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Avoiding martial law

Can we find common ground?


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For 30 years I’ve criticized left-wing journalists for some of their outrageous statements. I now have to acknowledge that some on the right have caught up.

After Joe Biden on Dec. 14 received a majority of Electoral College votes, Donald Trump said, “This Fake Election can no longer stand: Get moving Democrats.” Most people understood that as bluster, but Gen. Michael Flynn and assorted Republican politicians urged Trump to declare martial law. The Epoch Times editorialized that Donald Trump should call out military forces that would “safeguard the future of our Republic and arrest those who have conspired to deprive people of their rights.”

Take away rights to restore rights? Trump supporters spent most of November and December peering through smoke and trying to spot fires, but were unable to convince 50-plus judges or the Supreme Court—so use the Army to safeguard the Republic? And what kind of republic will we have left? Edmund Burke wrote in his Reflections on the Revolution in France, “In the groves of their academy, at the end of every vista, you see nothing but the gallows.” That’s now true of the far right as well as the left.

Neither side will accomplish much, though, by feeling self-righteous.

The depiction of Thomas More in the 1966 film A Man for All Seasons is historically inaccurate, but the exchange between him and son-in-law William Roper is worth remembering amid calls for martial law. When Roper says he’s “cut down every law in England” to fight the Devil, More says, “And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned around on you—where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast—man’s laws, not God’s—and if you cut them down … d’you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then?”

So let’s be thankful we have a process for appealing election results. Trump supporters have followed it and failed to convince judges. It’s time to look forward. We’ve seen that the farther we move away from one-day-only, in-person voting, the easier we make it for unscrupulous people to cheat because of the chain-of-custody problem. Both losers in the last two presidential elections have declared them stolen. We have a crisis in confidence that will get worse unless we get control of the chain of custody.

We also have a dispute about the Electoral College, with Democrats often wanting to abolish it and Republicans standing for the status quo. If Democrats get their way and the total national vote decides the winning candidate, imagine in a close election how combative a national recount would be! Maintaining the current system, though, does leave candidates neglecting most states and focusing only on the battlegrounds. Why not follow Maine and Nebraska and allocate a state’s electoral votes by congressional district instead of winner-take-all? Republicans could win some electoral votes from California and upstate New York. Democrats could pluck electoral votes from the Rio Grande Valley of Texas and other blue domains.

Neither side will accomplish much, though, by feeling self-righteous and looking upon the other as evil personified. WORLD will keep a vigilant eye on the Biden administration, but we’ll also remember Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s adage: “The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either—but right through every human heart.”

George W. Bush tried to “reach across the aisle” and failed. Biden is unlikely to be more successful, but he could start by emulating what Abraham Lincoln did on April 10, 1865, the day after Confederate surrender at Appomattox. Lincoln saw a band amid a celebrating crowd and asked it to play “Dixie.” The musicians complied, and added “Yankee Doodle.” Since the Republican conventions in 1984 and 1988 popularized Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A.,” and Trump made it the entrance tune at his rallies, maybe Biden can request that it be played at an inaugural event: “I’m proud to be an American / Where at least I know I’m free.”


Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD and dean of World Journalism Institute. He joined WORLD in 1992 and has also been a university professor and provost. He has written more than 20 books, including Reforming Journalism.

@MarvinOlasky

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