Leonard Pitts: Still fighting for an America I’ve never seen

We faced the prospect of a government dominated by people whose guiding ethos is that an election is not fair unless they win it.

(Michael Holahan | The Augusta Chronicle via AP) Democratic senate candidate Raphael Warnock speaks during a campaign rally in Augusta, Ga., Monday, Jan. 4, 2021.

I have never seen America.

Yes, like Bruce Springsteen, I was born in the U.S.A. But, as I’ve argued before, America is less a place than a set of democratic ideals: equality, self-governance, the rule of law, freedom of speech, freedom of protest, liberty and justice for all. America is a vision that Americans have struggled — and largely failed — to realize for 246 years.

But if we’ve never quite managed to bring it more than fleetingly to life, seldom has that vision been more directly threatened than in Tuesday’s elections. Republicans placed hundreds of election deniers on state ballots for such key posts as secretary of state, U.S. senator, U.S. representative and governor. At this writing, it’s hard to get a handle on how denialism fared, as witness two New York Times headlines that appeared online within hours of one another:

“Election Denial Didn’t Play as Well as Republicans Hoped”

“Election Skeptics Are Winning Races Across The Country”

In other words: Who knows? The picture is decidedly mixed and likely to remain so for some time to come, especially given that Georgia Sen. the Rev. Raphael Warnock and Herschel Walker, the mistake that walks like a man, are headed for a December runoff that will likely determine which party controls the Senate. So at this point, there are only a few things we can say with certainty.

One is that the so-called “red wave” of GOP dominance did not materialize. Republicans eked out a pink puddle at best.

Another is that the forces of election denial notched some significant wins, with the Washington Post suggesting they might even constitute a “sizable majority” of the House GOP caucus, an ominous sign given the prospect of a Republican House speaker presiding over the chamber in the 2024 presidential election. One denier, Ron DeSantis, remains governor of Florida with his easy Tuesday night win, leaving him on track to bring his brand of white-grievance politics — he is like Donald Trump, if Trump were smart — to the presidential stage.

Yet another thing we can say with certainty is that election denial suffered some high-profile and even embarrassing defeats, as Trump-approved extremists like would-be Pennsylvania senator Mehmet Oz, would-be Pennsylvania governor Doug Mastriano and would-be Michigan governor Tudor Dixon all went down in flames.

Finally, about the election just past, we can say this: Democracy survived.

It wasn’t pretty and it wasn’t as decisive as one might’ve hoped, but yes, democracy lives to fight another day. Many of us wondered if it would. We faced the prospect of a government dominated by people whose guiding ethos is that an election is not fair unless they win it.

That’s a recipe for fascism, not democracy. It’s also childish in the extreme.

If voters did not quite reject that ethos, they did blunt its force. Apparently, we are still deciding what kind of country we want to be. Which means there is still time to get it right. And also, to get it wrong. Troublingly, there’s every reason to believe the stakes will remain this high — democracy perpetually on the ballot — for the foreseeable future. That can’t change until and unless the fever that has gripped the GOP finally breaks.

Here’s hoping.

I’ve never seen America. It’s getting late in life for me to think I ever will. But the election results suggest there remains at least a chance my grandchildren will someday glimpse what I did not.

I’ve never seen America. But I think it’s worth fighting for just the same.

Leonard Pitts Jr.

Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for the Miami Herald. lpitts@miamiherald.com