Saturday, January 23, 2021

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It is, and has always been, about who we are as people

As this paper goes to print two vitally important things are happening on the national political stage which directly involve South Dakota.

On Tuesday, January 5, there is a runoff election in Georgia to determine who will represent that state in the Senate. Both seats are open. Democratic challengers Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock are running against incumbent Republicans David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler. The result will determine which party controls the Senate for the next two years.

Meanwhile the president is attempting to subvert the results of the November election and mounting a direct attack on the foundation of our democracy. On Saturday he spent an hour on the phone with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) trying to bully Raffensperger into cheating by asking him to “find” enough votes to overturn Trump’s loss in that state. Trump’s actions are clearly criminal. The only question is if anyone in his party will remove him before the inauguration in 15 days.

Meanwhile, Congress meets in joint session on January 6th, the day after the Georgia vote. We will know who won and moves in the chess match of the next two weeks will come into focus.

The purpose of the joint session is to formally count the results of the vote of the Electoral College on December 14. Biden won the Electoral College 306 to 232. Vice President Pence has been publicly called upon to subvert the will of the people by refusing to count the votes of all the electors.

So how is South Dakota involved?

First off, the state signed on to the law suit which called upon Vice President Pence to subvert the election. Thank goodness it got thrown out last Friday in federal appeals court. While Kristi Noem didn’t actually put her name to the suit, she made her position as an enemy of a representative democracy pretty clear.

Secondly, the entire nation is involved in the Georgia election. I belong to a Facebook group which supports voter turn out in Georgia. As early voting got underway Georgia voters started to post pictures of themselves after voting, or told stories about the lengths they underwent to make sure their absentee ballot was received, or praised their newly 18-year-old first-time voter children and first-time voter grandmas who voted from the nursing home. Everyone knows this election matters.

In response, people comment with a “Thank you! From <insert the name of your state here.>” post. The level of national engagement is amazing and gives me hope.

Thirdly, South Dakota is represented by the penultimate Senate leader, John Thune (R). Thune and Mitch McConnell (R-KY) are facing a tough choice and I don’t think they realize we are smart enough to see what lies before them. But we are. They can choose to maintain their allegiance to Trump in his waning days. Or they can choose to follow our laws and democratic conventions and move forward into a Biden presidency.

If the path were navigable enough to allow them to wait out the next two weeks without further direct conflict with Trump, it is clear they would just wait. But the actions of the sitting president last weekend go far beyond what has removed other presidents.

The right thing to do is to remove Trump from office immediately and decisively, even if it means losing any semblance of a smooth transition to the incoming administration. It’s not about Trump anymore. It is, and has always been, about who we are as a people.

The only way forward is for us to stay the course of a peaceful transition of power into the new administration, and then to begin a massive national conversation and education about basic civics.

Through the last four years of national argument (and really, even before that) Liberals and Conservatives alike have tended to use the same language. We all talk about equitable representation and the expansion or protection of rights. Often, we mean very different things. But the fact remains: When pressed, we run home to the same basic concepts.

This means there is broad agreement as to the basic strengths of American democracy. We keep talking about the same basic ideas as the playground bullies attack its foundational building blocks and try to distract us from their graft and venality.

We need to reestablish, and perhaps reinterpret, our shared ideas of representation; question how we balance individual rights and common responsibility; examine the hoarding and hyper concentration of resources; decide if we really want to be a country where we lift up the lowly or if we really do worship the mighty; see if we can act on our common belief that no one deserves to die for lack of medical care; finally realize our natural resources are not boundless.

We need to connect over the things that bind us and embody a national attitude of forgiveness and flexibility. We will need to practice this for a generation or more until we develop new ways to speak and create news ways to hear.

But let’s start with that beautiful thing that America does so well — a peaceful transition of power on January 20th.

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