FORT WAYNE –  Most people would consider this to have already been a rather contentious election cycle. The death of America’s favorite liberal Supreme Court justice, Ruth Bade Ginsburg, as the absentee ballot process has begun, should calm things down. 

Yeah, right.

While in historical terms this one lacks wars and assassinations, or even an economic collapse, the personal anger and tribal divisions are high. In the past, the basic stability of the system has enabled us to withstand chaos. But to this writer, some worrisome trends that attack our systems’ core are greater risks than most issues we are debating. Here are several examples:

A declining trust in the legal system. This has been an anchor of maintenance of order. Without order, there is no freedom. Defunding the police, or reducing funding in high crime areas in particular, is a corollary to this problem.

Direct attacks on capitalism, with growing support for socialism. Our capitalist system has been critical to the material condition of modern man worldwide.

The collapse of the goals of traditional morality. This is across the board, not just the sins we commonly think of, but also flagrant lying and refusal to acknowledge it when caught, coarseness in public debate, casual opportunistic thieving as legitimate protests evolve into uncontrolled opportunities to steal, an unwillingness of local governments to enforce or even cooperate with enforcing federal laws they don’t like, and many more manifestations.

A failure to acknowledge, in a bi-partisan way, the direct threat of foreign enemies to manipulate freedom against us, both Russia and China.

The combination of variables, but in particular COVID-19, as a potential undermining of the electoral process itself.

The always present but growing denigration of public service that has gone beyond politicians to challenging all government entities and has rapidly spread to private institutions as well. All of them are distrusted, including churches, media, businesses, sports, and about everything else.

Older people have always complained that America was declining, not like the good old days, and on the brink of collapse. However, today these feelings run from left to right, and are most severe among young people, not older curmudgeons.

Hopefully we can step back again to “reforms,” rather than radical talk of tearing up the institutions that provide the framework for the best country in the world, to which people still are willing to risk everything to enter.

Into this chaos we now have a Supreme Court nomination to a closely divided court, the balance currently dependent upon what side of the bed Chief Justice John G. Roberts wakes up. Here are a few points on the court nomination process.

1.) There should be a vote, before the election. If you don’t like that, in this environment you are declaring your partisan position as a Democrat. When a Democrat president proposes a nomination before an election, all Republicans oppose it as a near form of treason. Being for or against a vote is merely a statement of your partisanship, not an ideological one. Both sides have done it, both sides would do it now, and both sides will continue to do it. The only question is whether the president has the votes. President Obama didn’t and perhaps President Trump will not. The whining and hand-wringing merely show a lack of understanding of history and certainly of contemporary politics.

2.) We don’t want eight justices on the court as we head into a highly turbulent election. The nominees being considered by Trump are sound and qualified, whether or not you agree with them on fundamental issues. Liberals oppose them because they don’t like the results of the 2016 and 2018 elections for president and the Senate. That is not grounds to delay a vote.

3.) I favor Amy Coney Barrett because she is the best candidate. The nominee should be selected for their ability to best serve on the court, not immediate electoral considerations. We need a candidate who has a clear, principled understanding of the law.  

4.) It is unclear whether the timing of the Senate vote hurts President Trump. What likely would politically be most helpful to Trump would be to nominate a candidate and have that candidate fail to reach 50 votes. Conservative furor would probably increase turnout and commitment from wavering Republicans. Putting the vote off until after the election smacks of cowardice. Many Republicans also realize that a lame duck vote would definitely look less legitimate were Republicans to lose. The Republicans control the presidency and the Senate, now, because they were elected by the people. Long-term damage could potentially be severe if they vote after being rejected, though it would still be legal.

5.) It is unclear which potential nominee would actually help President Trump the most. There is an assumption that a Cuban-American nominee would attract Latino voters. But as is known among by those who pay closer attention, there is some tension among Mexican-Americans (and other sub-groups) and Cuban-Americans. Latinos of Mexican and Central American origin, not Cubans, will be important, even in the tossup Orlando area in Florida. If the GOP doesn’t already have a heavily motivated Cuban-American community in Miami, Biden has already wrapped up this election. Barrett might actually help more within swing states.

6.) The Democrats will smear any nominee, there will NOT be a free pass. Republicans would do the reverse. It won’t be easier for one nominee over another.

Obviously, having the Supreme Court vacancy vote will not calm the waters. It merely shifts anger from one thing to another. But, if we focus on preservation of the institutions of America while fighting over issues within that structure, we will survive this contentious election as we have survived even more contentious ones in the past. But both sides, when they don’t like the results, need to refrain from an increasing willingness to ignore or destroy the basics of what has enabled a nation with deep differences to survive. 

Souder is a former Republican congressman.