On both the left and the right, the 2016 election is promising to be the most intense, passionate, and fearful in recent memory—which is saying something, because the sense of potential catastrophe and dangerously high stakes seems to grow with each new election. Every four years, both sides dread the possibility that the other will get hold of the levers of presidential power, with their potential to massively shape economics, immigration, education, foreign policy, the courts, and a thousand other things. It feels as if we have quadrennial mini-revolutions, as conservatives and liberals skirmish over who gets to set the course for our nation.
To some extent, this political tension and conflict are an unfortunate byproduct of democracy. No system is perfect, and democracy’s regular elections stir up partisanship and politicization in a way that a more authoritarian system (for all its other faults) would not. But our fraught elections aren’t just the fruit of democracy; they are what happens when a democracy forgets the importance of the rule of law.