Leonard Pitts

A few words on the silence.

As you doubtless recall, many of us regarded last week’s midterm election with existential dread. The path from there to the end of American democracy seemed all too easy to chart, what with election deniers campaigning for offices that would have put them in charge of voting and ballot counting in battleground states.

If you give the fox control of the hen house, you ought not expect eggs for breakfast in the morning. Similarly, if you give Donald Trump loyalists control of future elections, you ought not expect future elections. Not in any meaningful sense, at least. Yet there we were, last week, in danger of doing exactly that.

But the people said No.

Mind you, they sent over 150 election deniers to Congress, which is its own separate and troubling development. But as for giving direct power over elections to people who don’t believe in elections, voters in key states repeatedly refused. They said No to Doug Mastriano, who sought to be governor of Pennsylvania. They said no to Kari Lake, who ran for the same office in Arizona. They said no to election deniers who sought to be secretaries of state in Minnesota, Michigan, Nevada and Arizona, among others.

The fear had been that election deniers would not take No for an answer, that this assemblage of the unhinged who claimed the 2020 election was “rigged” would refuse to accept their own defeats, instead issuing baseless claims of cheating and conspiracy. Which would only further destabilize a nation that is, at this point, about as solid as a Jenga tower on the San Andreas Fault.

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But instead there has been … silence. By and large, election deniers have not denied their own defeats. One struggles to know how to feel about that.

On the one hand, there is great relief that they are not poking at the tottering Jenga tower of American democracy. On the other hand, the failure to do so suggests these people never believed their own hogwash. It’s a clarifying realization.

As the 45th president spawned his cult of imitators, each determined to be Trumpier — which is to say, more mendacious, more bizarre, more reckless — than the last, the rest of us were left to wonder whether this was mass insanity or cynical calculation. Well, if these people really believed the nonsense they’ve spewed, wouldn’t losing now inspire them to double down on the crazy? Wouldn’t it prove by their self-serving “logic” that they are victims of byzantine liberal schemes?

Instead of making that claim, though, they have largely chosen to quietly accept defeat — just like sane people would. Again, one is glad to see it. Paradoxically, one is also infuriated. Because it strongly suggests all that garbage about stolen elections and finding the “truth” was never more than a way of rousing the rabble in a calculated pursuit of power.

It’s not quite a surprise, but it is a disappointment. For that power, these people were willing to risk the nation, to stoke its tribalism, feed its anger, widen its cultural canyons. They have left this democracy more rickety, our ties to our foundational ideals more tattered, than they’ve been in generations. That would be easier — not “easy” but easier — to take if they really were true believers.

Instead, election denial having proven itself a losing strategy, these deniers abruptly decide to impersonate adults. Suddenly, they have nothing to say. Suddenly, they fall silent. Maybe we should thank them for small favors.

Election denial is not yet done. The Jenga tower yet teeters.

But that silence is a very pleasant sound.

Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for the Miami Herald. Readers may email him at [email protected].


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