A democracy in peril

William Falk

This is the editor's letter in the current issue of The Week magazine.

On the cusp of a new year, it is customary to express some hope and optimism. Summoning cheery thoughts about 2020, however, requires a bit more sunniness than I or, I suspect, most of you can muster. The year will likely start with the impeachment trial in the Senate, which is sure to degenerate into another depressing display of shameless hypocrisy and post-truth partisanship. The Democratic primaries will follow, unleashing a fresh round of generational warfare that will either leave people under 35 or over that age deeply dissatisfied with the nominee. And then we will move into the general election, which promises to be the ugliest presidential election of our ­lifetimes — a sustained Category 5 hurricane of negative ads, disinformation (of both foreign and domestic origin), and fear bordering on panic. In the Trump era, Republicans and Democrats have come to view each other as invading zombie armies hell-bent on their America's destruction.

The potential for an election disaster is very real. In one possible scenario, President Trump narrowly loses, denounces the results as a fraudulent coup — millions of illegal votes! hacking by Ukraine and China! — and refuses to vacate the White House. At his urging, armed supporters battle protesters in the streets. Would Mitch McConnell and other Republican leaders insist Trump leave? That's no longer clear. In another scenario, Trump loses the popular vote but wins again in the Electoral College. Traumatized Democrats can't bear this repeat of 2016, and refuse to accept Trump's legitimacy. An even more perilous scenario: The vote count is too close to call, with confrontational recounts in several swing states and perhaps a Supreme Court intervention. Democracies die, political scientists tell us, when the credibility of elections and vital institutions is eroded and the rule of law is destroyed. Let's hope our democracy can survive the next election, and the tumultuous year to come.

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