When I was a kid contemplating the day ahead under a gloomy and troubled sky, my grandfather would scan the heavens, point in a particular direction, and say, "It's a little brighter over there."
And it was. And his implication was clear — that brightness was coming our way.
My natural inclination is to channel him, to see better times ahead, to think progress is possible, to believe people are capable of doing wonderful things. That's harder to do some days than others. Pessimism has a place, especially in the short term. But when it comes to the long view, when you scan distant horizons, I find optimism to be a better fit.
This is one of those times when optimism is a little harder to summon, with our democracy straining under direct attack from the very person charged with protecting it — the president of the United States.
Let's be clear: Donald Trump's increasingly desperate attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 election is an assault on our democracy. Because the root of our democracy is the people's faith in it. That's what makes it work. That's how its norms and guardrails function. When you tear at the faith, you tear at the democracy. And Trump is going hard after that faith, trying to make Americans doubt that the voting and counting was fair and square.
Another part of the American system is that when you make charges, you have to prove them. Trump and his minions have not. Instead of proof, we got Thursday's surreal news conference in which attorneys Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell fantasized a conspiracy to "steal" the election that included China, Cuba, Antifa, George Soros, two presidents of Venezuela, Big Tech, a German web server, multiple major U.S. cities, Argentina, polling place volunteers, and various unnamed globalists, dictators and corporations.
But the most important statement, made by Giuliani, was: "Give us an opportunity to prove it in court and we will." He's had opportunities. He can file lawsuits and hold new briefings on national TV, and he has. The problem is that he can't prove anything.
Georgia has certified its vote for former Vice President Joe Biden. Michigan appears ready to do the same on Monday. Judges in Pennsylvania and Arizona have rejected Trump campaign arguments there. Wisconsin's two-county recount is unlikely to wipe out Biden's lead there. Virtually every legal challenge has failed or been dismissed. Now Trump is trying to convince state legislators, like the two Michiganders he invited to the White House Friday, to reject their states' vote for Biden and pick electors who will support Trump in the Electoral College, a suggestion rebuffed by the Michigan duo. Stop whose steal?
This coup will fail and our democracy will survive this stress test, worse even than the challenge posed by Richard Nixon, still the bellwether for many folks my age. But how well we survive will depend on how well we understand that what doesn't kill our democracy has to make it stronger. We must choose to make it stronger. And I believe we will.
We have some shoring up to do. We can codify and tighten election practices and laws. We can further harden our election infrastructure. We can try to inject Trump's Republican enablers with some spine. But mostly we must address the asymmetric war between truth and lies, because millions of Americans are now buying fiction over fact. We can start by doubling down on teaching civics so Americans understand what actually happens in an election and by elevating the status of fact-checkers, but eventually we must rein in social media's role in spreading misinformation.
The sky is brighter over there. But it will come to us more quickly if we choose to make the journey.
Michael Dobie is a member of Newsday's editorial board.