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A notable death in 2020: American democracy | Will Bunch Newsletter

America has two political parties. When one no longer believes in counting the votes, it’s not a democracy.

Members of the far-right group Proud Boys rally outside the Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C., on Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020.
Members of the far-right group Proud Boys rally outside the Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C., on Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020.Read moreYuri Gripas / MCT

As I wrote this, I was watching the Electoral College coverage on CNN and I have to say the whole thing seemed suspicious as hell. Every hour or so, there was another “mysterious” dump of 20 or 30 more votes for Biden. It’s a terrible deal, or maybe four years of Trump has finally turned our minds into mush. Did someone forward you this email? Sign up now to receive this newsletter weekly at — a new term of conspiracy theories inaugurates soon!

America has two political parties. When one no longer believes in counting the votes, it’s not a democracy.

True story: I used to be a crazy Civil War buff when I was 5 years old. In the year when most normal kids were getting Beatles records or the latest loud offering from Mattel, I asked Santa for my blue Union soldier uniform. I even made my dad get off the Pennsylvania Turnpike and take me to see Gettysburg on our annual pilgrimage to my Midwestern grandparents. Little did I know back in 1964 that I’d get a chance in my lifetime to write about America’s second War Between the States.

I don’t know what else to call it when 18 U.S. states — that’s seven more than the 11 that seceded in 1861 and formed the Confederacy — go all the way to the Supreme Court to have my votes and about 7 million others here in Pennsylvania, and those of three other states, thrown out for absurd reasons. It can only be read as, we don’t like who won.

Something has clearly gone off the rails when at least 18 people with enough smarts to get elected attorney general of an American state sign onto a lawsuit that managed to be frivolous yet also argued to end democracy as we’ve known it these last 233 years or so. Or when nearly two-thirds of the Republican members of the U.S. House trip over each other to sign on. Or when dozens of state lawmakers in Harrisburg or other capitals fall into line trying to invalidate the results in their own state.

“This party has to stand up for democracy first, for our Constitution first and not political considerations,,” a Michigan congressman, Rep. Paul Mitchell, who voted for Trump last month, said on Monday. “It’s not about a candidate. It’s not simply for raw political power and that’s what I feel is going on, and I’ve had enough.” Mitchell’s words came in a letter announcing that he’s leaving the Republican Party to serve as an independent, but what’s stunning is not that he did this — but how few other GOPers feel the same.

Not surprisingly, few if any of the 126 Republican House members who wanted the Supreme Court to ignore the fact that Joe Biden got the most popular votes and the most electoral votes and install Donald Trump as a kind of a dictator spoke up over the weekend when the right-wing Proud Boys and other pro-Trump brownshirts rampaged in downtown Washington, D.C.

And so 2020 continues to be the ultimate glass-half-empty-half-full Rorschach test when it comes to how one views the health of American democracy. The half-full crowd can certainly point to the record number of citizens who voted, despite both a pandemic and ridiculous voter suppression laws in some states, and a bevy of Republican-appointed judges and state and local GOP election officials who held firm that these votes must be counted.

Personally, I’m feeling a little half-empty these days — even a day like Monday, when Biden was able to claim his official victory in the Electoral College as another milepost on the road to ending Trump’s presidency. That development won’t convince the drunk-on-misinformation majority of the GOP electorate that Trump wasn’t cheated in some massive-yet-invisible voter fraud deal, or call off the violent mob and allow the Biden administration to fix a nation where nearly half the citizens think its president will be illegitimate.

History buffs know that the phrase “crossing the Rubicon” refers to when Julius Caesar violated a Roman order by bringing troops across that river toward the capital city for the staging of a coup (exactly the reason why they didn’t want his army inside the city). The Republican Party, with its leaders’ anti-democratic actions since November 3, has crossed the Rubicon of keeping an American Republic — believing its cause more important than majority rule.

At some point — maybe the passing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act amid an era of campus unrest, maybe the election of Barack Obama as the first Black president in 2008, or somewhere on the road in between — the Republican Party became less about electing clerks or getting pork-barrel highway projects and more about preserving a way of life. For them, Democrats weren’t merely their foil in a spirited contest but their enemy in an existential fight, that carries the moral urgency of war.

Sometimes it might seem silly to call it “a war” because in a modern media culture it plays out in such weird ways: a patronizing Wall Street Journal op-ed questioning whether to call Jill Biden a doctor, or a moral panic when Cleveland’s baseball team is no longer called the Indians. But behind those online kerfuffles, America’s conservatives feel a duty to defend a system of authority — with foundational elements of patriarchy and white supremacy — they see as under assault from a more diverse nation and growing demands to share power.

To many of the 74 million who voted for Trump, conceding the election — or the reality that 81 million supported not only a different guy but a different worldview — is an unconditional surrender they can’t abide. And Biden’s main message — delivered yet again on Monday night, about healing America and its divisions now that Trump and his vainglorious bluster will be leaving the White House — is the last thing they want to hear. Here in Pennsylvania, a Wall Street pro-business Republican like Pat Toomey is on his way out, and an anti-mask-wearing conspiracy theorist like state Sen. Doug Mastriano is on his way up.

I’m not sure how this plays out in the 2020s. I don’t think blue and gray troops are going to be massing on the border between Minnesota and South Dakota — not now, anyway — and I have no plans to order another Union Army uniform, 46 years later. I just know things look very different on this side of the Rubicon. It seems pretty clear that the core of the Republican Party won’t see Biden as a legitimate president, but then I and many others now question the legitimacy of 126 House members and those 18 states willing to toss out a free and fair election. That doesn’t feel like a democracy. It feels like something that will get worse before it gets better.


The loud jolts of 2020 — from the coronavirus and the recession, the racial reckoning and the presidential election — have all but drowned out the steady background hum of climate change, even in one of the planet’s hottest years on record. Perhaps understandably, there was less outrage than there should have been last week when the Delaware River Basin Commission, comprised of state political appointees, voted a key approval for a wharf at a new Gibbstown, N.J., facility roughly opposite Philadelphia International Airport, that will accept trainloads and truckloads of liquified natural gas, or LNG, from Pennsylvania drilling sites and ship it to other markets, including overseas. The decision would ensure more fracking in a era of worry about fossil fuels, and also mean more hazardous trains passing through Philadelphia.

Less than a week after the approval, a major energy analyst, Wood Mackenzie, issued a bombshell report predicting that the LNG market is on the brink of a massive collapse which could leave trillions of cubic meters of gas — as much as two-thirds of the world’s supply — stranded. What’s changed? While America remains stalled by climate denial, other nations — particularly in the European Union — are rapidly accelerating carbon reductions in a push to meet the ambitious goals of the Paris climate accord. And LNG, once viewed as a transitional fuel, less dirty than coal but not as clean as wind or solar, no longer fits that agenda. Again, Pennsylvania, and, in this case, its neighbors, remains dangerously behind the rest of the world on climate.

Inquirer reading list

  1. My friend and colleague on the Inquirer editorial board, Abraham Gutman, is a native Israeli who fell in love with an American woman and now his adopted hometown, Philadelphia. He always brings a fresh perspective on the issues he cares about, including the city’s drug crisis and criminal justice. When his latest immigration paperwork demanded to know if he’d even been “a habitual drunkard,” he had questions — and so should you.

  2. The dull drumbeat of daily headlines about gun violence in Philadelphia adds up to some astounding numbers, and this past weekend a team of four Inquirer journalists did the math. They found that among the staggering 8,500 recorded shootings in the city since 2015, charges have been filed at a pace of just one of five, with a conviction rate of just 9%, and they asked the hard questions about why. Understanding local problems like gun violence requires people power and time, and it won’t happen unless you support journalism where you live. Please consider subscribing to The Inquirer.