By Tom Lamia
There is a feeling of rescue, of emerging from a hiding place and finding quiet isolation for the moment. Some of this is the effect of a Maine winter, where snow, freshly fallen, mutes all sound, but it is not this alone—it is also the effect of resolution of awful forces that have dominated my thoughts and these columns and now may be receding.
During the past year I have often written about Maine and its place in electoral politics. Susan Collins and her relative performance vis-a-vis Donald Trump in the November elections is an example of my observations that Maine politics reflect Maine values, the most important of which is local knowledge. A national candidate such as Donald Trump gets no credit for local knowledge because (1) he has none beyond the endorsement of a former governor who claimed to be “Trump before Trump,” and (2) he could not credibly claim knowledge of, or respect for, the life style of Maine people at any point on the social or economic spectrum. His sole effort to link arms with the Maine working class was to support access to expanded fishing grounds for Maine lobstermen, an effort that failed both because it revealed his ignorance of the issue and because the image of Donald Trump hauling traps on the stern of a lobster boat would be ridiculous. Susan Collins was shamed by her opponent for being indecisive on big issues that required a choice between party and principle, but she survived because, in the end, her bona fides as a daughter of Maine could not be seriously questioned.
Now, why do I bring up Trump and Collins? As you read this, the time for Trump in power has slipped away and the issue of the day is whether a new president can succeed. That is why Collins, and her fellow U.S. Senator Angus King, neither a Democrat, are very likely to be key elements in any successes gained by President Joe Biden and his Democratic party. Senator King was the subject of a CBS “Sixty Minutes” episode on January 10, immediately following the terrible events of an attack on the Capitol building in Washington, D.C. on January 6. The mood of the country in the days following that atrocity was both angry and fearful. There was also a new feeling of clarity about the struggle that President Trump was waging to continue in office. More than the lawsuits brought and lost, more than the hydra-headed claims of fraud, more than the week to week state election law skirmishes, and the final, incontrovertible clash between democracy and autocracy, was the demand that the certified result be thrown out by a presiding officer (Vice President Pence) who could not bring himself to do what he knew he was not entitled to do. That demand laid bare the conflict with the Constitution and democracy. It was clear to all that a mob of irregulars was standing by to force the issue further. The mob had gathered to do the work of their leader, the President, in his effort to prevent the House and the Senate from certifying the election of Joe Biden as the new President. On his direction that morning the mob acted and in doing so revealed the scale of our national dilemma and disgrace.
The size and zeal of these militias standing by to serve Donald Trump were generally known, but their capacity for organized action was untested. It was a grab bag of discontent, a seething cauldron of the disrespected seeking to save “their country.” It only took a few words from the President speaking “in code” as Michael Cohen told us, to give them license to attack the Capitol. It was a walkover enabled by poor preparation and misguided notions of what is fair in politics. The explosion of self-righteous anger and violence made plain that we had been living under a Sword of Damocles for four years of a steadily increasing drain on our institutions. The veil was lifted with a final act of unconstitutional authoritarianism.
To put it all back together, the country will need leadership from the middle. Now that the dimensions of the problem are clear, one hopes that the need for a quiet and calm restoration and future maintenance of our values and institutions is equally clear. Susan Collins and Angus King can each contribute to this effort. Maine character and Maine values are not flashy; they are built upon hard experience and the competence to finish a job once started. In the next months and years, Washington will need respected leadership, dedicated to putting the wheels back on the bus. A broad range of views can and should be represented, but not partisan views. Let left and right come together; let the standard be competence. Take advantage of the skilled human resources that exist in the country to get the best of us into the arena: all races, genders, birthplaces, cultures and religions that are capable of working together for the common purpose of rebuilding our system of good government and saving our constitutional republic. Nothing less will do.