Editor's Note: This article first ran on Nov. 15, 2000, during the Gore-Bush Florida recount. It rings just as true this election. I hope this article will not be needed in 2008.
We may be watching the deconstruction of democracy in America. Yes, you can put me down as an alarmist. The streams of relativism, irony, ignorance, ridicule, ahistoricism, media fatuity, excessive lawyering, hyper-partisanship and power-lust have formed a mighty river of deconstruction that -- before our teared eyes -- is washing away, at a frightening pace, 200 years of American self-government.
Academic deconstructionists take pride in disassembling the parts of a whole in order to reveal that the whole was never a real thing -- but only the pointless object of our pathetic effort to invest meaning into the meaningless. Deconstruction reveals our juvenile faith in reason, truth and the knowability of things.
We fools thought that votes could be fairly counted, that elections measured and formed the popular will, and that the law was a shield to protect our elections, not a sword to shred them. We thought we were most Americans. But others, dangerous strangers, people alien to our sense of ourselves, have homegrown in our midst. They have usurped us in our own country. They are Americans by birth, but they might as well be Martian reptiles for all the moral kinship they have with us.
Al Gore and his band of terrorist lawyers are plundering our innocent laws, and are cynically using those very laws to render meaningless the election those laws were meant to protect. In the past week it has become quickly fashionable to claim that we have plenty of time, that they just want a full and fair count of the votes, that no harm can come from these little manipulations of the process. But to paraphrase Albert Camus: No one should think that an election victory torn from such convulsions will have the calm, tame aspect that some enjoy imagining. This dreadful travail will give birth to a monster.
Defensively, inevitably, as Al Gore has tried to use the law to defeat the election, the Bush camp has responded in kind. What else could they do? Sit by while their victory was stolen? And yet, we now have two bands of roving lawyers, both attempting to game the system. George W. Bush has been forced to imitate Al Gore in order not to die politically. But the Bush camp, in its effort to defeat Mr. Gore's growing electoral power, risks mutilating its own honor.
Abraham Lincoln once noted that through most of his career, he felt that history had driven him more than he had driven history. So, today, we see both the good and the bad being driven by events they can no longer control. Now that the litigation has started, it will, like the mighty Mississippi, just keep rolling along. Even if one of the candidates should concede for any reason, he will only add a feeling of contempt and betrayal to the sense of impending theft that already roils the blood of his supporters. Nor will he gain accolades for statesmanship. That window closed about last Friday. Now it will be characterized as merely yielding to the inevitable.
The deconstructionists have done their job. Having seen an election close-up for the first time, with all its human imperfections, will the American public ever again look on election returns as we always have until a week ago? Just as a raped virgin, though still innocent in her heart, has yet lost her innocence, so American elections will hereafter be looked upon with a worldly foulness, an indelible stain.
And, in future elections, we can be sure that no self-respecting political campaign will lack a post-election legal strategy. Every nasty new political trick one party comes up with inevitably is adopted by the other side in future campaigns. We have something to look forward to. A precedent has been established.
The corrosive cynicism of the last half-century, the deep sense of irony that sees all things at an angle instead of straight on, abetted by the swift and massive flow of supporting evidence in our information age, has remorselessly undermined respect for our great institutions -- religion, church, parents, the military, business, Congress, the courts, the presidency, heroes. We have seemingly taken these blows in stride. Now this denigrating impulse is hitting bedrock -- our fundamental organizing mechanism, the elective process itself. It is time for wise men to tremble.