Something rather... disquieting, I think, would be the most appropriate word in this particular instance... occurred to me last Wednesday night as I was in front of the TV watching the latest episode in this sitcom we are rather euphemistically calling the Presidential Campaign of 2016.

I have been alive now for just shy of 53 and a half years... a little more than half a century as the eagle flies. During my lifetime, America has seen one president assassinated, another president resign, a third survive an attempted assassination and a fourth impeached (and acquitted - though there are those who, for whatever reason, choose not to mention the acquittal part whenever they decide to pull out their soapboxes and take them for a spin around the block). 

We have seen candidates of both solid and questionable ethics run for the office of presidency, successfully and unsuccessfully. We have seen decisions made that we questioned at the time that were later proven to have been the right way to go, and we have seen actions taken that we felt certain at the time were absolutely correct and proper...  only to determine later that, hey, maybe that wasn’t such a bright idea after all. 

We have seen some presidents make promises that were later broken, and others who reached across the partisan aisle in hopes of finding common ground... only to be rebuffed, and then falsely accused by those who did the rebuffing of being unwilling to compromise.

The one thing we haven’t seen during the just over half a century that comprises the duration of my lifetime thus far (nor in any of the years that preceded my arrival upon the American landscape, based on all the research I’ve been able as of this writing to conduct on the subject) is a candidate for the highest office in the land challenging what is - if what my first grade teacher Mrs. Woodruff taught us at Bradley Central Elementary School all those years ago is true, and I for one would really like to believe it is - perhaps the single most important pillar of this nation’s democracy: the peaceful transfer of power.

Never in my recollection has a candidate for the Presidency thumbed his or her nose at the very idea that, regardless of our differences of opinion concerning the direction our country should take, we are a nation committed to the Constitutional processes - and that, regardless of which candidate might win any given election, this nation will continue to survive and endure and remain strong. 

Never, that is, until now.

As I sat there in the living room with my wife and son watching last week’s third and final presidential debate, and listening to the candidate in question steadfastly refuse to answer the question of whether or not he would accept the results of next month’s election, I felt a jumble of emotions welling up inside of me. Outrage, antipathy... perhaps even a sense of amused disbelief, as in “Oh, no, he didn’t.” 

And something else as well: fear. 

Fear that - for all that we have accomplished over the past 240 years, for all the mistakes made and lessons learned and heartfelt efforts to do better next time - the Grand Experiment in democracy launched by a roomful of men on a sweltering July day in Philadelphia almost two and a half centuries ago might, in my lifetime, come to a sad and ignoble end.

The thought was simply too much for this American to bear. It still is, a week after the fact.

Sadder still is the realization that there are so many people living in this great nation of ours who are applauding this candidate’s disgraceful contributions to the national conversation. The day after last week’s debate, I was watching the evening news and caught a clip of the candidate “clarifying” his offensive and subversive comment at a campaign rally: 

“I will totally accept the results of this great and historic presidential election... if I win.”

And the crowd cheered, and laughed, and - I can’t help it, it’s the sci-fi nerd in me I guess - I was suddenly reminded of one of the more poignant and disturbing lines of dialogue from the Star Wars movies: “So this is how liberty dies...with thunderous applause.” 

Taken in tandem with earlier comments this same candidate has made with regard to his disdain for the First Amendment, and his threat to have his opponent jailed if he wins the election, and it is little wonder that I find myself worrying that this applause could, in real life as in that movie, be a death-knell for American democracy.

I pray that I am wrong. I pray that our national charter - the Constitution - will not be discarded like some used gum wrapper. That its promise to create a more perfect union, one where liberty and justice are not merely words but honest-to-goodness commitments, remains intact.

Something else that Mrs. Woodruff taught us about all those years ago was the idea that anybody could become president. As much as I hate to admit it, I can’t help but wonder now if that’s really such a good idea after all...

(Column copyright © 2016, by John A. Small)