This is a time of high emotion for many of us, but I don’t want to just think emotionally. And I wish we could talk politics without emotions ruling everything.

I have a question, and I mean this sincerely, not as some provocation or some wish to make anyone feel bad or angry. If the current president doesn’t have the votes, are you cool with him staying in power by some other means? I don’t know how Trump supporters really feel about that. I don’t know where the loyalty to the man splits with loyalty to a system of governance.

Election fraud was going to be pushed as a narrative in this election no matter who won. We know that. If Trump won, there would be this massive outcry that it was rigged. That’s where we are as a country. And election systems need our attention in a big, bipartisan way. Secure elections are the cornerstone of democracy. And I see that at the local level whenever I enter our county elections office, where local workers do the business of keeping things in order. They are one branch of a system that holds us together. They do vital work, and I feel confident in their commitment to get it right.

National intelligence agencies said there was Russian interference in the 2016 election, but unless there was tangible, hard proof that votes were somehow switched at scale to shift the election to Trump, then there was nothing for Hillary Clinton or her supporters to say about the election, even if something felt wrong. There was a winner. It was Trump. And disputing his winning vote tally required more than gut feelings or hunches, or even anecdotal irregularities. It takes hard evidence of manipulation in a massive way to rise to the level of overturning results. And even then, what would that look like, a redo?

If the votes weren’t for Joe Biden, then he would need to concede. And if he took his efforts to courts and tried to establish a case for fraud, then he better have hard facts at a scale that flips the overall outcome. And if the courts don’t back it up, then you have to let it go. If it goes beyond that, then the election system itself undermined.

I’m absolutely a systems guy, not a candidate man. I hope I still share that with some people of both parties. I like to think this still exists in some bipartisan form. I feel like this is the root lesson learned in a basic civics class.

For any voting system to work, we have to establish that the scoreboard matters. If your side in a football game has 24 points and the other scored 27, then you can’t claim victory, even if it felt painfully within reach.

We are at war in this country over what constitutes the “real” America. There are distinctly different versions of American idealism. And when we think of the “other side,” we have become increasingly comfortable with dismissing others as evil people.

So, I don’t think the fundamental question of legitimacy in this election has to do with vote tallies. It’s deeper than that. I think it’s more about the legitimacy of the electorate that chose Biden, who won in cities and areas of different ethnicities and ideologies. I believe there is a feeling among many that “those people in cities shouldn’t have any sway over how my life goes out here. And anyway, we represent more land than them.” I think the flip side is true, too, where others say “those people in rural areas shouldn’t control my life, and anyway, we outnumber them.” Unfortunately, this social fracture seems to be intensifying and not going away anytime soon. But the fact remains — both cities and rural areas are actually American. One can’t dismiss the other. We all live here and rely on each other economically as a nation. And you will never, ever shout anyone on the other side of that divide to your position. It doesn’t work that way. But we still scream as if we could.

Voting is the true difference maker in the middle of this cacophonous cultural gymnasium of horrible acoustics and bullhorns blaring all at once. And voting must be respected beyond our political positions. It is sacred in American governance. If we don’t respect that voting establishes our governance, then what is the alternative?

Well, the next choice is violence, which is the route of failed democracies, where the system of shared decision-making collapses.

Growing up, I never would have believed America could venture toward societal chaos. Now I sometimes worry it’s inevitable.

That’s why I shout this: We desperately need higher principles that are shared by both red and blue!

The voting system must be upheld or we will not uphold this nation. That system won’t be upheld without the baseline shared truth that the numbers will decide what comes. Of course, scrutinize those numbers. Challenge them where necessary and where it seems right, no matter your team. But if there’s no evidence at scale to change the vote, accept what comes. Anything short of that puts us outside of America and into another, different nation — one that won’t live with any stability. Maybe some don’t care about any of that. But I hope you do.

Zach Mitcham is editor of The Madison County Journal. He can be reached at zach@mainstreetnews.com.

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