Guest Spot: We can’t afford to lose our democracy

There is no question that many hard-working Americans are experiencing significant economic pain in their lives. The cost of fuel, food and rent is causing immense financial stress. Millions of Americans who lack independent wealth are suffering and anxious about the future. Notwithstanding the economic uncertainty and the anxiety it brings, these problems tend to be cyclical.

Our democracy, however, doesn’t function like the economy. Our 250-year-old constitutional republic was predicated on the assertion that all power flows upward from the people, and not the other way round. This proud history came dangerously close to ending on Jan. 6, predicated on the actions of the former president and a number of members of Congress who aided in these efforts, including our own, Lee Zeldin.

Before the election, Mr. Trump declared that the only way he could lose was if the other side cheats. As we know, he stated he won the election after Joe Biden was declared the winner. He has continued the drumbeat of a stolen election notwithstanding the fact that he had been told by his Attorney General, Bill Barr, White House counsel Pat Cipollone and other high ranking White House staff members that there was no fraud in the presidential election.

Incredibly, on Jan. 6 the president callously suggested that the security officials inside the Capitol building stop using the metal detectors at a time when he knew his followers who had entered the Capitol were armed. Simultaneously, there was a chorus of attackers shouting, “Hang Mike Pence.” Instead of attempting to calm the crowd, he tweeted that “the vice president didn’t have the courage to do what was necessary to protect our country from a stolen election.” Although the Secret Service wanted to remove the vice president from the Capitol building, he refused, courageously realizing that had he left before the electoral vote count, this attempted coup would have succeeded.

Many members of Congress, after witnessing the violence of the insurgents, the death threats to the vice president and the Speaker of the House and after running to safety themselves, proceeded to vote against the certification of Joe Biden as president. One of the leaders of this illegal and cowardly act was our own congressman, Lee Zeldin. Rest assured, as a former prosecutor, defense counsel and New York State Supreme Court judge, I have no hesitancy in stating that the vote against certification had no legal, factual or evidentiary basis. Its sole purpose was to provide an unauthorized format to support the president’s desire to remain in power.

Congressman Zeldin and all those who voted against certification after the horrific events of that day violated their oaths to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution. The American people, particularly New Yorkers, should insist that Mr. Zeldin, and all those who joined him, never serve in elected office again.

This was an insurgency born of sedition. We Americans believe that government overthrows can’t happen here. They only happen in Third World, less stable countries. The lesson of Jan. 6 is that it can happen here, as efforts of the seditionists came perilously close to success. From the start of the republic, thousands of soldiers, sailors, marines and others lost their lives defending all of us privileged to live in the land of the free. To support any member of Congress who aided this conspiracy is to disrespect the lives that have been lost in service to our country and the constitutional rule of law system on which it is based. Whether you lean right or left politically, all of us must guard against a repeat of Jan. 6.

Democracy and its future viability are on the ballot this November. It should be every American’s primary concern. Gas and food prices eventually come back to normal. Failed democracies do not. 

Mr. Mayer is a retired prosecutor and New York State Supreme Court justice. He lives in Riverhead.