance Sheet of American Democracy

If H.R. 1 is enacted the question of whether and to what extent the United States remains a government of laws and a genuine republic will not be possible to answer affirmatively with any confidence.

by Conrad Black

With any reservations about the integrity of the 2020 presidential election being willfully suppressed by most of the national political media and social media, and the Democrats as the governing party in the White House, and the Capitol torquing up to try to secure the adoption of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s bill H.R. 1, it is time to examine the condition of American democracy. 

The British developed the common law and the Magna Carta that limited the powers of the king, were early champions of parliamentary government, and developed a broadening franchise throughout the population roughly simultaneously with the United States, and devolved institutions of democracy upon many other countries in its empire.

The roles of the United States and even to some degree, France, were more prominent in inspiring the masses of the world with the vision of democratic rule, however. The Americans expelled the British and dispensed with monarchy and any inherited or imposed class structure at all. And such were the polemical powers of Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, and other tribunes of the American Revolution, and the political influence of the United States during and after World War II, that it is America that has been the most influential country in assuring the spread of democracy and the free market so broadly these past 75 years.

France proclaimed its faith in liberty, equality, and fraternity and intellectually championed Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s famous assertion that “Man is born free, but he is everywhere in chains” and gave itself the national mission of breaking those chains. Of course, the follow-through was uneven. There followed the corrupted Directory, the authoritarian Consulate, Napoleon, a sequence of monarchical restorations, and France did not get down to the serious launch of a Republic until 1871. And it did not promote democratic values in its empire as Britain did. Britain did launch India, Canada, Australia, and other important nations as democracies, and it abolished the slave trade 60 years before the United States did, and abolished slavery throughout its empire more than 30 years before the United States emancipated its slaves. 

There were also smaller European countries including Switzerland, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, and Iceland that were early practitioners of democratic government, but they were in no position to export it very far and had little of the impact on the world that the British, French, and Americans did.

Once a Beacon to the World

Even though the British and French acted earlier in ending official racial discrimination, the United States, from its inception, was the country to which the world looked, if not as it proclaimed itself, “a new order of the ages,” still the first real republic in many centuries and the first to be armed with carefully thought-out institutions of government and with a clear pathway to becoming an immense and world influential power.

Abraham Lincoln, as he abolished slavery to assure that “government of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth,” captured the imagination of the whole world. In his second inaugural, he famously stated that the survival of democracy depended upon the abolition of slavery and that he was determined to accomplish that no matter how many free man died doing so: even “if God wills that every drop of blood drawn by the lash shall be repaid with a drop of blood drawn by the sword.” 

When the German Emperor ordered his Navy to attack any American ship on sight and President Woodrow Wilson had no choice but to enter the war, he electrified the masses of the world by calling it “a war to end war and to make the world safe for democracy.” In 1941, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill laid out the precepts of a free postwar world, though the British had to dissemble slightly in reference to their empire.    

President Harry Truman and his successors defined the Cold War as one between the Free World and the Communists, even though the Free World included dictators Francisco Franco in Spain, António Salazar in Portugal), the Shah of Iran, Syngman Rhee in South Korea, implicitly the House of Saud, and many of the bemedaled juntas of South America. But eventually, as America led its allies to an ultimately bloodless victory in the Cold War, most of those allies became democracies, as have most of the states liberated from the Soviet grip at the end of the Cold War. As the Iron Curtain collapsed, the students of East Germany and of Czechoslovakia read to their fellow crusaders for democracy from the works of Jefferson and Lincoln (as well as Edmund Burke).

Now, 85 percent of Americans do not believe their media on political subjects, over 80 percent of Americans disapprove of the performance of the Congress, and approximately 50 percent of Americans believe that the 2020 presidential election was rigged. Many of the more vocal spokespeople for the current narrow majority in government purport to believe that President Trump’s and his supporters’ allegations of the questionable integrity of last presidential election constitute part of an attempt to overthrow the government unlawfully; that this attempt exploded in the invasion and vandalization of the Capitol on January 6, and that it continues. 

Vast Potential for Gross Abuse

The fact that there are some worrisome irregularities in the voting and counting of votes in a number of the swing states is simply denied. The fact that the Supreme Court in declining to hear a case from the attorney general of Texas and supported by 16 other states that the swing states in question failed to discharge their constitutional duty to assure a fair presidential election, abdicated the coequal status of the judiciary with the legislative and executive branches of government, is ignored. National political media uniformly refer to questions of the integrity of the last presidential election as discredited and debunked.

At least 95 percent of the national political media and 100 percent of the social media platforms are opposed to the Republicans, who control most of the states and have half of the Senators and are only a few votes short of half of the Members of the House of Representatives. The House has just passed a bill that would compel states to accept mailed-in votes for 15 days prior to and 10 days after Election Day; set up automatic and online voter registration; prohibit review of the eligibility of voters; compel acceptance of ballots cast in the wrong precincts; bar the removal of the ineligible voters from the rolls; permit ballot harvesting; ban any voter identification laws; consign to unelected officials the redrawing of congressional districts; infringe upon free speech by the imposition of “onerous legal and administrative burdens on candidates, civic groups, unions, and non-profit organizations”; and establish a disturbingly named “Commission to Protect Democratic Institutions” in order to end-run the courts.

The potential for gross abuse with these changes if they are enacted is too obvious to require elaboration. Any opposition to it is labeled  “voter suppression.” If this bill is enacted, especially with the provision for a bare majority vote on any issue in the Senate, and the addition of two or four sure Democratic senators from Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia admitted as new states, the question of whether and to what extent the United States remains a government of laws and a genuine democracy will not be possible to answer affirmatively with any confidence.

First published in American Greatness

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