We Are Not Enemies

Here we are once again … the closer we get to November’s mid-term election, the greater the threats of violence across the nation.  When violence is incited, directly or indirectly, by people who have a larger-than-life voice, it is particularly harmful, as Dan Rather points out in his latest newsletter …

The Threat of Violence

“The rhetoric is the candidate”

By Dan Rather and Elliot Kirschner

4 October 2022

As many of you probably know, Donald Trump recently issued a threat of violence against Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, along with a racist attack on his wife, Elaine Chao, who served in Trump’s Cabinet. Of McConnell, Trump said, “He has a DEATH WISH” (emphasis Trump’s), and he referred to Chao as “Coco Chow.” 

If you had expected Republican politicians to rally in disgust around some version of “this finally crosses a line,” you would be disappointed. But I imagine few of you expected anything of the sort. 

The spinelessness of Republican officials should not excuse the fact that Trump is once again wading into very dangerous waters, especially when you consider the fervor (and the arsenals) of many of his supporters. Although “wading” is not the most accurate verb for his behavior. Trump is not a mere passerby, and he is never tentative. He is an expert at roiling, stoking, and destroying the equilibriums of our democracy with his incendiary rhetoric. 

This latest episode had me thinking back a few years to another moment that eerily forbode the present. This was well before the violent insurrection of January 6, before Trump told the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by,” even before “very fine people on both sides.”

The date was August 9, 2016, and Trump was leading a campaign rally in Wilmington, North Carolina. He had the crowd in a frenzy with his usual attack lines against Hillary Clinton. And then he went somewhere so outrageous that it sent out shockwaves — which is notable considering that by this point, much of his daily bile had already been normalized. 

“If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks,” he said. The crowd booed. Trump, sensing a moment, then added, “Although the Second Amendment people — maybe there is, I don’t know.”

The insinuation was clear, and it is worth remembering what it exposed at that moment, before Trump ascended to the presidency and everything else that followed. So I thought it might be of interest to reshare what I posted on Facebook in the hours after that statement. Sometimes it is important to look back and remember what was said at the time. 

No journalist trying to be objective and fair, no citizen who cares about the country and its future can ignore what Donald Trump said today. When he suggested that “The Second Amendment people” can stop Hillary Clinton, he crossed a line with dangerous potential. By any objective analysis, this is a new low and unprecedented in the history of American presidential politics. This is no longer about policy, civility, decency, or even temperament. This is a direct threat of violence against a political rival. It is not just against the norms of American politics, but it raises a serious question of whether it is against the law. If any other citizen had said this about a presidential candidate, would the Secret Service be investigating?

Candidate Trump will undoubtedly issue an explanation; some of his surrogates are already engaged in trying to gloss over it, but once the words are out there, they cannot be taken back. That is what inciting violence means.  

To anyone who still pretends this is a normal election of Republican against Democrat, history is watching. And I suspect its verdict will be harsh. Many have tried to do a side-shuffle and issue statements saying they strongly disagree with his rhetoric but still support the candidate. That is becoming woefully insufficient. The rhetoric is the candidate.

This cannot be treated as just another outrageous moment in the campaign. We will see whether major newscasts explain how grave and unprecedented this is and whether the headlines in tomorrow’s newspapers do it justice. We will soon know whether anyone who has publicly supported Trump explains how they can continue to do so.

We are a democratic republic governed by the rule of law. We are an honest, fair, and decent people. In trying to come to terms with today’s discouraging development, the best I can do is to summon our greatest political poet, Abraham Lincoln, for perspective:

“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

Lincoln used these stirring words to end his First Inaugural Address. It was the eve of the Civil War, and sadly his call for sanity, cohesion, and peace was met with horrific violence that almost left our precious Union asunder. We cannot, must not let that happen again.

What the Trump presidency would become was apparent long before the election. All the instances like the one above that should have immediately disqualified him from that office were ultimately folded into permissiveness by far too many people. We should strive to always remember and never become inured to this. 

Before Trump, it was unfathomable that a presidential candidate would speak and act with even a fraction of his recklessness and divisive appeal to anger and violence. But now, sadly, we are long past having the ability to imagine this atrociousness. We can see the corrosive effects he and his enablers have wrought on this country.

Threats of violence must be condemned, in no small part because threats can become real. Just look at January 6.

Is The Teflon Wearing Out?

Even Teflon eventually gets old, wears out, and is no longer able to keep things from sticking.  The former guy has long been referred to as “Teflon Don” because he has lied, cheated, and stolen for the entirety of his adult life, yet has never had to pay a price.  In 2016 when he said, “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters,” most of us scoffed and took it as just more of his hyperbole.  Since then, however, he has committed numerous crimes and treacheries against the nation, against We the People, and the Republicans continue to cheer and support him.  It seemed for a while that he was right, that he was somehow able to escape unscathed where the rest of us would be in prison, probably for life!  But this week, the tides seem to be turning.  Dan and Elliot sum it up rather nicely …

Trump Had a Day

And it might get worse

Dan Rather and Elliot Kirschner

21 September 2022

NY Attorney General Letitia James announcing that her office is suing former President Donald Trump and three of his children. (Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

Well, well, well. Let’s just say that Donald Trump has had better days.

This could be one of his worst, but there may be far worse ones coming down the line if today turns out to be a preface and not a denouement.

This morning started off bad enough.

New York Attorney General Letitia James made it known that she was going to issue a “major announcement.” And she did not disappoint. The lawsuit she filed in state court is in essence a guided missile aimed right at the heart of the Trump family business. Calling the level of fraud she uncovered “staggering,” James outlined a list of facts that could have been a plotline in The Sopranos.

And it isn’t just the patriarch in her legal crosshairs. The three children who have been foisted upon the American public — Don Jr., Eric, and Ivanka — also earned starring roles in the court papers.

While this is a civil suit, that’s because James is limited from bringing criminal charges. She did refer her findings to federal prosecutors in Manhattan, but if they choose to press forward, they will likely have to get in line.

That’s because as rough as this morning’s news cycle was for Trump, more pain was in the offing.

This evening, the 11th Circuit ruled on the outrage that has been festering over the investigation into the classified documents the former president took (for still unknown reasons, at least publicly) to Mar-a-Lago.

If Trump was hoping that Trump judges at the appellate level would fall in line like Judge Cannon (the district judge who’s done legal backflips well beyond the bounds of precedent or prudence to accommodate Trump), he was sorely mistaken. Two Trump judges sided with an Obama appointee to issue a stinging rebuke of the lower court’s ruling — a ruling that most judicial experts had felt was about as serious as an episode of Laugh In.

I will leave it to legal scholars to parse the specifics of the lawsuits and rulings, but some big things are clear. One, Trump is in trouble. Big trouble. And not the kind of trouble that he can squirm his way out of by bloviating to Sean Hannity or browbeating Mitch McConnell. He’s on the defensive, and pressure is closing in from all directions.

The timing of these quickening drumbeats of scrutiny overlap with the final stretch of the midterm elections — into which Trump has vociferously inserted himself according to the only metric he knows: what benefits him. November thus is shaping up to be a referendum on Trumpism, to the dismay of many Republican officials. But those same Republicans have made a decision en masse to embrace Trump, at least publicly. From a cynical political calculus one can understand why. The Republican base is the Trump base, or maybe it’s more accurate to put that the other way around.

It is also clear that the core of this base is not enough to power Republicans to majorities in Congress. And yet, if the base stays home, Republicans also will lose.

With so much at stake, the unknowns hanging over Trump and his legal jeopardy are very consequential. How bad might this get for Trump and those who have fastened themselves to him? Will more be revealed? Will any Republicans decide that they need to separate themselves from Trump? Will that lead to disarray within the party as election day approaches? All of this is possible. But it is also possible that Trump skates by once again, at least for now. It is possible that Republicans take back Congress, and they frame their victory as a validation of Trumpism, nevermind what it means for the health and security of the country.

Right now it looks like a close election, but tides can shift, sometimes drastically. Support can crumble. What once looked like strength can be recast as weakness. Just ask one of the few people having a rougher go of it of late than Trump — Vladimir Putin.

Oh, and in other late-breaking news, the January 6th committee has come to an agreement to interview Clarence Thomas’s wife Ginni Thomas. Can’t forget about that investigation.

One imagines all is not quiet tonight in Mar-a-Lago.

Two Bastards Sitting in Governor’s Mansions

Governors Abbot (Texas) and DeSantis (Florida) are playing a game of Russian roulette with the lives of people – families with children.  And why?  Because there are 52 days left until the mid-term elections and they are both up for re-election.  Because both are Republican incumbents who don’t have a whole heck of a lot going for them right now and who are up against strong Democratic opponents.  So, they respond by playing a deadly game with the lives of people who trusted in the goodness of this nation enough to come here in hopes of a better life for their children.  Dan Rather and I are in complete agreement on this …

A Shameful Stunt

Dan Rather and Elliot Kirschner

16 September 2022

A bus carrying migrants who crossed the border from Mexico into Texas arrives in New York City. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

It is easy to demonize the “other” — the one who looks different, speaks differently, or comes from somewhere else. Especially during periods of deep social, political, and economic anxiety, pounding one’s chest about “us” and “them” and using fear as a rallying cry can whip populations into a fervor.

It is clear that Republicans, facing tremendous blowback in the face of the Supreme Court’s abortion ruling, falling gas prices, the specter of Donald Trump, and the backlash he provokes for many voters, have settled on immigration as a motivator to turn out their base in the upcoming midterm elections.

The stunts by Republican politicians — specifically Texas Governor Greg Abbott and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis — of busing and flying migrants and asylum seekers to places like Washington, D.C. (including outside of the vice president’s residence), New York City, and now Martha’s Vineyard have all the toxic energy of a fraternity prank. This is deadly serious.

And it may be effective politically. It has been the case many times before, both in this country and abroad. History is replete with political power built on vilifying foreigners and immigration. As much as they might not like to admit it, Democrats may worry about their vulnerability on this issue, especially in close elections. Fear can be a motivator to get people to the polls.

The public rationale for what Republicans are doing can’t be only to “own the libs,” although that desire is clearly behind the glee with which the governors and their supporters justify their actions. They say they are pointing out rampant hypocrisy, that blue states should have to carry the burden of immigration. The truth is, of course, that blue states, and cities in particular, are full of immigrants, documented and undocumented. And many of these immigrants are thriving members of local communities. Furthermore, blue state tax revenue is a major source of federal government funds, which are then distributed across the nation, including to red states and in support of immigration infrastructure.

You could imagine a reason it would make sense for migrants and asylum seekers to travel from the border to other parts of the country. But a good faith effort would include planning and resources. It would include giving people full and accurate information about where they would be going and some choice in their fate. These current stunts are nothing of this sort. They are driven by cruelty and lies. They are certainly not for the benefit of the immigrant or even the immigration system. They are about scoring political points on the backs of others. Can you imagine being put on a bus or a plane with your children — or even being a child yourself — and arriving at some street corner, maybe late at night, with no idea where you were or what would come next?

Immigration is a complicated issue. It always has been. It stirs emotions deep and powerful.

The movement of people across oceans, over lines on maps, and within nations is a fraught endeavor. It is often driven by desperation, coercion, bondage, and hope. Those in transit tend to be vulnerable for exploitation.

One of the hallmarks of the human species is that we are incredibly mobile. From our origins (probably in Africa, say scientists) we spread out to almost every imaginable corner of the Earth — from the arctic tundra to equatorial rainforests, from the tops of mountains to remote islands. We invented all manner of conveyances to carry us over open seas, across continents, and even through the air. Horizons beckon us to go beyond them.

Humans, however, are also territorial. We have claimed time and time again, around the world, and throughout history, that this land is “ours.” We have divided the globe into discrete states. We have created borders, sometimes hundreds or thousands of miles long, that delineate divisions over who has the right to live on either side. Sometimes these boundaries follow geographic reasoning — rivers or mountains. Sometimes they are literally just random lines on the map.

For all this human movement, however, we are also a species with a strong sense of home. We group ourselves in regions where we share language, culture, family, and friends. Some of us may be inveterate wanderers, but many would rather stay close to where we are most familiar and comfortable.

But that changes when violence threatens us, when living conditions prove inhospitable, when our prospects for earning a livelihood and providing for our family are hopeless, when our freedoms are trampled. Then a primal survival mode kicks in. We would do anything to protect ourselves and our families. We would put our own health and security at risk in search of a better life. It was this very instinct that over the course of many centuries brought waves of immigrants to the United States.

America, it is often said, is a land of immigrants. Most of us here had ancestors who attempted a similar journey to that of those now being used as pawns in political showmanship. Back in our family tree, someone made the decision that they needed to leave somewhere else and come here. For some of us, that decision was decades or centuries in the past. For some it was recent. Many in this country now are immigrants themselves.

There are also those among us whose ancestors didn’t choose to leave. They were ripped from their homes by force — chained, beaten, and raped — and taken to a new land where they were separated from their families and forced to live in bondage. Others still are the descendants of the original inhabitants of the Americas, whose lands were taken by new immigrants. Many of these Native peoples perished from the diseases brought by white settlers. Those who didn’t were forced from their homes and pushed into far less hospitable lands.

Of course, you won’t hear any of this context from those sneering now with xenophobic fear-mongering. There is no nuance in the MAGA slogan. Heck, they want to ban the teaching of this very history in schools. The truth isn’t comfortable, and it challenges their divisive narratives.

For as long as America remains a beacon for those seeking a better life, we will have to find ways of creating a fair, equitable, safe, and humane system for immigration. What can be done? Recognize the incredible advantages immigrants have brought to this nation. Be driven by empathy. And keep our nation protected. We should not expect these balances to be easy. And that is all the more reason to debate the issue with seriousness instead of scapegoating, with a commitment to our noblest values rather than an appeal to our basest instincts.

We would do well to remember those stirring lines from the Emma Lazarus poem “The New Colossus” that adorn the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor:

“Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

We are talking about people here. Our fellow human beings. And there but for the grace of God go I.

9/11 — Twenty-One Years Ago

“We will never forget” means something.  There are things in our collective history that we will remember until our dying breath.  For me, 9/11 is the most dominant of those things that I will never forget.  I remember exactly where I was standing when my co-worker Rose hollered from about 10 feet away and said, “Hey Jill … they say a plane just crashed into the World Trade Center!”  I remember the vivid images we would all see throughout that day and the next and the next.  It would be years before the tears would stop, and even today they sometimes come unbidden when I see an image or read something about that day.  It is shocking to think that the children born on that day are now full-grown adults with jobs, college degrees, and perhaps families of their own.  To me, it still seems like just a little bit ago.

I have written almost every year about that day and the circumstances surrounding it, have written about my own feelings, about what we as a nation should have taken away from what happened.  I think the memories are fading for many, being replaced by the more immediate social and political divides that dominate our news feeds, our lives.  I didn’t want to repeat the words I’ve said nearly every year, but neither could I simply ignore this, the 21st anniversary of the attacks on the United States by terrorists that changed the face of the nation.  Fortuitously, my inbox yesterday included a tribute by Dan Rather that I found moving and reflective of my own thoughts on this day.


21 years later

Dan Rather and Elliot Kirschner

10 September 2022


21 years.

We tend to mark major anniversaries. But why should this year be less important?

It isn’t.

                   And yet I wonder: Is this still a day that stops us in our tracks?

We will never forget where we were when we heard, when we saw, when we cried.

But so much has passed between then and now.

9/11 changed our nation forever.

        But so too have events that followed.

               History marches in only one direction — forward — in lockstep with our lives.

Still, I am drawn back. I know that it will be so for as long as I am here.

That bright, sunny morning — a postcard of a New York day that turned hopelessly dark.

I smell the smoke.

      I hear the screams.

            I see the faces of the perpetually missing in walls of photographs.

                  I touch the void.

I think of the mistakes that preceded 9/11.

                                                                     And the mistakes that followed.

I think of our national goodwill

        and how it was squandered.

               I wonder at a unity

                     that has dissipated to acrimony.

I mourn for those who died that day.

      And those who perished in the wars that followed.

            One of which was a misguided war of choice. The folly of Iraq still haunts us.

What if?

      What if?

            What if?

                  The questions accumulate. We ask despite knowing there are no answers.

Fate can be cruel. And on that day the cruelty left us all altered.

I think especially of those who lost friends and loved ones.

      The personal emptiness they have had to face is greater than our collective grief.

            Let us never forget that.

For the rest of us, we lost a sense of invulnerability.

      How could our mighty nation be thus attacked?

Today the vulnerability of terrorism remains.

But it is crowded with a long list of others.

Our country is precarious.

      We feel exposed.

            At risk.

And it is not only for us as individuals.

      Our national freedoms,

            Our constitutional rights,

                  Our public health,

                        and the very mechanisms of democratic governance are under threat.

                             We yearn for stability

                                   knowing it will be ever elusive.

But strength and resilience are possible.

    We saw that then.

          And we can see it now.

For those of us who were lucky enough to emerge from the tragedy, steady we must be.




To carry on the memory of those who perished

                                                             into the challenges ahead.

Yet Another Weighs In

Between my own brief snippet, and the words of Charles Blow, I thought I had pretty much said all that needed to be said about President Biden’s speech last Thursday and the predictable backlash to it.  But then, I came across Dan Rather’s response and he made some additional points that I think have enough merit to be shared.

MAGA Meltdown

The aftermath of President Biden’s speech on American democracy

Dan Rather and Elliot Kirschner

03 September 2022

It is all so predictable, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t shocking.

    Bad faith stampedes across American democracy.

    Hypocrisy oozes and drips over our national discourse.

    False equivalence muddies the stark choices we face.

President Joe Biden had to know that when he gave a speech on Thursday bluntly and unambiguously delineating an undeniable truth (that Donald Trump and his legions of MAGA Republicans pose an existential threat to the governance of the United States) that the response would be fury, lies, and a convenient amnesia — indeed, outright gaslighting, over everything we have witnessed in American politics over the past six years.

It serves no purpose to list with specificity the talking points that Republican elected officials and their amplifiers in right-wing media have trotted out in the two days since. They can be categorized generally as: How dare he? How dare he say we are against democracy? How dare he use such tough language? How dare he single us out?

Biden’s response to that is the very rationale for the speech: How could I not?

    Complacency in the face of what we are confronting is not an option.

    Mincing words to appease a contorted view of “balance” and “fairness” when the other side long ago abandoned any pretense of those values means obscuring the truth.

    To not name the threat with crystal clarity — as Biden said, “you can’t love your country only when you win” — is to risk losing the country and what it represents completely.

    To remain silent is to jeopardize who the vast majority of Americans believe we are as a people and whom we aspire to become.

To see Republicans who support Trump complain about the language President Biden used to characterize them and their actions is laughable. Pick a Trump rally at random and just press play. The invective, the “othering” of anyone who thinks differently from the chanting red hat crowd, the lies about elections and their results, the winks and nods at violence, and so many other outrages are standard fare. They are indeed why his minions wait hours and drive thousands of miles to attend. They bask in the insults and bathe in the direct and personal attacks on their political enemies.

The meltdown from Republican elected officials should be considered in light of the upcoming midterm elections. These feckless politicians are witnessing their poll numbers go down and President Biden’s go up. Democratic candidates have overperformed in special elections. This fall was supposed to host a “Red Wave,” but it may be more of a ripple, or the tide could even turn “Blue.” Republicans may yet win, but they are on the defensive now.

On Thursday, they saw a president they had long tried to dismiss as old, low energy, even senile issue a blistering condemnation of Trump the demagogue and the movement he unleashed — and to which most of these Republican politicians have sworn complete fealty. You get a sense that deep down, they know Biden is right about what MAGA means for American democracy, but they are either too cowardly or calculating to care.

So they lash out and call the speech “political.” They are right. It was political. Because it had to be. It was Trump and his followers who turned American democracy into a political question. It is Republicans in races across the country who have made election lies the central rationale for their campaigns. That means our democracy is literally on the ballot. Its future, our future, as a nation of laws where the government is accountable to the will of the majority, will be decided by politics.

But President Biden was careful to differentiate between MAGA Republicans and the entirety of Republican voters and elected officials.

“Now, I want to be very clear, very clear up front. Not every Republican, not even the majority of Republicans, are MAGA Republicans. Not every Republican embraces their extreme ideology. I know, because I’ve been able to work with these mainstream Republicans. But there’s no question that the Republican Party today is dominated, driven and intimidated by Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans. And that is a threat to this country.”

Biden is betting that there are many Republicans who do not like Trump or his assault on democracy. Even a small shift of these voters away from Trump-backed candidates could have profound electoral consequences. Contrary to what many Republican politicians and Fox News talking heads are saying, Biden didn’t attack half the country. The true zealots are a much smaller cohort, albeit one bent on dominating the governance of the rest of us. The fact that so many people heard Biden talk about MAGA Republicans and thought, “Hey, he’s talking about me,” is telling.

There has also been a lot of discussion in the wake of Biden’s speech about the press coverage. Much of the criticism has centered on whether in framing his remarks, too many reporters and especially pundits of various backgrounds descended into that dangerous quagmire of false equivalence and whataboutism. To be sure, there was some of that. There was also too much handwringing over whether the speech was “political” without enough explanation of why it had to be. It is difficult for many, inside and outside the press, to wrap their heads around how dangerous the threats Trump and those who have picked up his mantle are to this country.

Biden wanted to be clear that he sees this moment as one of the great junctures in American history. Which road will we take? At this historic turning point, there are only two directions. There is no middle ground, no way to muddle through.

The presidency, as we know, comes with a bully pulpit and the power to frame the discourse of the nation. Biden laid down a marker that will shape how Americans, including those in the press, see this moment. Where we end up going will depend on whether those who believe he is right — and we know that includes a wide swath of the American public, including many conservatives — refuse to be quiet and are mobilized to vote.

Heated discussion over what President Biden said will carry forward now. With the American public as judge and jury, a verdict comes in November.

Al Gore Was So Much More …

Dan Rather’s newsletter on Tuesday strikes a chord in many, many ways.  First, what he says about the physical environment is spot on, but then he turns his thoughts to the political/social environment where he is again spot on.  But the highlight of his piece is Al Gore’s acceptance speech at the end of a long and contentious presidential election in 2000.  If you do nothing else, please listen to this speech and consider it in context to today’s politics.  Quite honestly, I never paid a lot of attention to Al Gore back in the day, but this man had it all:  intelligence, charisma, and class of a sort we do not see today.  We need more politicians like Al Gore today!

Remember Al Gore?

2000 vs. 2020 (and 2022)

Dan Rather and Elliot Kirschner

30 August 2022

A few trendlines have collided recently that got me thinking of a former vice president, Al Gore. Remember him?

For one, there is the existential threat of our climate crisis. It’s been 16 years since Gore’s Academy Award-winning documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” debuted. During that time, the truth he warned about — our planet’s spiral toward a new climate reality, fueled by human activity and significantly less hospitable to human existence — has become only more inconvenient, urgent, and dire.

Drought in the western U.S. Severe heat waves across Europe. Unusually heavy flooding in Kentucky and elsewhere. Scientists say these kinds of dramatic weather patterns will become more frequent as climate change progresses. We hear about 100-year storms or even 1,000-year floods, terms that are meant to indicate rarity. But it is increasingly clear such events are no longer anomalous. A horrific tragedy is currently playing out in Pakistan, where immense flooding is causing widespread destruction and mass death.

The warming climate, as Gore warned us, will result in greater hardship and instability. It is a cruel injustice that the countries that contributed the least to greenhouse gas proliferation tend to be the poorest and will suffer the most.

On a more optimistic note, the recent climate bill passed by Congress represents exactly the kind of concrete action for which Gore has long advocated. Start somewhere. In the case of this legislation, that “somewhere” is quite significant, according to climate experts. Once you’ve started, keep going. Change the direction. Chart a new path forward toward carbon neutrality.

The climate is a grave and unending concern. It should dictate our policy choices and define our national security. Gore saw this clearly. His warnings will cry out from the history books to future generations. “Why were they not heeded?” they will ask in disbelief.

But it wasn’t only the climate that has had me thinking of Gore. There is also the matter of the clear and present dangers our institutions and democratic order are facing.

Donald Trump is still at it about the 2020 election (here in August 2022). He just issued a statement saying he was the “rightful winner” and at a minimum, someone (not exactly sure who) should “declare the 2020 Election irreparably compromised and have a new Election, immediately!”

Of course the former president is now under a serious investigation into his retention of highly classified documents (and what he might have done with them). One would have hoped that this grave matter would have Republican elected officials waiting at least to hear about findings before escalating divisive partisanship. But there was Trump’s one-time critic and current sycophant Senator Lindsay Graham, alluding to violence. “If there is a prosecution of Donald Trump for mishandling classified information after the Clinton debacle, there will be riots in the streets,” he said. This is completely irresponsible and dangerous.

Against this backdrop, let us remember Al Gore and the 2000 presidential election. Gore won the popular vote, but of course that’s not how we choose our presidents. As for the Electoral College, it all came down to Florida, as anyone of memory age at the time certainly recalls. There was a lot of weirdness in that state — “butterfly ballots” and “hanging chads.” To make a long and sordid story short, ultimately the U.S. Supreme Court intervened. A majority of justices, all appointed by Republicans, stopped the vote count and effectively handed the election to George W. Bush.

It is hard to overstate how big an inflection point that was in American history. Unlike in 2020, when Trump lost decisively, Gore had legitimate claims. And also unlike 2020 (through today) when Trump is eager to blow up American democracy and even spark violence with his lies and refusal to act responsibly, Gore chose a path of reconciliation. His concession speech is one that should be studied for its graciousness and straightforward eloquence.

I have pulled some excerpts to provide examples of Gore’s words. Recognize how difficult they must have been for a man who had long harbored dreams of the presidency — and knew he might very well have earned it.

Gore addressed the finality of the rule of law:

    “Now the U.S. Supreme Court has spoken. Let there be no doubt, while I strongly disagree with the court’s decision, I accept it. I accept the finality of this outcome, which will be ratified next Monday in the Electoral College. And tonight, for the sake of our unity of the people and the strength of our democracy, I offer my concession.”

He called for common ground:

    “This has been an extraordinary election. But in one of God’s unforeseen paths, this belatedly broken impasse can point us all to a new common ground, for its very closeness can serve to remind us that we are one people with a shared history and a shared destiny.”

He argued for country over party:

    “I know that many of my supporters are disappointed. I am, too. But our disappointment must be overcome by our love of country…While we yet hold and do not yield our opposing beliefs, there is a higher duty than the one we owe to political party. This is America, and we put country before party. We will stand together behind our new president.”

He ended with a recognition that our country must be bigger than our politics and any single individual:

    “Now the political struggle is over and we turn again to the unending struggle for the common good of all Americans and for those multitudes around the world who look to us for leadership in the cause of freedom.

    In the words of our great hymn, ‘America, America’: ‘Let us crown thy good with brotherhood, from sea to shining sea.’

    And now, my friends, in a phrase I once addressed to others, it’s time for me to go.”

Contrast this humility with the last president, who will never relinquish the spotlight. Contrast the passionate pleas for unity with January 6. Contrast Gore’s appeal to the sanctity of our institutions with the election lies sweeping Republican politics. Contrast how he led in a moment of potential crisis with the enablers and toadies who appease Trump’s destructive behavior. Contrast the appeal to reason with Sen. Graham’s wink at violence. Contrast how he tried to tamp down passion with those who use their perches in right-wing media to spew divisive hatred.

The Republicans rail against their political rivals for being out of control, violent, subverters of democracy. It is, in poker terms, the ultimate tell. What they complain the loudest about is often what they themselves are pushing. I have said it before: There are so many projectionists among the GOP that they might as well open a chain of movie theaters.

Looking back at what lawyers call the “fact pattern” of the 2000 election, we can see one that had all the hallmarks of bringing American democracy to its brink. But at that moment, Al Gore made the determination that to wreck our constitutional order by undermining the results of a very flawed process was not what leadership demanded.

He stood there, surely believing in his mind that he should have been president. He knew that a majority of American voters had agreed. Imagining “what could have been” must have been intensely difficult. Looking back at what happened in the presidency of George W. Bush, we can see how fateful that election was. But Al Gore knew that to preserve our constitutional system, there really was no other option. He accepted his fate, and so did his party.

As Trump still rages after an election that was not nearly as close, after he lost in the courts, after he spurred a violent insurrection, Gore’s example is all the more striking. The Republican officials who are playing along with this attack on American democracy are old enough to remember 2000. And they’re old enough to know better.