Senator Angus King (I-Maine) spoke on the floor of the Senate to stress the importance of protecting voting rights against state and local-level threats, and preserving America’s historically unique democratic system of self-governance.
The speech came ahead of a vote on the King-sponsored Freedom to Vote Act, legislation designed to improve access to the ballot for all Americans and advance common-sense election integrity reform.
While Senate Republicans blocked the voting rights reform bill, King’s impassioned speech highlighted the unique history of American democracy, and the fragility of this democratic experiment to erosion from within.
“The United States of America is an anomaly in world history,” Senator King started. We are a two-hundred-and-forty-five-year-old experiment in self-government which is based upon an idea which was radical in 1776, was tested at Gettysburg, Antietam, Shiloh, and The Wilderness, was defended at Anzio, Iwo Jima, and Normandy, and was codified in 1965– an idea that the people—all the people—are the ultimate source of power and can govern themselves through their elected representatives.”
“Given the consistent history of this experience, it’s clear that our experiment is fragile, that what we have and take for granted is in no way guaranteed. As has been the case with democratic experiments throughout history, it can fail—rarely from external attack, almost always from erosion from within,” Senator King continued.
Later in his speech, Senator King emphasized the importance of this moment in the national history of the United States, and underscored the responsibility to act in the spirit of the devoted public servants who came before us.
“I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that we are at a hinge of history, that circumstances have thrust us—those of us in this body—into a moment when the fate of the American experiment hangs in the balance,” stated Senator King. “We are the heirs—and trustees—of a tradition that goes back to Jefferson and Lincoln, to Webster, Madison, Margaret Chase Smith, and, yes, our friend John McCain. All were partisans in one way or the other, but all shared an overriding commitment to the idea that animates the American experiment, the idea that our government is of, by, and for the people, all the people. Now is the moment to reach beyond region, beyond party, beyond self, to save and reinvigorate the sputtering flame of that idea.
“Yes, democracy is an anomaly in world history and what we have is fragile; it rests upon the Constitution and laws, to be sure, but it rests even more so on the trust our people place in our democratic system— and in us.”
Senator King concluded his remarks by stressing the current looming Constitutional crisis, highlighting the pressing need for action to secure the health of our democracy, and urging his colleagues to join him in enacting a set of basic protections of the sacred right to vote.
“There has been a great deal of talk in recent months of a possible Constitutional crisis in 2022 or 2024; Mr. President, we don’t have to wait that long; we are in the midst of such a crisis right now,” said Senator King. “One of our great political parties has embraced the idea that our last election was fraudulent, that our president is illegitimate, and that they must move legislatures across the country to “fix” the results of future elections. A substantial proportion of our population has lost faith in our democratic system and seems prepared to accept authoritarianism; all but the most extreme sources of information have been devalued; and violence bubbles just below the surface.”
“But it doesn’t have to be this way,” Senator King continued. “We in this body, perhaps more than anyone else in the country, have the power to change direction, to pull our country back from the brink, and to begin the work of restoring our democracy, as we did in the Revolution, the Civil War, and the civil rights struggles of sixty years ago, first, by simply telling the truth, and then by enacting a set of basic protections of the sacred right to vote.”
“Indeed, destiny has placed us here at one of history’s fateful moments; our response to it will be our most important legacy,” Senator King concluded. “I believe that we all know our responsibility—and whether we like it or not, history will record whether we, each one of us, meets it.”
You can watch Senator King’s full speech below and read the full transcript here.