In Defense of Polarization

There can be no doubt that the results of Tuesday’s election were good news for Democrats. But we should all be paying attention to what is happening in Kentucky since the governor’s race was called. Almost immediately, the incumbent Republican, Matt Bevin, refused to concede, citing “a number of irregularities.”

Without providing details, Bevin cited “thousands of absentee ballots that were illegally counted,” reports of voters being “incorrectly turned away” from polling places and “a number of machines that didn’t work properly.”

According to the Louisville Courier Journal, Deputy Attorney General J. Michael Brown said “the office has no information on what irregularities Bevin is referring to.” It is doubtful the accusation of irregularities will go anywhere because the specific action taken by Bevin has been to call for a “re-canvass” of Tuesday’s vote, which would simply check the tallies reported by each voting machine and compare them to the numbers that were reported to the state Board of Elections. That procedure has never altered the outcome of an election in Kentucky.

It is more likely that Bevin is setting the stage to label this a “contested election.” Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Kentucky Senate President Robert Stivers cited Section 90 of the state constitution, which specifies that “[c]ontested elections” for governor “shall be determined by both Houses of the General Assembly.” The goal is to allow the Republican-controlled state legislature to decide who is governor.

After the 2018 election, we saw efforts by Republicans all over the country to undermine the will of voters. But this would take things to a whole new level and actually overturn the results of an election. As many are warning, this could be a preview of what Trump will attempt to do if he loses next November.

What strikes me is that this kind of thing would have been unthinkable in the past—although Bush v Gore came close. But then, we have been getting inured to the unthinkable for years now. During the Obama presidency, the Republicans regularly engaged in actions that would have previously been unthinkable. Here are just a few examples:

  • When the country was careening towards another Great Depression, they attempted to obstruct anything Democrats proposed to do about it.
  • They took the global economy hostage by refusing to raise the debt ceiling unless their demands were met.
  • They refused to consider the president’s nominee to the Supreme Court.

Since Trump was elected, the unthinkable has been happening on almost a daily basis. Here’s just a taste:

  • During an international press conference, the president sided with Vladimir Putin over this country’s intelligence services on the question of whether Russia interfered in the 2016 election.
  • Standing on the White House lawn, Trump said that both Ukraine and China should investigate his political opponent.
  • The president openly talked about committing a war crime by saying that the United States should get access to Syria’s oil.
  • On Trump’s abuse of power with Ukraine, Republicans are prepared to say, “Yes, he did it. So what?”

Knowing what we do about the president, there is no limit to the unthinkable that he is willing to say or do to protect himself. When it comes to Trump’s enablers in both congress and right wing media, we keep looking for signs that they have reached their limit, but it hasn’t come yet. One has to wonder if it ever will.

The reason it is important to articulate this big picture is that Democrats need to be clear about the fact that every time Republicans raise the ante on the unthinkable, the threads that hold our democracy together are frayed even further. Trump demonstrates that daily with his corruption and abuse of power. But when we get to the point that elections don’t matter—as might happen with Matt Bevin in Kentucky—it will be too late.

As long as the president and his enablers are willing to do the unthinkable to maintain their hold on power, this country will be deeply polarized…and rightly so. The divide will not be bridged unless and until Republicans demonstrate that their commitment to democracy takes precedence over their desire for power. Personally, I’m not going to hold my breath on that one.

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.