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Democracy in Election Week

It is ridiculous that we are still waiting for results, even if we were told to expect it.

Pennsylvania Candidate For Senate John Fetterman Holds Election Night Party In Pittsburgh
Democratic Senate candidate John Fetterman arrives for an election night party. (Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)

If democracy was on the ballot then the election must be above reproach. On this, left and right agree. But with all the talk of a “red mirage” this past week, we see those words can mean entirely different things. Republicans might appear to lead, we were told, but (worry not) Democrats will catch up as other ballots are counted. The media may have spoken too soon, as what was expected to be a wave washes out into a mostly typical midterm, but what they said remains. 

Of course, there is the ridiculous contradiction in terms on the face of it. How can democracy—the rule of the many, rule by voting and by law—be on the ballot? Be threatened by an enactment of democracy? We the many, who are also one, voted, according to norms and laws. If there is any content to this beyond a desperate liberal cry for turning out the vote, then it is the realization that something will come after Election Day, that governing is separate from voting. The trouble is, increasingly, Election Day is not a day at all.

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It is Election Week now, and sometimes longer. Last night brought in results of course, but we are also still left waiting, as promised. Arizona, Alaska, Georgia, Nevada, and Wisconsin remain undecided in the Senate. The race between Herschel Walker and Raphael Warnock in Georgia always risked a runoff, as a matter of course, but the country didn’t get a clear answer yesterday. House seats, too, are still in play, across the country. I’m watching Joe Kent in Washington’s Third District closely, aware that it took days to get a final count in the primary. There was a surprise in Pennsylvania, as a state where everyone, left and right, was preparing for a drag out legal battle over vote counting instead reported results the night of. Though in this case that was not a welcome development, giving John Fetterman the Senate seat; once again Democrats will send a sick man to the capital instead of bed rest.

Republicans still appear set for simple majorities, or at least one in the House. But if “democracy”—or the Biden regime—was ever under threat, it’s going to live. At least we have J.D. Vance to celebrate.

The democracy question is a regime question. There are those—usually self-identified as on the left though some wear a Republican affiliation—who understand democracy in the classical sense, though they would be unlikely to use these words, and believe it to be a type of regime. It is the rule of the many; it is rule towards equality, towards equity. It might be a skinsuit worn atop an oligarchy, but even for the ruling few it is a skinsuit to which allegiance must be pledged for the benefit of those many. In this sense, democracy is liberal democracy, it is the march of history, an arch which bends towards justice. It is not voting; it is the thing voted for. 

Meanwhile, on the right—in particular for that pedantic sort of person who really does believe the flag stands for a republic—democracy describes mass suffrage, voting for representation, a mechanism by which our Constitutional order and national story on this continent is continued and preserved. Democracy in this sense is not the regime itself, not on the ballot, but rather is the ballot. 

In both these senses, though so far apart, the election must be above reproach. If democracy is the regime itself, then, once secured again, by means fair or foul, open lawfare or metropolitan machine (fortified, perhaps even saved), to question the election is to undermine the legitimating myth the whole thing stands on. It is to say that despite the name perhaps the many do not rule, that there are real governors out there unelected and largely unseen. Thus questions become sacrilege, become denial. 

And if democracy is the means that we the people have chosen and been given to elect our representatives, to govern ourselves by delegation, then the mechanism must be trusted. The tool with which we wish to make a great work cannot be faulty, we must verify it, test it, repair and secure it. Machines should not break down. This democracy, the process of voting, has been changed before and will be changed again, but in each change it has been assessed and altered as a means, and not as an end in itself. The object has been and must be confidence that our elected officials do represent the people on whose behalf they govern, that the process of selection was free and fair, a real attempt to unite the few and the many, above reproach. 

So it is ridiculous that we are still waiting for results, even if we were told to expect it. The delays, and reassurances from establishment media that this is normal, only serve to highlight how far apart the country is divided on the nature of democracy itself. Means or end? Means to what end? An end that justifies what means?

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