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Column: The voters will choose democracy over fear

  • Contributor Wayne Gersen in West Lebanon, N.H., on April 12, 2019. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

For the Valley News
Published: 10/24/2020 10:20:11 PM
Modified: 10/24/2020 10:20:09 PM

The national news has offered us many chilling scenes over the past several years, and particularly in the past few months.

We’ve witnessed shootings and killings by police, fights between police and protesters, and fights between protesters and counterprotesters. We watched federal agents in full military regalia throw protesters into unmarked vans and take them to jails. We’ve see citizen militias standing in several state capitols brandishing automatic weapons to protest lockdowns and mask mandates. We watched as a 17-year-old strode down the streets of Kenosha, Wis., with an assault rifle headed for a series of skirmishes where he ended up killing two protesters. We’ve seen mug shots of militiamen who plotted the kidnapping, trial and possible execution of Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. We’ve heard rumors of armed protesters interfering with voting and possibly banding together to protest the election results if the candidate of their choice doesn’t win.

Distressingly, but predictably, we’ve listened to our president defend the actions of the people protesting on his behalf. In early April, he encouraged anti-mask protesters to “LIBERATE” those states where Democratic governors had imposed COVID-19 mandates — while overlooking similar restrictions imposed by Republican governors in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Ohio and Vermont. He supported the teenager who killed protesters and stood by silently when his supporters in Michigan chanted to “lock up” Whitmer. And, in his first debate on national television, the president encouraged a white nationalist group to “stand back and stand by” as the election nears.

As a result, many voters are concerned about access to polls and fearful of the consequences should Donald Trump refuse to step down if Joe Biden wins the election, especially if the vote is close or contested in some states. They are fearful that these armed paramilitary groups will rise up in order to keep the president in office. I am not fearful about this for two reasons: There is no broad-based support for an overthrow of the government; and there is wide support for adhering to and defending the rule of law.

The loosely organized paramilitary groups that are making threats are hardly the “well regulated militias” the founders envisioned when they wrote the Second Amendment. Nor are they the militiamen our communities supported at the time the Constitution was written. In Hanover Center, a plaque on the Parade Ground notes that from the late 1700s through the mid-1800s there was an annual muster there, and “all able bodied men were required to present themselves, armed and equipped for duty.” In the morning, these citizen-soldiers would hold “military exercises,” followed by “food and entertainment” in the afternoon.

These citizen-soldiers are a far cry from today’s secretive, extremist paramilitary groups, which revel in conspiracy theories, hatch plots, launch offenses in private Facebook rooms and seek to undercut government at all levels. It is hard to imagine these organizations conducting “military exercises” on town greens across the country. It is harder still to imagine these groups being offered “food and entertainment” by community members in those towns.

A vast majority of voters disdain groups like these, which promote white nationalism and the kidnapping of elected officials. They are repelled by groups that seek to intimidate citizens by arming themselves like SWAT teams. Voters might think their taxes are too high, that the government is not responsive to their needs, that there is too much corruption in politics, that too many of their fellow citizens are getting “too much free stuff” or “too many tax breaks” or the system is rigged. But most voters understand that living in a community, state or nation where armed militias hold sway will not improve their quality of life.

We Americans value the rule of law, the “unwritten universal principles of fairness, morality and justice that transcend human legal systems” and we realize that our quality of life depends on those unwritten principles. And, contrary to what our president asserts, the great majority of our citizens — even those who are members of the Democratic Party, respect and support those who ensure that we are governed by the rule of law: the state and local police and the military. We Americans prefer a democratically overseen law enforcement apparatus over the ruthless vigilantism of paramilitaries. Moreover, there is no evidence of widespread support in local or state police forces or among the highly disciplined members of our armed forces for interference in their jobs by untrained paramilitary groups.

Our country is engaged in a contentious election. Our president has set us against each other. He has willfully diminished the effectiveness of the government he was elected to lead by eliminating necessary regulations and cutting the staff to needed to enforce those regulations that remain in place. He has undercut his supporters’ confidence in the media and science and heckled those who hold views that differ from his. But through it all, I believe the voters seek the rule of law over all else. In doing so, they will choose democracy over authoritarianism, harmony over anger, and hope over fear.

Wayne Gersen lives in Etna.

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