Extracted From the Sunday Times,
Matthew Syed writes
“About us, the little people. John Adams once said “We are a government of laws, not men”. Now, Aaron Van Langevelde, have you heard of him? No, me neither. At least, not until this anonymous lawyer and Republican staffer, with a scholarly interest in Roman history was thrust into the spotlight in the aftermath of the presidential election. One of his duties included sitting on the Michigan Board of State Canvassers, a four-person group, two Republican and two Democrat, that certifies the result of the vote.
“On November 23, the day that the Michigan canvassers met, many wondered if the rule of law would hold. But it has been that kind of year. Not just the antics of Trump but the broader litany of threats to the fabric of democratic societies. Covid has tugged at our divisions as well as our patience. Brexit talks caused massive uncertainty as they went down to the wire. The closing of the border at Dover left thousands of lorry drivers stranded, with fears of rioting as late as Wednesday. I have lost count of the number of people who have said that open societies are increasingly vulnerable, perhaps even out of step with the march of history.
“Whenever we have wavered over the past 12 months, whenever our societies have looked vulnerable, it hasn’t been those in high command who have delivered for us; it has been the decency in the hearts and minds of ordinary people. Not everyone, of course, but a critical mass of people doing their duty. Individuals looking to help others. Ordinary people doing extraordinary things.
“This brings me back to Van Langevelde, who was under huge pressure to subvert the result of a democratic election. Norman Shinkle, the second Republican on the committee, was already wavering (in the event, he shamefully abstained), so it came down to Van Langevelde. Senior republicans turned up the heat. There were insinuations that his career in the party rested on his loyalty. But Van Langevelde was conscious of another loyalty, to the truth. “This board must do its part to uphold the rule of law and comply with our legal duty to certify this election”.
“We might say, then, that the greatest strength of democracy is also its greatest vulnerability, for it is built upon the goodwill of a critical mass of free citizens.
“Over the past year we have faced some hairy moments but perhaps this pandemic will also be seen as a wake-up call: a reminder that we are only as strong as one another, that the actions of all of us count and that, for all the rule-breaking during the pandemic and the cavalier attitude towards democratic norms shown by some western leaders, there remains a critical mass of real, ordinary, people willing to do the right thing”.