Do presidential elections really matter? This one does!
Nevins is co-publisher of The Fulcrum and co-founder and board chairman of the Bridge Alliance Education Fund.
In October of 2012, I published an op-ed in the Huffington Post entitled, “Do Presidential Elections Really Matter?”
Today as I think back to the election of 2012 between incumbent Democratic President Barack Obama and Republican Governor Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, I realize how different the times were then. While Obama and Romney certainly had vastly different beliefs and policy prescriptions, the differences pale in contrast to what many Americans believe is an existential threat to America should the person they are opposed to in the 2024 election win.
In October of 2012 I suggested that both Democrats and Republicans believed if their nominee were elected, the serious problems our country faced would be tackled with a new vigor, and real change would actually occur. Unfortunately, this thinking was actually a fallacy as proven by history.
I used the deficit as an example stating that, “Economists and politicians universally believe that we must tackle the deficit problem, but does anyone really believe this urgent national problem will be addressed if the liberal wing of the Democrat party is unwilling to cut entitlements and conservative Republicans are unwilling to raise revenue?”
How ironic is it that not only did we fail to address the problem in 2012 but today in 2023 we are experiencing another partisan battle that threatens to result in a default on our nation's debt.
The thesis of my writing in 2012 was that so often in our history we experience a new president come into office with lofty ideals only to be stymied by the system. I suggested that politicians and the media overplay the importance of the outcome of presidential elections in determining the direction our country will take in the four years following the election given that more often than not national elections merely validate an establishment that never really changes. I still believe this today. I still believe that unless a new paradigm is created that changes the temperament and the process by which Congress operates, our democratic republic will be mired in dysfunction and hyperpartisanship at the expense of the American citizenry. The president can propose legislation, the president can use the bully pulpit, but the president's hands will be tied if we have a divided Congress, more interested in scoring points against the other political party than in solving problems.
Unfortunately nothing has occurred since 2012 to change my thinking except today my concerns are not just about partisanship and dysfunction, they are also about the very existence of our democracy. Today there is an existential threat to our democratic republic. Elections now are not just about differences in policy but about the potential demise of the democratic republic that will define the future of democracy in the United States for future generations.
What we witnessed after the presidential election of 2020 should not be forgotten. The fact that to this day despite the insurrection of January 6, 2021, 61 percent of Republicans still believe that President Biden did not win the election. This is one reason why the presidential election of 2024 does matter.
If Americans don’t trust the election results, can our democracy possibly survive?
"For the election system to work, our entire democracy to work, depends on trust in the election system. That is the reason why there is and has always been a peaceful transition of power after elections in the United States," said Wendy Weiser, who directs the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice. "And if that belief isn't there, then there's a real risk that we can see more resistance to peaceful transitions of power, more resistance to the electoral system overall."
Former President Donald Trump, and candidate for president in 2024, has already made it clear what is at risk when in early March he said this to thousands of cheering supporters:
“In 2016, I declared, ‘I am your voice.’ Today I add: I am your warrior, I am your justice, and for those who have been wronged and betrayed, I am your retribution!”
That statement should be alarming to all Americans. The presidential election of 2024, unlike the presidential election of 2012, is not about jobs, the deficit, abortion or immigration. It is about retribution. It is about getting back at your opponent, about punishing those who disagree with you.
As Americans it is time for us to realize that there is no America without democracy, no democracy without voting, and no informed voting without respectful debate.
Each one of us as we think about who we will vote for in 2024 must make a stand for democracy. We must make a pledge that rises above partisan issues. It is time that we demand that all candidates agree to three simple principles of democracy:
- The right of all American citizens to participate in a transparent, safe and secure election process.
- The peaceful conduct of all elections and the peaceful transfer of power.
- The treatment of all my fellow citizens with dignity and respect, and never with contempt.
If We the People, from the right, left and center all make this pledge to defend and protect our democracy, the election of 2024 will truly matter!