You must be exhausted. I am. An election cycle that should be publicly funded and last a few months has cost billions and dragged on for more than two years. While the Western states burn with a record number of fires and the Gulf Coast faces record hurricanes, the rest of us have suffered a record number of insults, arguments and attack ads.

Enough already.

Aren’t you grateful the things that matter most aren’t subject to the political process? Like the quality of your marriage; your relationship with your children and grandchildren; your friendships; your pleasures; your inner peace. We don’t need politics to appreciate the laughter of a child, a silent sunrise over the Smokies, a cup of coffee on the porch at Vienna or leaves the color of firetrucks and school buses.

But the impact of politics on our lives is profound. The quality of our schools and health care system, the strength of our economy, national security, environmental protection. All this and more are determined by whom we choose as our leaders.

So ... while we may be suffering election fatigue, it behooves us to prepare for the weeks ahead. Wise people always hope for the best but prepare for the worst.

Maybe the election will be a blowout. We could all go to bed Tuesday night knowing who will be our next president and mentally preparing ourselves for all that will follow. Losers will grieve but, like all patriotic Americans, will begin the process of acceptance — of becoming part of the “loyal opposition.” Winners may gloat but should remember that the nation remains divided and that a house divided against itself cannot stand. Compromise will be necessary. Listening to the losers essential.

So even the best-case scenario — a clear election-night victory — will necessitate hard work in 2021 for both winners and losers as we begin the process of knitting our frayed nation back together.

Most likely, election night will not go so smoothly. Remember the 2000 election? Bush v. Gore? It could happen again. Record numbers of mail-in and absentee ballots, a dizzying cornucopia of state election laws and persistent efforts by our enemies — most notably Russia — to sabotage both the election process and result will likely take its toll. It could be weeks, if not months, before we know the winner.

Fine. We have a court system. We have law enforcement. The military. We have a free press. And we have two and a half centuries of history and tradition. We are not a banana republic. We are the United State of America. The nation with the oldest written constitution in the world. The breadbasket of the world. The arsenal of democracy. We will not be undone by an election that requires a little time to determine the winner.

I may not like the way Senate Republicans changed the rules on Supreme Court nominations made during an election year, but I still believe in Chief Justice John Roberts and the high court. I practiced law there for 15 years, and I can tell you that it is the least political branch of government. I trust the justices to live up to their oaths to administer equal justice under the law. If the Burger court could order Richard Nixon to turn over the Watergate tapes when Chief Justice Warren Burger himself was a Nixon appointee, the Roberts court can remain unbiased if Joe Biden is elected president.

The Electoral College may have outlived its purpose now that we have direct primaries in virtually every state. Candidates who lose elections by millions of votes should not be awarded the presidency. But like it or hate it, the Electoral College remains part of the U.S. Constitution until amended. Whoever wins the Electoral College vote will be — and must be — declared president, and the rest of us will have to live with it or move to Canada.

Now comes the really critical part: your role in all of this. Don’t think for a minute that you’re unimportant, that the future of our democratic republic is guaranteed. A democracy is about as sure-fire as a marriage. Just ask Russia or Belarus.

So what is your role? It’s not to rush out and buy an assault rifle if that’s what you were thinking. Churchgoing folk shouldn’t have to be told this, but please resist any impulse to take up arms against your fellow citizens. This is not Fort Sumter. Instead, I’ll make just three suggestions that should help you and our democracy make it through the coming months.

Stay calm. Panic is more contagious than COVID, but the antidote is already in hand. A measured response dials down the heat. Use humor, a quieter voice, a reassuring touch. Remain calm even if there are outbreaks of violence.

Pay attention. Listen. Watch the news. Read this newspaper. If you’re a Fox News fan, make sure you’re watching one of the other networks as well. Same if you’re on the left and watching MSNBC. Just make sure you’re aware of what’s actually going on and not what some foreign agent is posting on Facebook. Try National Public Radio and the PBS Newshour for some of the most objective reporting, since their funding must be approved by congressional Republicans AND Democrats.

Put the nation’s interest ahead of your own. If one of the candidates refuses to accept the election results, be prepared to sacrifice your own comfort for the good of the nation. That could mean marching, speaking, writing, striking, whatever is required to ensure that our leaders follow the rule of law.

Abraham Lincoln had both the character and competence to lead America through its greatest crisis. He did it, in part, by appealing to our “better angels.” “With malice toward none and charity for all,” his words and wisdom are still good counsel for the weeks ahead.

Buzz Thomas is a retired American Baptist Church minister, attorney, school superintendent and longtime Blount County resident and occasional columnist for The Daily Times.

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