Going on 40 years I’ve been writing columns about giving thanks, and this year I mean it: thank God that America stood up for democracy again.
This year is among the worst. Pandemic is our parlance. Covid runs wild over Iowa while its government stands back and does little. The president thumbs his nose at the virus and at the rule of law, skirted impeachment thanks to feckless senators, and would steal a win through a faithless electoral college, if he could.
But he can’t.
The people spoke. They elected Joe Biden with the most votes ever, and by a convincing margin, as a rebuke to it all. It was a vote for Biden – made by millions, in hopes of good will – but it was as much an act of revulsion for what Donald Trump represents.
Biden promised to govern with fairness and decency. People endorsed a middling approach with a split Congress. They demand that government gets along somehow. Fair enough. There’s wisdom in that vote.
It was a record turnout. So many have lamented a lack of civic engagement for good reason. Our local school board elections typically muster 10% turnout. This year, however, the people were engaged. Especially in Iowa, where they came out in awful weather, young and old, to hear Julián Castro or John Delaney campaign during the run-up to the caucuses. Dr Jill Biden, first lady in waiting, talked education to a handful of folks at Better Day Café. It was something to behold. We had a ringside seat.
Trump and company tried to keep people from voting. They tried to slow down the mail. They tried to sow fear that the system was rigged. But the people came out the first day they could and stood in line for hours, if necessary, to make sure their vote counted. County election officials, no matter their politics, tried to make it as safe and smooth as possible and it was, for the most part. That, too, was something to behold.
Mainly, the people demonstrated that liberty means something. They demanded their franchise as citizens. It could not be denied
The judicial system worked. Judges appointed by Republicans threw out Trump’s efforts to suppress or overturn the vote. A score of lawsuits filed following the election, claiming unspecified fraud, were dismissed. Chief Justice John Roberts has held the center and protected the judiciary’s independence under great trial over the past year.
None of this was destined. It could have gone the other way. The attorney general tested whether there were limits and discovered them when his field offices told him no fraud was to be found in the balloting. The military brass wanted nothing to do with any of it.
The Republican secretary of state in Georgia, Brad Raffensperger, stood up for the integrity of the system. So did the FBI and CIA directors and the head of cyber-security, who got the boot from Trump for vouching for a safe vote. So did the Republican governor of Maryland. If only Republican senators would have stood up with them to get Trump to move on. Democracy isn’t perfect. But when Trump personally asked Michigan Republican legislative leaders to rig their electoral college delegation, they refused. When it counted, people stood up. That is no small feat.
It should never have gone this far. Now we know. About a third of Americans think Biden stole the election and that Rudy Giuliani should be allowed to practice law. Many of us were suckered by Trump and wised up. Most of us voted for sanity and a little bit of respect.
Mainly, the people demonstrated that liberty means something. They knelt in the park for Black lives that are not fully free. They objected to caging families at the border. They demanded their franchise as citizens. It could not be denied.
From time to time this year, I had my doubts. Iowa voted for Trump, after all. It was too close for comfort in Wisconsin. The rants and ravings still echo in the crazy chambers of social media. Pray Biden will have a way of defusing things. Actually, he already has. Reporters asked the president-elect the other day about Trump refusing to allow an orderly transition. Biden stopped and thought, and just said that Trump is reckless. He left it at that. Lord, what a relief in restraint. I give thanks. Democracy prevails.
Art Cullen is editor of The Storm Lake Times in north-west Iowa, where he won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. He is a Guardian US columnist and author of the book Storm Lake: Change, Resilience, and Hope in America’s Heartland