It’s a new year in what we are constantly reminded is a divided nation.

We have endured years of toxic politics culminating in an epic presidential election in which both contenders got more votes than anyone who had ever run for the office before.

It took place in a fractured media environment, in which partisans not only disagreed on the best way to address the nation’s problems but also fought over whether the problems even existed. At times we seemed to be living in different realities.

But that’s behind us now. Here in 2021, the survival of our democracy demands that all levels of government and the people operate in one reality with a common set of facts. The first fact on which everyone should agree is that the election is over, and Joe Biden won.

It sounds simple, but when the most powerful person in the world denies reality, nothing is simple. President Trump proved Saturday in his call to election officials in Georgia that he’s willing to tear down democracy itself if that will keep him in office.

For an hour, the president harangued the officials, demanding that they “find” 11,780 votes for him and make him the winner in their state. He suggested they could face criminal charges if they didn’t play ball. He hinted that there would be civil unrest if they didn’t see things his way.

It was, in short, the most undemocratic act that a democratically elected American president has ever committed, and to their credit Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and his office’s legal counsel, Ryan Germany, both Republicans, did not cave under pressure.

It’s too bad we can’t say the same of other Republican officials. On Wednesday, Vice President Mike Pence will preside over a joint session of Congress to officially receive the electoral votes recorded in the state capitals last month. It’s supposed to be a formality, but a number of Republican House and Senate members have already said that they plan to turn it into a sideshow by challenging the results and giving credence to Trump’s ridiculous assertions.

Pro-Trump demonstrators plan to make a show of force outside the Capitol, putting pressure on members of Congress to act as if there is some real doubt about the integrity of the election results.

This is not just bare-knuckle politics or old-fashioned gamesmanship. When the loser of an election refuses to accept the results, it is an attack on democracy itself. If, after losing the election of 1800, John Adams had behaved the way Trump is behaving now, it’s unlikely that we would have the country we have today.

But Adams accepted the verdict of the voters, congratulated Thomas Jefferson and handed him the reins of government. Losing presidential candidates have done the same ever since, until now.

Accepting the outcome of elections is not just being a good sport but also is essential to self-government. Without it, you have a potential civil war every four years.

“All the ills of democracy can be cured by more democracy,” said Al Smith, a politician who knew what it was like to win elections and lose them.

Disappointed Trump voters can take a page from Smith’s book and fight to get part of Trump’s agenda passed under a different president. Or they can get ready for the next election in just two years, when control of the House and Senate will again be up for grabs.

But they shouldn’t enter into Trump’s alternate reality, because that  will cause lasting damage to democracy itself.

We don’t have to agree on everything. We don’t have to agree on much.

But if we want our democratic republic to survive, we’re going to have to agree on a few basic facts.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.