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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.

Go deeper

Off the Rails

The siege

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photos: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

On Jan. 6, White House deputy national security adviser Matt Pottinger entered the West Wing in the mid-afternoon, shortly after his colleagues' phones had lit up with an emergency curfew alert from D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser.

How the far right made itself a Russian intel target

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The bizarre story of Capitol rioter Riley June Williams is a full-circle moment for Russia as it looks for new ways to shore up its own influence by fueling the democracy-destabilizing ascendancy of a globally networked radical right.

The big picture: Five years ago, Russia used a network of bots and strategic hack-and-leak operations to embolden an unwitting U.S. far right. Now, at least one American extremist stands accused of willingly offering would-be material support to Moscow.

"Atmospheric river" swings Northern California from drought to flood

The bomb cyclone and atmospheric river seen via satellite on Sunday. The center of the storm is at the middle of the comma shape, due west of Washington State. (CIRA/RAMMB)

A series of powerful "atmospheric river" storms are delivering historic amounts of rainfall across parts of drought-stricken California and the Pacific Northwest from this weekend, forecasters warn.

Why it matters: A strong atmospheric river, packing large amounts of moisture, is predicted to whiplash Northern California from drought to flood.