American Decline

How 2021 became a lost year for American democracy

Tomorrow marks a year since the outgoing president of the United States instigated a mob of his most fervent supporters to sack the Capitol building, where they set about taking selfies, occupying offices, and hunting members of Congress as part of an ultimately unsuccessful — yet still quite damaging — effort to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.

For a brief moment, the horror of the insurrection seemed to unify America’s fractious political class in shared revulsion. But in the ensuing year, nearly every elected Republican chose to close ranks, while Democrats failed comprehensively to address the weak points in our system that former President Donald Trump and his vandals exploited.

Maybe our rickety political system can’t be coup-proofed anyway. But time is running out to try.

The events of Jan. 6, 2021 revealed two interrelated threats to the peaceful transfer of power that nearly everyone took for granted before Trump ran for president in 2016. One is the insanely archaic and convoluted manner in which the mechanisms of the Electoral College (itself a dangerous, unwieldy relic) are executed. The Electoral Count Act (ECA) of 1887, originally crafted to avoid replicating the messy dispute of the 1876 presidential election, seemingly empowers Congress to object to a state’s election results and reverse them. All it takes is one member from each house to voice opposition to certification to trigger deliberation and ultimately an up-or-down vote in both chambers.

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