Don Williams
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Don Williams is a prize-winning columnist, blogger, fiction writer, sometime TV commentator, and is the founder and editor emeritus of New Millennium Writings, an annual anthology of stories, essays and poems. His awards include a National Endowment for the Humanities Journalism Fellowship at the University of Michigan, a Golden Presscard Award from Sigma Delta Chi Society of Professional Journalists, a best Commentary Award from SDC, Best Feature Writing from the Associated Press Tennessee Managing Editors, the Malcolm Law Journalism Prize from the Associated Press, Best Non-Deadline Reporting from the United Press International, Best Novel Excerpt from the Knoxville Writers Guild, a Peacemaker Award from the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance, five Writer of the Month Awards from the Scripps Howard Newspaper chain, and many others. In 2011 he was inducted into the East Tennessee Writers Hall of Fame. His 2005 book of journalism, Heroes, Sheroes and Zeroes is under revision for a second printing, and he is at work on a novel and a book of journalism. His columns appear at and have been featured at many other well-known websites. To run his column, gratis, at your website, post this link to a dedicated spot: Need a speaker, panelist, tv commentator or teacher for your group or to lead a writing workshop, in your town? Email

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Despite electoral quagmire, our system keeps us safe from tyrants
(Copyright by Don Williams, All rights reserved   11/24/2000)

Give thanks.

No tanks are in the streets.

No one's going to the guillotine.

No competing armies are ravaging the countryside.

No leader is executing his family to stamp out intrigues.

No one's being exiled or imprisoned.

No armada is sailing to seize the throne.

No heads adorn pikes at the capital gates.

No senators hide knives under cloaks and lie in wait to assassinate their leader.

No newspapers are being shut down.

Heck, nobody's even posting curfews.

In a country so evenly split that the identity of our next leader hinges on a few dimpled ballots, life goes on pretty much as normal.

In the long, sordid history of power transference, the American electoral system stands out as a miracle. Thank God and the Founding Fathers.

Things could be a lot worse in this country, and I get impatient with people who hate politics on general principle.

"How can you stand that stuff?" a friend asked several weeks back, when I brought up the election. "All politicians are corrupt. They'll say anything to get elected."

Fair enough. But better to say than do, especially if by "do" you mean wresting power through force.

How strange it would be if lies weren't told. If mud wasn't slung when the stakes are this high. The most powerful office in the history of the world is up for grabs. Political philosophies are clashing. The future of the world could hinge on who wins this election. We're not playing charades here.

Of course Bush is going to sound like a radical conservative in South Carolina and a moderate in New Jersey. Of course Gore is going to rail against the rich when he's addressing labor unions, yet tout free trade to merchants. So what?

Better that than tactics employed in, say, ancient Rome, where emperors such as Caligula, Nero and others killed their own wives, children and numerous friends, generals, philosophers and artists in paranoid plots to hold power. A few miles and years away, King Herod had every male born in a certain year killed, according to scriptures.

English rulers routinely displayed heads of enemies on palace gates as a warning to others. King Henry VIII had his own wife beheaded in his quest for a male heir to his throne. Instead, he fathered Queen Elizabeth, who had her own cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots--a devout Catholic--executed for conspiring against her. This prompted Spain to launch a great Armada in an effort to seize the throne for the Catholics. Less majestic but no less bloody dramas have been the norm for millennia.

In our own time, Pol Pot came out of the hills of Cambodia, emptied the cities, and systematically slaughtered his own people. Don't get me started on Stalin, Hitler and Mussolini.

So you say Gore's trying to steal this election? I suspect Bush of the same thing.

What's remarkable is that you and I may hold these mutually antagonistic opinions and go about our business reasonably confident of a peaceful resolution.

For that we owe thanks to those dead white males who sat in Philadelphia pubs two centuries ago working out details of electoral machinery that--even in an age of punch cards and satellite TV--assures a peaceful transfer of power. The machinery those patriots bequeathed is composed in large part of pressure valves, such as the Florida courts. Even if the Florida election should not get certified, the state's legislature could choose a slate of electors. If that should fail, the U.S. House of Representatives can seat electors. The Supreme Court, no doubt, will uphold its prerogatives and responsibilities in this elegant system of checks and balances. Even if no electors are seated from Florida, the Electoral College is empowered to choose a president without them.

One way or another, however, the pressure building up in the system will be peacefully released. Most of us take it for granted that a new president will place his hand on the Bible and vow to uphold the Constitution come Inauguration Day. There'll be questions about legitimacy, but the electoral system is worth upholding.

Sure, it could use reforms--I mentioned several possibilities here last week--but even with its flaws our system is little short of a miracle compared to most every other system for transferring power that civilization has yet devised.

Again, give thanks.