It turns out, amid the existential crisis, there really is a group of sober people who are militant about America, who can see reality unblinkered by the lens of partisanship, and who are finally compelled to organize.
They understand that, like so many American tragedies, this is largely about race. It’s about the transition from a certain kind of white-dominated America to a diverse America — and the people who will do anything to stop it.
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. once argued that sin is buried so deep in the human soul that sweet words are insufficient to get people to give up their unjust power. “Instead of assured progress in wisdom and decency,” he wrote, “man faces the ever-present possibility of a swift relapse not merely to animalism, but into such calculated cruelty as no other animal can practice.”
But the realist militants who walk in King’s shadow also know that it is the U.S. Constitution that keeps us from slipping into chaos, along with all the norms and values built around it over the centuries. They know, too, that this crisis is not just about race, but also the greatness of American institutions, so scorned and derided of late, so neglected and abused.
If Trump claims a victory that is not rightly his, a few marches in the streets will not be an adequate response. There may have to be a sustained campaign of civic action, as in Hong Kong and Belarus, to rally the majority that wants to preserve democracy, that isolates those who would undo it.
Two themes would have to feature in such civic action. The first is ardent patriotism. The country survives such a crisis only if most people’s love of nation overwhelms the partisan fury that will threaten to envelop us.
The second is the preservation of constitutional order. Through epic acts of self-discipline, the nonviolent civil rights marchers in the 1960s forced their foes to reveal that if there were to be any violence and anarchy, it would come from the foes. That’s how the movement captured the moral high ground and won the mind of the nation.