Trump's war on reality makes political violence nearly certain the next time an election is close: columnist
Donald Trump speaking with supporters at a campaign rally at the Phoenix Convention Center in Phoenix, Arizona. (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

The United States came perilously close to a second civil war over Donald Trump's election loss, but that threat hasn't evaporated.

The former president's supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 in an effort to overturn Joe Biden's election win in favor of authoritarianism, which columnist Damon Linker argues in The Week would have kicked off a civil war -- which now remains a volatile risk after future elections.

"The chilling events of Jan. 6 were made possible by profoundly deep differences between Democrats and Republicans — not over policy or morals, but over reality itself," Linker wrote. "That was Trump's decisive contribution to our civic breakdown. On top of the substantive partisan disagreements that have piled up over the decades, Trump built on and radicalized the polemical style of right-wing media, combining it with the lies and intentional distortions of a well-practiced conman who considers it unacceptable ever to concede a loss."

Trump then exploited the long-standing right-wing paranoia about voter fraud to spin a conspiracy theory that denied anything short of victory, and in just six months the twice-impeached one-term president has thoroughly corrupted the Republican Party's commitment to democracy.

"A significant chunk of the American electorate now resides in an alternative universe of facts about the nation's elections while continuing to share the same political space with the rest of the country," Linker wrote.

Future elections will now likely depend on which party controls Congress and governments in the states with the closest margins, which could throw the process into partisan chaos.

"That's the direction in which we seem to be headed," Linker wrote. "Not toward the imposition of dictatorial rule, but toward something like its opposite — a cascading breakdown of authority as the country and its citizens, already residing in wholly different realities, break apart into rival camps and find themselves incapable of reaching even the most minimal agreement required for functional and stable government and the maintenance of rudimentary public order."

"When a nation gets to that point, it has already slipped beyond the bounds of normal politics into the twilight world of outright dysfunction and the settling of disputes by violence instead of ballots," he added.