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Opinion This Thanksgiving, we are grateful for the wisdom of voters

Jenna and Nate Ovenden take a photo next to a large balloon arch during an election night campaign event on Nov. 8 in Sioux Falls, S.D. (Erin Woodiel/The Argus Leader via AP)

God has a special providence for fools, drunkards, and the United States of America.

These sentiments — upon which we have found ourselves reflecting before on Thanksgiving — may or may not have been expressed by the 19th-century German statesman Otto von Bismarck. But whoever uttered them, they would seem to have some relevance to 21st-century America. Much of this country exhaled a collective “Whew!” this month after its narrow escape from yet another electoral nightmare: a wave of spurious challenges to various elections, and trumped-up charges of fraud.

It wasn’t providence that repelled another reckless attack on the vitals of our democratic republic, though. It was the considered judgment of voters in states, cities and counties across the map — liberal, conservative, progressive, independent — who decided this nonsense had gone far enough.

It was a sign of a widespread movement in the general direction of common sense. And yet it also offered troubling evidence of how far we still have to go to resolve our national impasse: Millions voted for candidates who espoused outlandish and often blatantly fraudulent theories about our last presidential election. Many of those candidates ran on promises to throw sand in the gears of the electoral machinery, by putting political hacks in charge of it and by making it harder for legally eligible Americans to express their choices at the polls. In states such as Arizona, where election deniers were defeated, absurd theories about why continue to circulate on the political fringe.

Two Thanksgivings ago, we wrote of the outgoing president that “he denied the reality of his defeat and sought to undermine confidence in procedures that have long stood unchallenged as our means of settling national differences.” And for nearly three weeks after Election Day, he did his worst not only to sabotage his lawful successor’s transition to office but to besmirch those who seek to uphold the law and our national traditions.

Those three weeks stretched into two years, during which mob violence was visited on our Capitol and a good many supposedly responsible people did all in their power to undermine faith in our system of free and fair elections.

The recent voting results are no cause for exultation, but they might help point the way toward a better understanding of the exigency among us to listen and respond better to the plaints and needs of others. Some things cannot be compromised, though. They are stated in two documents displayed at the National Archives, and viewed, with varying degrees of reverence, by huge numbers of tourists each year. One of them speaks of the equality of all humankind, the other to the need to create a more perfect Union. There, under bulletproof glass, they constitute our special providence.

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Members of the Editorial Board and areas of focus: Opinion Editor David Shipley; Deputy Opinion Editor Karen Tumulty; Associate Opinion Editor Stephen Stromberg (national politics and policy, legal affairs, energy, the environment, health care); Lee Hockstader (European affairs, based in Paris); David E. Hoffman (global public health); James Hohmann (domestic policy and electoral politics, including the White House, Congress and governors); Charles Lane (foreign affairs, national security, international economics); Heather Long (economics); Associate Editor Ruth Marcus; and Molly Roberts (technology and society).