What would the end of American democracy look like? Here are two terrifying scenarios
Supporters of President Donald Trump protest on the steps of the U.S. Capitol building on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021. - Yuri Gripas/Yuri Gripas/TNS

Donald Trump exposed some fatal weaknesses in American democracy, and his Republican allies are working to exploit those in the next presidential election, according to a staff writer at The Atlantic.

The Atlantic took a deep dive into Trump's efforts to undo his 2020 election loss, and his ongoing efforts to game the system for a 2024 race, and staff writer George Packer tried to imagine what the death of U.S. democracy might look like and came up with two terrifying scenarios.

"If the end comes, it will come through democracy itself," Packer wrote. "Here’s one way I imagine it could happen: In 2024, disputed election results in several states lead to tangled proceedings in courtrooms and legislatures. The Republican Party’s long campaign of undermining faith in elections leaves voters on both sides deeply skeptical of any outcome they don’t like. When the next president is finally chosen by the Supreme Court or Congress, half the country explodes in rage. Protests soon turn violent, and the crowds are met with lethal force by the state, while instigators firebomb government buildings. Neighborhoods organize self-defense groups, and law-enforcement officers take sides or go home. Predominantly red or blue counties turn on political minorities. A family with a Biden-Harris sign has to abandon home on a rural road and flee to the nearest town. A blue militia sacks Trump National Golf Club Bedminster; a red militia storms Oberlin College. The new president takes power in a state of siege."

Few people would choose that violent route, Packer believes, although some Americans apparently long for bloodshed, but he believes the more likely reaction to a stolen election would be widespread cynicism that would prove fatal to democracy.

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"Following the election crisis, protests burn out. Americans lapse into acquiescence, believing that all leaders lie, all voting is rigged, all media are bought, corruption is normal, and any appeal to higher values such as freedom and equality is either fraudulent or naive," Packer wrote. "The loss of democracy turns out not to matter all that much. The hollowed core of civic life brings a kind of relief. Citizens indulge themselves in self-care and the metaverse, where politics turns into a private game and algorithms drive Americans into ever more extreme views that have little relation to reality or relevance to those in power. There’s enough wealth to keep the population content. America’s transformation into Russia is complete."

There's another path, however, that could strengthen democracy -- but it requires work and imagination, Packer wrote.

"Citizens will have to do boring things — run for obscure local election offices and volunteer as poll watchers — with the same unflagging energy as the enemies of democracy," Packer wrote. "Decent Republicans will have to work and vote for Democrats, and Democrats will have to work and vote for anti-Trump Republicans or independents in races where no Democrat has a chance to win. Congressional Democrats and the Biden administration will have to make the Freedom to Vote Act their top priority, altering or ending the filibuster to give this democratic fire wall a chance to become law."

"Finding shared ground wherever possible in pursuit of the common good is not most people’s favorite brand of politics," he concluded. "But it’s the politics we need for the emergency that’s staring us in the face, if only we will see it."

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