Ronald Reagan once said, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.” Approximately one generation removed from when Reagan first took office thirty-one years ago, it is all too tempting to treat his admonition as prophetic. With the rapid rate at which our rights have eroded away over the last three decades – not to mention the celebratory manner with which statists have greeted an accelerated erosion over the last four years – it would appear that the individual rights once jealously guarded in America and the constitutional, republican system which once protected them are on the verge of a cataclysmic extinction.
But despite how gleefully the Left has hastened a full-fledged manifestation of socialism in the United States, whatever its form, they have not yet achieved their goal; the American people are not yet subject to absolute despotism. Why? Because at 12:00am this morning, polls opened in two tiny New Hampshire villages, marking the official beginning of Election Day.
No matter the other abuses against man’s rights now perpetrated by the government, the institution of Election Day – even with the forms of corruption which have almost surely existed as long as the elections themselves – remains a sound means through which Americans can seek redress for their grievances. Unlike the tyrannical dictatorships of the last century, Election Day in America still means something: Americans have the right to vote for who they will without fear of having a gun put to their head by a government thug for disagreeing with those in power; the elections are not rigged beforehand (due in great part to local and state management of federal elections); the will of the majority is still not an unlimited mandate for action; etc.
By the very fact that Election Day exists as it does, Americans can take it as a source of pride that their quadrennial, peaceful revolutions by public mandate have gone uninterrupted for over two centuries, continuing even in the midst of invasion (the War of 1812), economic collapse, and numerous wars, both civil and worldwide. Election Day – in conjunction with its corresponding right, the right to free speech – still provides Americans a peaceful means to keep their government within its proper boundaries, a feat which, since the ratification of the Constitution, has not yet required an appeal to arms on the part of the American people.
Yet beyond all that, what is the fundamental significance of Election Day? Is it that the American people have the opportunity every four years (or, in actuality, every two) to select leaders among themselves best suited for the offices to which those candidates are aspiring? Undoubtedly, that is a key purpose of voting. Even in capitalist systems, the government should reflect the will of the people, though the public and the government itself would be confined to the task of protecting the individual rights of those within the government’s jurisdiction.
However, it is not the explicit act of choosing one’s own leaders that is so remarkable — it is the ability to remove them. This, above all other reasons, is why historians and political theorists find the presidency of George Washington such a pivotal event in world history. It was unsurprising that the American people twice elected him to serve as their commander in chief, but what truly shocked Washington’s contemporaries — and even today deserves a great deal of admiration — is that he left.
He was not voted out of office, nor was he violently assassinated by a political power-seeker. At the end of eight years in office, he merely wanted to go home. Whereas all the ages mankind beforehand were most often marked by lifelong leaders of a shared lineage, Washington had no such ambition. So influential was the precedent he set that no president until Franklin D. Roosevelt served more than two terms in office (and following a constitutional amendment, none can).
But perhaps even more importantly is what took place in the election of 1800. When Thomas Jefferson defeated incumbent President John Adams, many wondered whether Adams would respect the outcome, or if New England (Adams’ main block of voters) would secede from the Union. Then on March 4th, 1801, Thomas Jefferson was peacefully sworn in as the third President of the United States, and the first to have ousted an incumbent. If the electoral tides are right, ideally, the current incumbent will join in Adams’ one-term legacy.
Our country is in crisis. If left unresolved, the issues the United States currently faces will cause the most powerful, productive economy the world has ever known to come crashing down; even worse, the largest republican empire in the world will collapse into dictatorship. And so long as man retains the right to vote, he should wield it rationally yet ruthlessly, removing from office those who most threaten his individual rights and the foundations of his constitutional, republican government. In essence, man should vote as if he was unsure there would ever be another opportunity to do so. And given the current course of this country, this most sacred of American traditions — Election Day — is not guaranteed to continue.