I live in the high country of Colorado, surrounded by the majesty of the San Juan Mountains, which provide a daily dose of beauty and stability in a world racked by appalling loss and relentless uncertainty. People who live amongst the peaks adopt their stature, which includes a strength of body, heart, and mind absent in much of America. Obesity is as rare here as it is common elsewhere. Impulse is set aside for deliberation as a necessity; Mother Nature does not tolerate carelessness, as the rest of America and the world are now (hopefully) learning. We do, however, have a mortal enemy we all appropriately fear: avalanches. Bears, mountain lions, and even wildfires are no match for the ferocity of an avalanche: the sudden force of tons of snow and ice racing without discretion to destroy everything in its path. Yes, they are survivable, but that is as probable as snow in July. If one sets its eyes on you, your last day is that day.
The elements and dynamics of avalanches are fairly simple. Mass (snow), slope (mountain), and structural weakness (layers of snowfall that do not bond), and a triggering event (wind, sun, additional snow, or an animal like us) are all that are required to let gravity pull a torrent of devastation and death down the mountain. Once the avalanche settles, the snow, ice, and debris set up like Quickrete on a summer day; an impenetrable mass that will not release its victims until late summer, if ever. While heli-skiing in British Columbia, I have observed wolverines seeking carrion (decaying caribou flesh) trapped in avalanche rubble, while in Colorado black bears often liberate winter’s kill. It takes a keen nose and powerful claws to find the avalanche bounty. Life becomes death that nurtures life again—nature’s answer to sustainability in the high country.
This November, a different kind of avalanche may be coming to America—one that could finally realize the consequences of Benjamin Franklin’s warning at the founding of the United States: I give you “a republic, if you can keep it.” Not since the Civil War has America come as close as we are today to losing our republic. The elements of an avalanche are all there. Mass, in the form of vast military and economic power together with 330 million souls. Treacherous steep terrain formed by years of erosion due to managerial neglect of everything from social structures to infrastructure. Weak layers of leadership began accumulating after the Cold War when character and courage were routinely exchanged for selfish impudence. Then, in 2017, the weakest layer of all—Donald Trump—now lurking under three-plus years of greed and deceit. All we need is a triggering event and the republic may fall.
As concerned as I am about Covid-19 and the profound damage it continues to inflict on America, the triggering event I fear most is a failed election in November. A failed election, which we had in the Bush v. Gore presidential race in 2000 (resolved five weeks later on December 12th by the Supreme Court) is traditionally considered an election when the winner cannot be determined by the vote of the people. But there is another kind of failed election we have not seen in America: one in which a significant percentage of the population do not accept the results and, therefore, refuse to be governed by the victors. In 2020, I see this as not just possible, I believe it is probable. Among five possibilities, four would produce failure.
The first failure would be if the election were postponed or cancelled. As bizarre as this seems, both Trump and Jared Kushner have mentioned this as a possibility; it is clearly on the White House white board. The second possible failure is if Trump wins narrowly. In this case, it will undoubtedly be suspected that Putin (once again), and or the Trumplican voter-suppression machine, stole the election. At the national level, there is currently next-to-nothing being done to stop this. The third case is where Biden wins narrowly. Trump and the Trumplicans will cry foul and, with attorney general William Barr and the Supreme Court’s help, may attempt to cancel the election while Trump calls on all MAGAs to rise up in arms (as in assault rifles). If you thought the Trumpster protests to open the country during Coivd-19 were bad, just wait. The fourth possibility—and our only hope for a smooth transition of power—is if Biden wins by a landslide. The fifth possibility—a Trump landslide—may not qualify as a failed election, but four more years of Trump would also cause the republic to fall. After three-plus years of Trump, the republic is barely hanging on as it is.
As distracting, isolating, frightening, and devastating as Covid-19 is, there is another crisis looming; one that no vaccine will fix—an avalanche that could crush the republic. If Americans of character do not recognize the danger (and vote accordingly) the former United States of America, now the Divided States of America, may become the Failed States of America. In time, we will heal from Covid-19. Failed republics do not heal. They result in a pile of carnage neither wolverine nor bear will touch. Today, we still have an opportunity to save Lincoln’s “last best hope of man on earth.” The November trigger awaits. The stakes could not be higher.