American Decline

How does this end? Where the crisis in American democracy might be headed


Americans have long believed our country to be exceptional. That is true today in perhaps the worst possible sense: No other established Western democracy is at such risk of democratic collapse.

January 6, 2021, should have been a pivot point. The Capitol riot was the violent culmination of President Donald Trump and his Republican allies’ war on the legitimacy of American elections — but also a glimpse into the abyss that could have prompted the rest of the party to step away.

Yet the GOP’s fever didn’t break that day. Large majorities of Republicans continue to believe the lie that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump, and elected Republicans around the country are acting on this conspiracy theory — attempting to lock Democrats out of power by seizing partisan control of America’s electoral systems. Democrats observe all this and gird for battle, with many wondering if the 2024 elections will be held on the level.

These divisions over the fairness of our elections are rooted in an extreme level of political polarization that has divided our society into mutually distrustful “us versus them” camps. Jennifer McCoy, a political scientist at Georgia State University, has a term for this: “pernicious polarization.”


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