As we enter 2021, we are a nation torn apart.

Our economy is uneven amid the Coronavirus with some places doing well (like Jackson County), while other places suffer from pandemic shutdowns. Even worse, the pandemic has quickly widened the social and economic gap between the "haves" and the "have-nots." It's a dynamic fraught with dangerous implications for the future.

Socially and culturally, we're a nation depressed and despondent. The tone of 2020 has been like a sledgehammer, battering us with wave after wave of bad news and turmoil. We're tired and just want to return to some kind of "normal" existence. 

But it is in our politics that we're perhaps the most damaged. The elections of 2020 have splintered the nation, giving birth to crazy conspiracy theories. As the year ends, half the nation has been convinced, without any evidence, that the presidential election was somehow "stolen" or "rigged." The sitting president has attempted to overturn the vote of the people in the election and cling to power even though he was clearly defeated at the ballot box.

Next week on Jan. 6, Congress meets to accept the results of the Electoral College vote, a vote that names Joe Biden as president.

Some observers, however, believe there could be chaos on the streets of Washington that day, chaos driven by unfounded social media stories and encouraged by the president.

•••

If you think this is just some minor thing, think again. 

Some people are calling for violence in the wake of the election. Not since 1861 and the start of the Civil War has an election ended with this kind of ominous cloud.

Consider:

• In November following the election, a right-wing pastor in Florida called for Democrats and members of the media to be shot by firing squads if they had conspired to rig the elections (the election was not rigged.) 

• A lawyer with President Trump's campaign said that former U.S. cybersecurity official Christoperh Krebs should be "shot" for having rejected claims that the election was stolen from Trump.

• In early December, armed protestors congregated outside the home of Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and demanded that she overturn the results of the state's balloting, which showed that Joe Biden had carried the state. Some Trump supporters had earlier been arrested in a plot to kidnap Michigan's governor, a Democrat.

• Former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, who went to prison for lying to the FBI but was pardoned by Trump, has called on Trump to declare martial law and send the military into Georgia and other swing states to force an election do-over at the point of a bayonet.  Others have echoed Flynn's call for what would be a military coup in the nation.

• The head of the Arizona GOP has called for Trump to "cross the Rubicon," a reference to when Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon River and started a Roman Civil War after which Ceaser became dictator.

• Closer to home, Georgia officials have received death threats after they refused to overturn the state's election results, which went narrowly for Biden. 

• In some local Facebook posts, some local citizens have called for Georgia's leaders to be arrested and "strung up" because they refused to overturn legitimate votes and give the contest to Trump.

•••

All of which begs this question: Has America become a banana republic?

Since when did calls for violence following an election become part of the American political lexicon? 

This is deplorable.

No matter who won the election, this nation has a tradition of holding a peaceful transfer of power (except in 1861.)

We don't resort to violence and intimidation. We don't threaten to kill people because the election doesn't go our way.

Even many of Trump's own supporters have balked at these calls for violence.

But Trump hasn't. 

In fact, he has egged on those who would do violence in the name of politics.

Over the weekend, he Tweeted a message to supporters to rally in Washington on Jan. 6. "Be there, will be wild," he said.

Protesting is one thing, but Trump's Tweet is a thinly-veiled call for people to threaten Congress as they accept the vote of the Electoral College. 

According to some administration insiders, Trump has mulled the idea of declaring martial law because he lost the election. Some observers believe that Trump wants to foment violence on Jan. 6 as a cover to declare martial law.

Deplorable.

I'm doubtful that Trump would seek to use the military to overturn the election and even if he did, it's unlikely the military would follow his orders. 

But the fact that it's even discussed makes for a sober, sad beginning to 2021.

•••

If the nation can avoid this political violence, the year 2021 may be a year of hope, a new beginning.

As the vaccine for the pandemic began to slow its spread, there's hope that our lives will return to normal.

There's hope that we can again gather with friends and family.

There's hope that our jobs and economy will stabilize and provide less uncertainty.

There's hope that our children can return to school amid a normal atmosphere.

There's hope that we can bury the political divisions that have haunted 2020 and find a path toward a more bipartisan spirit in public offices.

•••

And yet, I'm worried.

We may indeed have a glorious rebirth in 2021. In fact, we may enter a decade like the "Roaring '20s".

We all want to forget 2020, close the door on it, move forward and not look back.

But I fear the seeds of something sinister were sown this year, seeds of a terrible fury that someday will ripen with vengeance and violence.

No nation can survive when half it's people fall for fake propaganda and demand that fair elections be ignored and overturned.

The year 2020 may have just been an aberration in our history, a fever that will soon break.

Or it may have been the beginning of the end.

Mike Buffington is co-publisher of Mainstreet Newspapers. He can be reached at mike@mainstreetnews.com.

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