Fareed Zakaria: America's presidential election is an extraordinary act of civic education
But we now face the prospect of a candidate refusing to accept the outcome of the election, Zakaria says
Editor’s Note: Fareed Zakaria is host of CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS,” which airs Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN. The views expressed are his own.
I am an immigrant, and one of the greatest privileges of being a naturalized American is to participate in the country’s democracy.
I know that many of you are sick of it all – the nastiness, the intensity, the sheer length. But I still look at America’s presidential election as an extraordinary act of civic education. After all, every four years, this process becomes the center of the country’s life – for more than a year.
Being a student of international affairs, I’m also aware of how fragile democracy is. Look at Poland, the poster child for democracy in Europe over the last 25 years, where a new party in power has subordinated the judiciary, courts and media to its authority. Look at Russia, where the democratic tradition, so promising in the 1990s, has almost vanished. Look at Turkey, where a once reformist leader has decided to accumulate power and erode traditions of freedom and democracy that were rare in the Middle East.
It doesn’t feel that it could happen in America – the oldest constitutional democracy in the world, with many checks and balances. But in fact, it takes one man, one party, one vote to break longstanding traditions of constitutionalism, and the system can morph.
We now face the prospect of a candidate refusing to accept the outcome of the election. Of mobs protesting and perhaps hoping to change that outcome because they have been fed lies about voter fraud. Of Congress refusing to legitimize the election by threatening investigations, inquiries, and impeachment. These poisonous attitudes have even infected the impartial institutions of law and justice, such as the FBI.
These might seem small erosions, but each one takes a hammer to the foundations of democracy, until the cracks become too deep and the entire edifice begins to crumble.
The founding fathers of this country, chief among them Alexander Hamilton, worried that democracies had historically been weak and transitory.
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After the Constitutional Convention of 1787, a woman in Philadelphia asked Benjamin Franklin, “Well, Doctor what have we got? A republic or a monarchy?”
Franklin responded, “A republic, if you can keep it.”
That’s what we have in America, the world’s greatest republic – if we can keep it.
So vote on Tuesday with that sense of history in mind.