Opinion: The 2024 election is not an existential threat to democracy
Abraham Lincoln promised, ‘no administration, by any extreme of wickedness or folly, can very seriously injure the government in the short space of four years’
During a speech near the fabled Revolutionary encampment at Valley Forge, President Joe Biden drew a parallel between the embattled Continental army — exhausted but not defeated patriots placing their lives and fortunes on the altar of liberty — and today’s embittered political landscape. This November, he said, “Democracy is on the ballot. Your freedom is on the ballot.” Two weeks later at a rally in New Hampshire, former President Donald Trump declared that “Joe Biden is a threat to democracy.”
Pundits and politicians across the ideological spectrum have warned that the 2024 election could be our last; our country is facing an existential crisis and may not survive long past November.
They are all wrong.
No matter who wins the White House this year, 2024 will not be our nation’s last election. Democracy will not die if the Republican wins. The republic will survive if the Democrat wins.
In his first inaugural address, Abraham Lincoln acknowledged that his election as president had given seven states in the Deep South a “pretext” to rebel. To the so-called border states that might be persuaded to remain in the Union, Lincoln offered reassurance. Presidents come and go, but the country and its government belong to the American people. So long as “the people retain their virtue and vigilance,” Lincoln promised, “no administration, by any extreme of wickedness or folly, can very seriously injure the government in the short space of four years.”
It’s true that presidents can have a lasting impact for good or bad on the country. I’m not suggesting that the 2024 presidential election doesn’t matter. It does. But the arc of American history spans eras much wider than a presidential term. Our nation has endured civil and world wars, economic and natural disasters, internal and external attacks, and strident division. Yet despite the perils and missteps along the way, We the People are still marching, however imperfectly, toward the horizon of our more perfect union. No setback or roadblock or election loss will stop us.
The key to our forward momentum was taught by Lincoln over and over: virtue. A virtuous people are those who not only believe in the fundamental principles set forth in our founding documents, but also believe it is their duty to secure those rights for others and preserve them for future generations. A virtuous people see the humanity in one another, even when they disagree. A virtuous people believe, like Lincoln, that ballots are better than bullets, and “what they cannot take by an election, neither can they take it by a war.”
Recent reports have confirmed the disturbing trend of political violence and threats since the 2020 election. Not only have actual threats to elected officials dramatically increased, but so too has the general acceptance of and support for political violence among the right and left. This should alarm every rational American.
It is said that politicians mirror the people, but it is also true that the people reflect what they see in their politicians. Since we mirror one another, we each bear some responsibility for the beauty and ugliness in our nation. As November approaches, be aware of politicians who use the tactics of fear and division to mobilize support. Reject the poison of conflict entrepreneurs who weaponize victimhood to exploit the worst qualities of our human nature. Resolve today to honor the outcome of the election, whatever it may be.
Regardless of who occupies the White House, we, the American people, must open our hearts to “the better angels of our nature” and individually commit to embody Lincoln’s ideas of virtue; treating others with charity, not malice, accepting the results of free and fair elections, winning with grace, losing with dignity and understanding that neither victory nor defeat is permanent — there is always another election around the corner.
Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson is the ninth lieutenant governor of the state of Utah.