Jan 8, 2021 - Politics & Policy

America in danger

Illustration of a sinking US flag

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Americans, who are used to being winners, now look around and see a country that can't secure its own seat of government... that struggles to distribute a vaccine... that was cyber-looted by Russia... that was half a year late with a stimulus plan both sides wanted... that can't even orchestrate a peaceful transition of power.

Why it matters: This is weakness, not strength. The democracy that President-elect Biden will take over is tattered, archaic, precarious.

By the numbers: The consent of the governed lies at the heart of American democracy. But Biden will lack that fundamental authority.

  • 40% of Americans and 80% of Trump voters say they believe Biden is not the legitimate winner of the 2020 election — the greatest proportion of holdouts in the history of American polling.
  • 145 members of Congress, including 7 Senators, voted to throw out Pennsylvania's Electoral College votes — a move designed to hand victory to the loser of the election.

The big picture: Presidential democracies (think France and Brazil) are prone to crisis at the best of times. None has lasted nearly as long as America's.

  • It was fragile and old even before Trump was elected, burdened with an anachronistic Electoral College, a dangerously long transition between election and inauguration, and a deeply gerrymandered quilt of state and federal constituencies.
  • "You can't lump U.S. democracy in with Canada, Germany, and Japan anymore," Eurasia Group President Bremmer tells Axios. "We’re now midway between them and Hungary."

What's next: If Trump faces criminal prosecution as a civilian, expect the crisis to get worse. On the other hand, if he doesn't face criminal prosecution as a civilian, half the country will take that as a message that the president truly is above the law, and has broad impunity — even when he incites an attempted insurrection.

Our thought bubble, from Axios' Sara Fischer: The erosion of peaceful democracy in America has not occurred in a vacuum. U.S. adversaries, particularly Russia, have long sought to undermine American democracy through sophisticated state-backed cyber and disinformation campaigns.

  • Those campaigns have eroded trust in the press and have muddled the American information ecosystem, fostering a state of chaotic tribalism in the U.S.
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