Total Collapse: The Breakdown of the American Experiment
How the political and cultural forces in the United States have pushed us past the point of no return where it's now a question of when, not if, our democracy will fail and is there a way to pull the brake.
Yesterday, January 6, 2021, is a day that will go on the shortlist of dates in which our democracy was shrouded in darkness. Since the election of President Donald Trump in the 2016 Presidential election and the beginning of his Presidency in January 2017, Mr. Trump has used harsh rhetoric and an “us vs them” positioning to drive his bases enthusiasm and play on their anger in an effort to win elections. Republicans across the board have long supported this positioning and found it politically beneficial to their own careers with some positioning for political campaigns in the future for higher office whether that be a seat in the US House, US Senate, or the Presidency itself. What this culminated in was an attack on our democracy, an invasion of our nation’s Capitol building that we hadn’t seen even during the Civil War.
But while Mr. Trump’s strategy may not have been effective electorally with Democrats poised to control the Senate, the House of Representatives and the White House come January 20, 2021, it most certainly was effective when it came to shaping our discussions and how each side of the political aisle views the other through an ever-increasing biased and polarizing lens.
This past election cycle, and more broadly our political landscape over the last decade, has seen the growth of deeper divides amongst our main political parties in the United States of America. This divide has led to individuals becoming entrenched in their own version of reality as we focus on the media and information that best suits our idea of what is morally right or wrong. From the global pandemic that has is closing in on 400,000 American lives lost, an economic crisis that he left tens of millions of Americans unemployed with no way to pay bills, a racial reckoning against police brutality and systemic racism built into our oldest institutions, and the most consequential presidential election in more than a generation, our very democracy has been pushed and tested with its gears and mechanisms being gummed up to the point of a near-frozen state but its resilience has not faltered. How much longer can our institutions function under our current climate?
With this much tension straining every aspect of our lives, it is valid to ask how we can get back to a much more normal political climate. These tensions existed for many decades but began quickly rising after the election of President Donald Trump in 2016 as the United States ushered in a new populist political era. President Trump has largely governed in a manner many Presidents have not: serving those who voted for him and ignoring those who did not. This has been seen largely in his response to the COVID-19 pandemic where he often quipped about democratic, or blue, states not receiving much-needed assistance until he felt they were showing gratitude towards his “generosity”. Recently, this self-serving style of governing has appeared as President Trump continues to sow doubt about the 2020 election result even before the first votes were counted to decide who would run against him on the democratic ticket.
This stoking of the flames by playing up the fears of evangelical Whites through the idea that the other is the root of our problems along with a variety of other messages spread through harsh rhetoric has continued to increase the temperature and our theoretical tea kettle has been screaming, waiting for someone to release the pressure as it continued to grow. The election of President-elect Joseph R. Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala D. Harris has yet to reveal whether these pressures have been released but what is evident is just how close we are as a country to a total collapse of our political systems.
Some may see this statement as overdramatic or as a “doomsday” scenario but this election has proven just how fragile our system can be. As President Trump filed frivolous lawsuit after lawsuit, our system was put to the test by Democratic and Republican-appointed judges, Democrat and Republican state and federal Supreme Court justices, and Democrat and Republican Governors and Secretaries of State. These individuals had to choose between standing for our democracy or selling out to the man who seemingly can decide the fate of many political futures. After losing over 60 lawsuits and 2 petitions to the Supreme Court which were both thrown out in 9–0 rulings, President Trump made a last-ditch effort the contest the election results on January 6th when Congress met to count the electoral college votes cast on December 14th.
The move failed with President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris formally being certified the winners of the 2020 election but it brings up the very real question of what would happen if Republicans controlled both the House and the Senate? If that were the case then President Trump may very well have been able to pull off a complete overture of the election that he lost by over 7 million votes. What is surprising is that this scenario is more likely to occur than some might think. With Democrats suffering losses down-ballot in key state races that would have allowed the dismantling of some of the gerrymandering and unequal representation across many states, it is likely that the map for the House of Representatives will make it harder for Democrats to win in future elections beginning in 2022. A Republican sweep in 2022 will mean that the 2024 election will have to be certified and the electoral college votes counted by a Republican-controlled Congress if Republicans manage to regain control of the Senate which now has a 50–50 democratic majority with Vice President-elect Harris casting the tie-breaking vote after January 20th.
If President Trump does decide to run again in 2024, pending any criminal charges from the many ongoing investigations against him and his family business or the now growing calls to impeach him for inciting a riot at the United States Capitol building, it wouldn’t matter how the people voted or how many electoral college votes either candidate received even if someone received the 270+ electoral college votes needed to secure the Presidency. A hypothetical scenario could go as follows:
President Trump decides to run for re-election in 2024. Running against a Democratic opponent, he loses with similar margins as he did in 2020 losing by over 70 electoral college votes and roughly 6% of the popular vote. The electoral college meets and casts their votes on December 14th, 2024 and the Congress meets during a joint session where the votes will be counted on January 6, 2025. During this meeting, both a Senator and a House member contest the slate of electors from one or more states. After the chambers deliberate, each chamber will vote on whether to throw out the electors or keep the current slate. With a single party control, the electors from several states are thrown out resulting in a vote tally where neither candidate receives the required 270 votes needed to win the election.
The Presidential election would then go to the House of Representatives where each state delegation would have just 1 vote and a simple majority is needed to select the next President. Due to the Democratic losses in 2020 at the state level resulting in Congressional maps being drawn in a way that led to Democratic loses in the Senate and House in 2022, Republicans hold more votes across state delegations and essentially hand Donald Trump a second term where he becomes only the second President in US history to serve two non-consecutive terms becoming the 45th and 47th President of the United States.
While this may seem like a stretch, it is a very real possibility and the implications of such a move would be disastrous for our country by setting a dangerous precedent where either party could pull off the same stunt in the future. It would also threaten the stability of the world as our allies and enemies watch the once shining city on a hill collapsed in on itself. The beacon of hope and democracy begins to turn into the very forms of disfunction that we have fought war after war to protect against. How do we avoid this? The short answer is that it is up to our elected officials to put our country over party and not sell out. The long answer is that it requires not just our elected officials, but for us as citizens to make better-informed decisions about where we want our country to go. We need our elected officials to work across the aisle and do what is best for their country, not their political ambitions.