Americanism has elements of it that resemble a religion, in the vague sense that it’s something in which Americans, or many Americans, believe on the basis of faith more than facts. The faith weaves together several gauzy beliefs – about America’s essential goodness, about its role in the world, and, often, about its constitutional democratic republican political system.
The Trump experience hasn’t been particularly good for these beliefs. But if Trump does leave office in January, it will be consistent with the fundamental belief that our system works, and has proved that it works by withstanding a tough challenge from a lying, cheating megalomaniac who, despite a sturdy effort to do so, was unable to steal a presidential election in which he lost both the popular and electoral vote.
Actual religions rely on what is often called a “leap of faith” by its adherents. A belief in Americanism relies, I suppose, on fact-ier stuff like history and law and constitutionalism, but I often think it has plenty of faith, and fluff, and magical thinking.
Earlier this week, the U.S. Supreme Court, unanimously and summarily, in a single sentence showing the matter little respect, refused a request from Pennsylvania Republicans to throw out Joe Biden’s victory in that state’s presidential election by throwing out all of the mail ballots in that election. The U.S. Supreme Court thus upheld the same conclusion reached by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and, it appears, there is no higher court to which those plaintiffs can appeal, dealing one more blow to the efforts of Donald Trump and some of his supporters to undermine – or would “destroy” be too strong a word – the fundamentals of U.S. democracy.
I’m glad, of course. And impressed that not a single justice in the case wavered. And I expect this to be at least a medium-sized chapter in the growing reassurance that democracy in America withstood the battering ram that has been Trumpism.
I won’t completely exhale until President-elect Joe Biden has taken the oath, and Trump has left the premises; it’s likely that some equally lame Trumpian court challenges will drag on for a while. At the moment, we have a bizarre lawsuit by the state of Texas — which Trump won and whose electoral votes Trump will receive even though Joe Biden might like to have them — seeking to overthrow the results of the election in several states other than Texas that gave their electoral votes to Joe Biden. This is headed for the Supreme Court.
I was reminded, when I read the news, that Trump, who so often says the quiet part out loud, has said out loud that he needed to defy certain norms and ram through the appointment of one more Supreme Court appointee, and said, also out loud, that this was especially important in case the presidential election ended up in the Supreme Court.
This extra act of court-packing got him exactly zero votes, at least in the case seeking to throw out the Pennsylvania result. And we should celebrate that. On to the next bizarre case from Texas.
As I mentioned, I won’t completely exhale, even if that case is also dismissed as promptly and easily as it deserves. And I will resist the temptation to believe that our system has now demonstrated that it cannot be corrupted. Of course it can. Neither American democracy nor the Constitution is really “A Machine that Would Go of Itself.”
Trump has shown us many flaws in the machine. No machine is guaranteed to work forever. A better-tuned machine would never have allowed anyone like Donald Trump to reach the position he has held these last four years, especially since he reached it without winning either a majority or a plurality of the vote in 2016.
There will be lessons to learn from this experience, assuming it doesn’t finish off our system. But, the odds against it finishing off our system seem to keep improving with each development along these lines.