Editor’s Note: Douglas Heye is the ex-deputy chief of staff to former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a GOP strategist and a CNN political commentator. Follow him on Twitter @dougheye. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion on CNN.
The impact on our election was brought home to me Saturday, minutes after media projections called the race for President-elect Joe Biden. After watching the initial news reports – tough to hear over of the cacophony of car horn honking and cheering coming from outside – I went to pick up a package.
A stranger held a door open for me and said “We have a new president!” I got to talking with the woman and learned she was originally from Syria.
“Today is the first time I’ve ever been able to vote,” she said.
This hit home.
After four years of constant, negative rhetoric aimed at division and exploiting old wounds – especially on immigration and race – one sentence from a stranger, from an immigrant, reminded me of the importance of not just our elections, but the process we have and why it has traditionally been cherished and must be respected.
And yet here we are, six days after the presidential election, where the results are clear and despite this, President Donald Trump and his allies continue to question the result and make unproven claims of voter fraud. These claims never contain a shred of evidence and as Georgia Lieutenant Governor Geoff Duncan, a Republican, said on CNN on Monday morning, there simply have not been credible reports of voter fraud.
Of course these claims of voter fraud, which President Trump began about mail-in ballots in advance of Election Day, are more about shifting blame for the loss or just not accepting the loss. But that they are invalid does not mean they do not still have an impact.
Members of his base, fueled by the President’s rhetoric, have been peddling conspiracy theories and refusing to accept Biden’s victory.
Meanwhile, the baseless claims come at a time when some Republicans have sought to make voting more difficult – severely limiting where early ballots may be dropped off, requiring identification to vote, but then making obtaining identification more difficult in mostly minority areas, or the unsuccessful move by Texas Republicans to toss out more than 100,000 legally-cast ballots made through curbside voting.
These moves are un-American, and perhaps the best result of this election was the rejection of these kinds of tactics.
We knew the 2020 election was going to be a tough and divisive campaign. While President-elect Joe Biden has said important words about coming together, a marked change from what we have seen – and continue to see – under Trump, real unity will be difficult. Part of that is due to both Republicans and Democrats not having an incentive to work together; bipartisanship is not a strong fundraising tool or popular amongst either base. And there are sincere differences in principle that will limit where Washington can bridge partisan divides.
But we should be able to agree on the core tenets of our system of government: the right to vote, that vote being counted and the peaceful transition of power.
It is often said that America is an idea. It’s also a promise. It’s a promise that we make to the individual, like the stranger from Syria, and to emerging democracies throughout the world.
Those core tenets are being put to the test in America right now, and we have to do better. Ultimately, even, or especially, at a time of division, they are what bind us together as Americans.