Major Garrett and David Becker open Big truth, half a love letter to democracy and half a warning about its ailing state, with a bit of fiction speculating about the ways in which a contested election could destabilize the country, causing The nation became estranged and eventually led to a “national divorce”—that is, the Second American Civil War. The authors write: “The great cleavage may be closer than we think. But while putting pen to paper, they struggled a bit with the hypothesis. “We asked ourselves, are we being too dramatic?” Garrett told me, reminiscing about that time. “Damn it, I feel like we’ve been so restrained now.”
Garrett, CBS News’ chief Washington correspondent, and Becker, executive director and founder of the Center for Election Research & Innovation, followed that line of investigation with me in an interview, which has been edited edited and condensed for clarity, by their September 20th. book publishing. Democracy, they told me, was made endangered by Donald Trumpbaseless claims of election fraud. And while both men offered various ways the country could fight the breach, Becker also said their optimism is fundamentally being “tested right now”. (The authors aren’t the only ones concerned: “Democracy challenged” is how The New York Times put it on Sunday’s front page.) “I’ve been someone people don’t want to invite to parties lately,” says Becker. “Because I’m a little sad.”
Vanity Fair: I want to start on a high note. You write in the book that you harbor “deep, but not debilitating, fear” about the future of American democracy. What makes you optimistic? Why aren’t the concerns alleviating, since a lot of what you describe here is pretty scary?
Major Garrett: What gives me optimism is the permanence of our country. We have looked into the abyss before and retreated from them. I know it’s an overused metaphor right now, and I know there have been overflowing tanks of ink or digital equivalents questioning when America will retreat from the abyss. present. So the question still exists. Why are you optimistic? Well, 100,000 people in 2020 have signed up to be pollsters for the first time, they’ve entered a situation unfamiliar to them. Not because they will be paid, not because they will be looked down upon in their community. Not because they will be promoted. But because it’s important at the civic level is very fundamental in terms of accountability and participation. And I will judge the future of our country based on their optimism.
Now, having said that, I know some of them didn’t get what they bargained for. They do not register because they think they will be harassed, tracked from the polling station to their car, or the people who train them and the people they seek to be harassed, threatened, and the like. on one’s own. So it was a wobbly moment, and I’m not going to suggest to you that it wasn’t a wobbly moment. But I have an innate, unyielding confidence in the American experiment. And that American experiment is breathing oxygen into it in a way that to some people is foreign, but I believe it is deeply reinforcing. The concepts and language we have always used around democracy are now being applied. And people are at the table, because they’ve been elected to the federal level in ways we’ve never seen before. It’s not easy, but it’s true, and that engagement and visibility and that exposure, in the modern sense, sends a signal to those who have long been presented with ignorance that this is really real. And the notion that they have a stake in that fact is much more tangible. Does that please everyone? No. Does it bring it closer to what we have long wished for and say we believe in? Right. And I believe my optimism is almost rooted there.
David Becker: Yes, I have the same thought. We are in a dangerous moment for American democracy. And it’s easy to focus on people who didn’t stand up for democracy when the opportunity arose, and we do in the book. But it is also sometimes a little more difficult to recognize the large number of people who have stood up, and are often in great danger to themselves, often in great political danger to themselves, often in physical danger to others. themselves and their families. To do the right thing, stand for election. It was the most transparent, secure, and verified election in US history, even if their candidate lost. And that is the best tradition of American democracy. And we haven’t seen many brave people stand for that in the past, because it’s never been a question of candidates and their supporters about whether they accept the outcome. election or not.
Threats to democracy, stress tests in the election process—obviously nothing new. You write about some of them: 1876, 2000. What’s different with 2020? And, obviously, looking ahead to the challenges we face in 2022, 2024 and beyond?