It is often breathlessly noted that, so popular was the unique American experiment among the cognoscenti of the Age of Reason, that it was immediately replicated in France. Whenever that point is made, and it’s a point particularly made on July 14th, the day in which I am writing this, the most important part is often missed or deliberately left out.
While it’s true that our ancestors had to fight a protracted and bloody war in order to gain independence from Britain, there followed no persecution of our own citizenry. The new government didn’t set up a guillotine to chop off the heads of British loyalists as the French did with their own aristocracy.
Once the war for independence was won in America, a tradition of the peaceful transition from one administration to another was established because it was enshrined in the Constitution and tradition. From that to the modern day, every new President was elected and installed in office without organised bloodshed. Until January 6, 2021, that is.
Until then, the peaceful transition of power in the United States was largely taken for granted, even at the outbreak of the Civil War. Lincoln’s election was deeply unpopular with elements in the South, but it wasn’t officially doubted or disputed.
As time progressed the peaceful transition became less remarkable because more and more nations followed suit. Many of us forgot what a marvellous thing that peaceful transition was and remains. We may have hated the outcome of some of our elections, but we never questioned them unless they were very, very close. Occasionally recounts were held, but once the question was settled we got on with our lives.
Donald Trump has destroyed all that. He has robbed America — for the time being at least — of its tradition of the peaceful transition of power. Now every election is disputed by Republicans, even minor elections, unless the results favour their candidate.
In fact Republicans don’t dispute whole elections. They only dispute those parts of ballots they don’t like, not the whole ballot. They surgically remove from condemnation for ridicule and dispute those parts of ballots where their candidate lost, and they ignore the other part where their candidate won. It’s such an obvious and childish game, but it’s a game they play in outwardly deadly earnestness, no matter how disingenuous they may be.
What’s more, as with after the French Revolution, many Americans hope to see a second Trump administration that will be all about vengeance. Metaphorical guillotines are already being assembled, with the object of destroying “the Democrat party” and punishing anyone who doesn’t follow, with glassy-eyed fealty, the whims of their Dear Leader.
It’s chilling to think that America has come to this. But we have seen the machinery of vengeance at work already in the House or Representatives under the new Jacobins of intolerance, the MAGAs. They have spent their entire term in Congress seeking out and trying to destroy or intimidate anyone who doesn’t bow down and worship at the feet of MAGA orthodoxy. That is only a small appetiser. Imagine what they will be like should we ever permit them to gain real power again.
The time to begin our activism for the 2024 general election is now. We cannot afford to lose this one. And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.