The Washington Post
America seems to be sleepwalking into disaster
Near the end of last week’s Jan. 6 House committee hearing, former deputy national security adviser Matthew Pottinger, a perpetually cheerful former Marine, said the attack on the Capitol “emboldened our enemies by helping give them ammunition to feed a narrative that our system of government doesn’t work, that the United States is in decline. China, the Putin regime in Russia, Tehran, they’re fond of pushing those kinds of narratives — and by the way, they’re wrong.”
But are they wrong? They certainly have been to date; the United States has been defying predictions of doom for more than two centuries. But, as the ads for mutual funds say, past performance is no guarantee of future results. We need to take seriously the possibility that the United States could become a failed democracy, if only to avert that dire fate. There’s a good reason that 85 percent of respondents in a recent survey said the country is headed in the wrong direction.
A lot of the gloom and doom is due, of course, to the high rate of inflation, which will subside in time. But there are more intractable problems, too, such as the persistence of racism and income inequality. That we have far more gun violence than other advanced democracies and yet can’t implement commonsense gun-safety regulations (such as a ban on military-style assault rifles and high-capacity magazines) is a damning indictment of our democracy. So, too, is our failure to do more to address climate change even as temperatures spike. When we do act, it often makes the situation worse, not better.
Unleashed by a right-wing Supreme Court, Republican legislatures around the country are repealing or restricting abortion rights. This is producing horror stories that I never thought I would see in the United States. A woman in Texas had to carry a dead fetus for two weeks because removing it would have required a procedure that is also used in abortions. A woman in Wisconsin bled for more than 10 days after an incomplete miscarriage because medical staff would not remove fetal tissue. A 10-yearold girl was raped in Ohio and had to travel to Indiana to get an abortion.
These are the kinds of human rights violations we would be protesting if they occurred in other countries. That they are happening in the United States is an ominous sign of what lies ahead, because other countries in recent years that have taken away abortion rights — Poland and Nicaragua — have also taken away political rights.
We already live in a “backsliding” democracy, where voting rights are being restricted and freedom is under siege. The most severe threat comes from an increasingly authoritarian Republican Party whose maximum leader is an unindicted and unrepentant coup plotter.
Despite the yeoman work of the Jan. 6 committee, former president Donald Trump remains the leading contender for the 2024 GOP nomination — and on the current trajectory, he could defeat President Biden, whose unpopularity continues to plumb new depths. We need to be clear about what another Trump term would mean: It could be the death knell for our democracy.
Jonathan Swan of Axios has an alarming report on the preparations in Trump World for returning to power: “Sources close to the former president said that he will — as a matter of top priority — go after the national security apparatus, ‘ clean house’ in the intelligence community and the State Department, target the ‘ woke generals’ at the Defense Department, and remove the top layers of the Justice Department and FBI.”
One of the instruments of Trumpian purges would be Schedule F, a new category of federal employment that Trump created in 2020 (and Biden rescinded), which would have removed tens of thousands of federal employees from civil service protections. By reviving Schedule F, Trump could fire career officials and replace them with ultraMAGA loyalists. “F” might as well stand for “fascism,” because that is what we will get if Trump were to appoint his most fanatical acolytes to the most powerful positions in government.
I wish I could say that such a scenario is implausible, but it is all too realistic. I used to be an optimist about America’s future. Not anymore. There’s a good reason that so many people I know are acquiring foreign passports and talking about moving somewhere else: The prognosis is grim.
As political scientist Brian Klaas just wrote in the Atlantic, given that the GOP has become “authoritarian to its core,” there are two main ways to save America: Either reform the Republican Party or ensure that it never wields power again. But a Maga-fied GOP is likely to gain control of at least one chamber of Congress in the fall and could win complete power in 2024.
We seem to be sleepwalking to disaster. If we don’t wake up in time, we could lose our democracy. Just because we’ve avoided a breakdown in the past doesn’t mean we will stave it off in the future.