Last week’s turn of events shellshocked the nation.

In the wake of a shameful storming of the U.S. Capitol building by an angry mob following a fiery speech to tens of thousands of supporters on the Mall last Wednesday, President Trump may have unwittingly delivered his “last hurrah.” Any sympathy harbored by some who’ve been watching this Greek tragedy unfold since he and Melania came down the Trump Tower escalator nearly five years ago, melted away.

Here’s just one prediction of what was to come: “In the classical tragic sense, Trump likely will end in one of two fashions, both not particularly good: either spectacular but unacknowledged accomplishments followed by ostracism … or, less likely, a single term due to the eventual embarrassment of his beneficiaries.” (From “The Case for Trump” by Victor Davis Hanson, classicist & military historian, March 2019)

Note that this quote was published as the U.S. economy and employment were still heating up – nearly a year before the pandemic brought this country and the rest of the world to its knees. So the “less likely” outcome became the actual one.

Even though anti-Trump/anti-law and order protesters routinely spawned mob-spreading riots, anarchy, arson, vandalism and violence throughout major cities last summer and into the fall, last week’s angry attack on the Capitol by Trump supporters summarily neutralized all those previous criminal acts.

What was the spark that caused the fire in this instance? The belief that there was widespread corruption and fraud in the general election, enough to “steal” the election from Trump. To these folks, the courts and political power brokers have subverted the will of the people and left them disenfranchised.

Whether true or not, a recent Rasmussen Reports national telephone and online survey revealed that 47% say it’s likely that Democrats stole voters or destroyed pro-Trump ballots in several states to ensure that Joe Biden would win. Forty-nine percent consider that unlikely. Sadly, without clear evidence either way, perception is reality.

So there you have it. Roughly half those surveyed believe that there’s ample evidence to prove enough fraud to throw the election, and the other half believe that there’s zero evidence to prove such fraud. No gray area here. Just black and white. And what do these opposing sides base their opinions on? Well, now, that depends on whose experts, election officials, lawyers or media pundits you use for fact-checking. There are plenty of unimpeachable resources on either side to pick and choose from – all with their own agendas.

Here’s the problem: Both sides are absolutely convinced that they have the ball after a fumble on the field, but in this instance, there’s no referee to make the call.

Our government is a Constitutional Democratic Republic. In other words, we elect officials who can represent our interests to a legislative body, but only pass laws within the bounds of the Constitution. If the process of electing our representatives is held in question, then the very foundation of our government is at risk. It’s like missing a leg on a four-legged chair. Remember, perception is reality. Unless we find a way to assure those in the 47% camp that our election process is fair, we run the risk of a total meltdown of the whole Democratic Republic system.

How do we do that? The judicial system is reactive. Specific grievances must work their way through the courts before a narrow decision might be made on a single issue. The legislative and executive branches provide poor solutions as well in this polarized situation, because they are politically motivated and driven to make decisions solely in their own best interest and not necessarily with all sides concerned.

It seems that the only way we can come to an unbiased consensus on voter ID integrity is through the appointment of a nonpartisan voter integrity task force. In 2005, President Jimmy Carter and James Baker, the Secretary of State in the George H.W. Bush administration, co-chaired a bipartisan Commission on Federal Election Reform. Among the 87 steps recommended, they concluded that “absentee ballots remain the largest source of potential voter fraud.” This, along with mail-in ballots, was a concern in Georgia this year, as no photo ID was required.

Both the governor and secretary of state have called for reforming absentee ballot laws in the future that would require these voters to submit photo IDs, along with their ballots. But not all states want election reform. If anything, they want to lower the bar. This past spring, the governor of Virginia signed a bill that repealed the state’s voter ID laws, saying, “Voting is a fundamental right, and these new laws strengthen our democracy by making it easier to cast a ballot, not harder.”

Nevertheless, the Carter/Baker commission recommended that voters should identify themselves before voting (there are still 16 states and D.C. that can cast their votes on Election Day without showing an ID document), arguing that if voters identify themselves before voting, election fraud will be reduced. Opponents fear that voter ID is a form of voter suppression, “Especially for the poor, members of minority groups and the elderly, who are less likely than any other voters to have suitable identification,” the commission said. “(It) offered a proposal to bridge the partisan divide by suggesting a uniform voter photo ID (provided free for eligible citizens), to be phased in over five years.” Unfortunately, this recommendation wasn’t universally accepted.

In order to settle the question of election integrity, Congress must appoint a blue-ribbon task force with teeth, independent of Republican or Democrat influence. This commission, within its Constitutional parameters, would provide uniform election guidelines for federal elections in each state, sanctioned by both Houses of Congress and approved by the president. A compromise between voting integrity (safeguarding one-voter, one-vote) and voter suppression (equal opportunity for all qualified voters) must be found in order to ensure the electorate that the system still works.

It’s too late to revisit the 2020 elections. We need to end the finger-pointing and find ways to minimize the potential for fraud in the future.

Now let’s circle back to our modern-day Greek tragedy in the form of Donald Trump. Like it or not, the man came onto the political field like a whirlwind. Touting his outsider credentials and populist ideas, his opponents underestimated his appeal and he took the establishment by surprise. The quintessential underdog – Trump against the world – his thin skin and bullying tactics instilled a curious mixture of fear, anger and praise. No one can deny his love of country, but his vision of it was admired by some, hated by others. He faced a deluge of personal and professional attacks, the relentless Russia investigation, smear campaigns, lawsuits and a hostile mainstream media. He gave as good as he got, but in the end, his combative, confrontational, name-calling rhetoric did to himself what his enemies never could.

As in all Greek tragedies, there’s always one weakness that brings the “hero” down. Achilles had his heel. Trump has his mouth.

In the end, it’s a weakness that we all share.

Will Thault, a retired businessman, is a frequent contributor to The Albany Herald.

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