Continuous Stress Test for US Democracy

It is astonishing how tenaciously a not-inconsequential cohort of Republicans is participating in the gutting of their country’s political culture and with it, the political institutions that have been around for several centuries and are the pride of so many U.S. citizens. After the defeat in the 2020 presidential election, when Republican candidate Donald Trump lost not only the popular vote but also, decisively, the Electoral College, many thought the Republicans would take advantage of the opportunity to get rid of the loser. First, however, he fomented a sort of attempted coup at the Capitol that was carried out just as amateurishly as his previous four years in office. Still, the damage was significant, even though it wasn’t recognized as such by Republicans. On the contrary, they defended the inciter and took his side politically.

The recent indictment of Trump is a monstrosity that should never be allowed to happen in a democracy. But it did, in part because the immediate and intermediate context allowed it to happen. In view of that fact, the charges laid out by Special Counsel Jack Smith including conspiracy to defraud the U.S. and conspiracy against electoral procedures do not only apply to the former president. But instead of holding themselves back and putting an end to it all, high-profile Republican politicians are defending Trump and continuing to protect him. The lies are still being told, the judicial system is still being defamed, democracy is still being hollowed out. The single motivation underlying it all is the desire to grab power or, among elected officials, to hold onto power. But apparently, some in the GOP have not learned all the lessons from the midterm elections last November — including one that shows depending solely on Trump’s support does not necessarily lead to success.

It’s still not entirely clear how the recent indictment and pending legal proceedings will affect Trump’s chances to run for president again next year. Until now, charges against him in court have helped him more than they’ve hurt him. Trump is the uncontested leader in the ranks of Republican candidates running in the primaries that begin in January 2024. But the worst of it is that even a guilty verdict would not be enough to keep Trump out of the White House. He is allowed to occupy a public office even as a convicted criminal.

As long as Republicans fail to come to their senses during the impending primary season, the world will have to keep trusting that an increasingly decrepit Joe Biden will once again manage to mobilize enough votes for himself, especially in the decisive swing states.

Until then, American democracy will continue to face a continuous stress test. This is even more the case since Republicans are apparently unwilling to distance themselves from the autocratic, state-demolishing path of their ex-president. Europeans would do well to prepare themselves, if only preventively, in case the endurance of U.S. democracy leaves something to be desired.

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