Now that President Trump has lost re-election, we should reflect. A lot has happened since he was elected. But there are three episodes from these past four years that say a lot about the state of our nation and are worthy of deep thought.
The first is that Trump caused millions of Americans to tune into the political world. Not because he inspires them, rather because he disgusts them. You can’t spit without hitting someone who has an opinion on Trump. And, no matter the side they fall on, they’re usually very expressive on social media.
One might call it social media punditry. On one hand, it’s good because people are becoming aware of their nation’s politics. On the other hand, it has put our civility problem on full display.
When faced with disagreement, people react viciously. Their first instinct is to label the person they disagree with as racist, homophobic, transphobic, and the like. What the people in this new social media punditry age don’t understand is that good people can disagree.
Good people can have bad ideas—surely, not everyone agrees with their parents on everything, but, despite our disagreement, we’ll defend our parents’ good character.
We’ve lost touch with that basic principle, and it has led to potent incivility. Today, you can’t disagree without losing friends or family members. It’s impossible to get anything done or come to a consensus of any kind with a society so divided.
What’s worse is that simply wearing clothing that makes a political statement could be the end of someone’s hard-earned reputation. We saw this with Nick Sandmann. A Native American man was beating a drum in front of his face, and because Sandmann was wearing a Trump hat, people assumed he was being disrespectful to the Native American.
We now know that to be false. He has since successfully sued the media outlets that purveyed that lie. But the damage dealt to his reputation still shows. I know people that still talk about Sandmann—not knowing anything about him—that refer to him as a “smug son of an expletive I can’t put in writing.”
And we can credit that to this new social media punditry age where we rush to negatively label people we disagree with.
The increased use of social media for political expression has also revealed how little Americans know about American constitutional principles. This brings me to the second episode: Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death.
When news of Justice Ginsburg’s death was made public, this new age of social media pundits expressed fear that a series of cases would be overturned with an additional Trump-nominated Justice on the Supreme Court. All the cases they listed—Obergefell vs. Hodges, Griswold vs. Connecticut, and the like—were cases in which the Court created rights that aren’t in the Constitution.
The abortion cases—Roe vs. Wade and Planned Parenthood vs. Casey—can be seen as the synecdoche of their fears. In those cases, the Supreme Court did not decide whether abortion is constitutional. What they did decide was whether there is a constitutional right to abortion.
That is an important distinction to make because if the abortion cases are overturned, abortions wouldn’t be disallowed by the Court. Instead, it would be found that abortions are not protected by the Constitution. This would allow political questions on abortion to be decided by the people.
That can't happen when the Court has illegitimately placed a political issue—like abortion—on the mantel of constitutionally protected rights that are immune to democratic input. Absent the control of the Supreme Court’s abortion decisions, the people would decide.
Elected state legislators would determine whether abortion should be legal in their state. If they want it to be legal, they will make it law. If they don’t want it, it won’t be law. That is democracy. It is how we do business in the United States. Yet, it is what those faux-pundits wanted to prevent.
Fundamentally, what they were afraid of is democracy. They’d prefer to have a Court of nine middle-aged lawyers decide what norms society should accept rather than letting democratic processes take its course.
As Charles Krauthammer put it: “In a democracy, what better embodiment of evolving norms can there be than elected representatives? By what logic are the norms of a vast and variegated people better reflected in nine appointed lawyers produced by exactly three law schools?”
Seeing the mood of our youth—who participate the most in this new age of social media punditry—morph into an antipathy toward our constitutional systems, which have permitted this country to endure for over 240 years, is scary and is something to reflect upon.
Speaking of democracy, the third intriguing episode of these four years is President-elect Joe Biden having secured over 74 million votes in his favor. Like the increased political awareness we saw—described in the second paragraph—Trump-repulsion was the impetus for that history-making number of voter participation.
The Pew Research Center found that sixty-three-percent of Biden voters did not vote for Biden. They voted against Trump.
Trump’s recent behaviors—and earlier ones—render every one of those 74 million votes to be a deserved rebuke. For starters, he declared victory before all the votes were in. And when it became clear he couldn’t legitimately win the election, he filed a barrage of lawsuits to stop the vote count.
As the rejection of democracy by the social media pundits is, Trump’s actions—which are supported by half of this country—are undemocratic. I could go on and list other anti-American things he has done, but I have a word limit.
After analyzing each of those episodes from the past four years, we learn some horrible things about our country. The first is that Americans are intolerant to those they disagree with. We no longer understand that having a bad idea does not make a person evil.
The second is that Americans are ignorant. We are quick to express a view without consulting basic American and democratic principles—or perhaps we’re aware of them and choose to ignore them.
The third is that an increasing number of Americans see our constitutional systems as an obstacle and a threat to their political agenda. Or they’re ignorant of their vitality to our nation.
The fourth is that many Americans only stand up to stand against. While the fourth one has its reasons—reasons I concur with—people should vote and be civically engaged all the time. Not just when there’s someone they don’t like in the White House.
We did not last over 240 years with such widespread ignorance. Otto von Bismarck once quipped that “God looks after idiots, drunkards, children, and the United States of America.” I question how long the latter will remain true.