Whether you think the decision of Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows to disqualify former President Donald Trump from the state’s primary ballot was a principled act of bravery or a scurrilous subversion of democracy, you’re probably overthinking it.

The fact of the matter is that the Bellows’ decision is one small part of a process – albeit a lengthy process and one this country has not been through in living memory. In the coming weeks and months, the decision made here in Maine will be steeply demoted from national flashpoint to flash in the pan.

This sense of perspective has been sorely lacking in the responses to the Dec. 29 decision, nationally and locally. The yawning gulf between Bellows’ fans and critics isn’t something that’s never been seen before; in many ways, it’s a microcosm of American politics in 2024.

And when the discourse is this polarized, common sense gets lost.

Over-the-top criticism of Bellows, too often veering well into a personal attack, misses the point entirely. Using a state-level decision to stoke the positively volatile flames of “Make America Great Again” indignation is reckless and endangers people, not least Bellows herself and members of her family.

The creative name-calling and baseless charges relentlessly leveled against the secretary of state over the past week or so would be laughable if they didn’t travel so well – and the people disseminating them weren’t so impressionable and so angry. Bellows does not deserve to be likened to a dictator, and Maine’s system of electoral laws does not deserve to be likened to the “third world,” whatever that might mean to Maine House Republican Leader Billy Bob Faulkingham. Other insults and attacks in circulation do not bear repeating here.


Bellows, presented with challenges filed by Maine voters, was doing her job. The rage felt by those now suggesting that her actions were somehow “illegal” or otherwise in breach of her formal duties – with right-wing media ablaze and at least one Republican lawmaker launching a bid to impeach her – would be better directed toward clear proposals for reform of Maine election law.

There is a case to be made that an unelected officer should not have the statutory power to make a determination like this in Maine if only somebody could calm down and make it.

By the same token, aggressively valorizing the decision by our secretary of state serves only to inflame tensions and sow ever more division. It is wishful to suggest that this action (applicable at the state level and, indeed, suspended pending court appeals) will be what saves our embattled democracy. At the end of the day, the ballot is not the problem.

Faced with both the prospect of another Trump term and increasingly extreme anti-democratic tactics by Republicans and the Trump base, those opposed to Trump’s reelection have doubled down on fighting back. The rhetorical part of this fight can be seen on these pages, on car bumpers, on TV, and elsewhere. The procedural part lately takes the shape of petitions filed with a secretary of state’s office or oral arguments made in court, interventions the likes of which none of us have seen before.

There’s a further downside to these efforts, which is that Trump – the candidate who could shoot somebody on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, by his own assessment, and not lose a single voter – stands to benefit from each attempt to take him down. Within minutes of the Colorado Supreme Court ruling, his campaign sent out an opportunistic fundraising email heavy in bold fonts, italics, and underlining.

“Patriot,” it opened, “State Supreme Court judges ALL appointed by Democrats just REMOVED my name from the 2024 ballot in Colorado … Crooked Joe and the Democrats know they can’t beat us at the ballot box, so their new plan is to nullify every single ‘Trump ballot’ in the nation to keep Biden in the White House.”

There no doubt will be many more campaign emails of this nature, just as there will be more twists in the strange battle over whether or not Trump is eligible to run for president again under the U.S. Constitution. We must all bear in mind that it is a battle likely to be won or lost at the Supreme Court of the United States. Until we get that outcome, whether you support Trump or you oppose him, it would be productive to keep the feuding to a minimum and let this unfamiliar, unsettling process run its course.

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