United States: Toward the Abyss?*

The anniversary of the assault on Congress and of Biden’s inauguration has led many to wonder what would happen if Donald Trump won again in 2024.

It is all found in fiction: Fugitives trying to cross the border into Canada, escaping an ultraconservative, misogynistic, dystopic dictatorship, armed to the teeth. “The Handmaid’s Tale” creates a very dark world, a scenario that, for some, may be getting dangerously close.

Over the previous weeks, a considerable number of analysts have toyed with that possibility: the inevitable inertia on the part of societies and governments toward somnambulism and being carried away until the situation hurtles toward the abyss. The anniversary of the assault on Congress and of Joe Biden’s inauguration has led many to wonder what would happen if Donald Trump won again in 2024. And the picture has darkened in the face of quite disturbing prospects. Three key factors have played a part in this.

On the one hand, the number of books, polls and articles that have again brought to light, even more clearly, if possible, the profound polarization that now exists in American society and politics. The most representative data point is the number of Republican voters who still believe that the Democrats stole the election from Trump — up to 80% in several polls — proof of the frailty of people’s trust in the system. Along with this, the number of those who justify the use of violence if things keep getting worse is growing. And this is in a country with 400 million weapons in excess of those held by law enforcement.

The work that has achieved most notoriety is historian Barbara Walter’s “How Civil Wars Start,” which has given rise to a whole debate about the real possibility of arriving at that point.

On the other hand, there is the generalized (and unfair?) frustration with the Biden administration. The quick, early progress in the fight against the pandemic soon hit the wall of those opposing vaccination; the economic boost was halted by rampant inflation and the Great Resignation phenomenon: the voluntary departure of more than nine million workers from their jobs. Plus, the president’s ambitious legislative agenda has come up against the reality of a Congress where he does not even have the support of his entire party.

Lastly, Trump’s own “rearmament” at the head of the Republican Party. Even with several investigations in progress, the former president has established himself as the only reference point for a party departing from moderation at warp speed. Many actions led by Republicans would not make the first cut in a democracy, such as the voter suppression laws they have promoted in several states. Today, the debate regarding a possible schism between moderates and ultraconservatives appears to be over. Whoever disagrees winds up being removed from their position, as Liz Cheney experienced when she supported Trump’s second impeachment.

As things stand, everything suggests that the Democratic Party will lose its meager majority in the House of Representatives in the November election, which would hinder Biden’s legislative work even more. Envisioning President Trump 2.0 causes cold sweats for more than just a few.

Shortly after the magnate arrived in the White House, David Frum published a foreboding fictional essay: “How to Build an Autocracy.” In it, he imagined the very diverse ways in which that presidency would undermine democracy and the institutions. Five years later, the dinosaur is still there.

Biden has yet to perform the “healing role” that will enable the two great parts of the American public to speak to each other again. The day-to-day emergencies and possibly his age have so far prevented him from traversing the country, trying to approach folks from all walks of life. Vice President Kamala Harris is not fulfilling that role either. If anyone, it is First Lady Jill Biden who is covering miles and miles on behalf of her husband. Perhaps that is where the president will find his needed momentum.

Beyond that, all that remains is trust that policies launched will manage to address the economic and health-care situations and make democracy work for all, and belief in the resilience of institutions — in order to avoid the edge of a genuine abyss.

*Editor’s Note: The original version of this article is available with a paid subscription.

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