Democracy is fragile. It demands that people have faith in the process, and that a loser will stay as committed to the project of self-government as a winner.

Neither idea is natural or easy to maintain, and that’s why most of the governments in history were not democracies. Of the ones that start out that way, many rot into dictatorship.

As Americans, we have been spoiled. In the 155 years since the Civil War, we think of the peaceful transfer of power as our birthright, a boring formality. We focus on the places where American democracy has failed to live up to its promise, without appreciating the parts of our system that have worked so well for so long.

No more. Anyone who watched a mob flood the U.S. Capitol building Wednesday, waving “Trump 2020” flags and driving the House and Senate into lockdown, understands how little it would take for even our system to collapse. Before they were driven from the building, insurgents were able to stop a constitutionally required ceremony to formally record the outcome of a presidential election, using their muscle to drown out the voices of millions of voters, at least for a while. It was the kind of scene we’d witnessed in other countries but didn’t believe it could happen here.

Just because this mob didn’t overthrow the people’s elected government this time is no consolation. Our democracy is under attack, and it is being attacked from within.

A short time before the crowd made its move, protesters were called to action by Donald Trump,  the sitting president of the United States, who lied to them for more than an hour, claiming that he had won the recent election by a landslide but it had been stolen from him – and them.

It had not. It was a fair and free election that was conducted in 50 states by elected and appointed officials who followed all the applicable laws.

Trump’s allies have made dozens of legal challenges to the results, and none has been found to have merit by a judge. None.

Trump has used a flood of disinformation to turn his supporters into enemies of their country. His lies have been repeated by some Republican members of the House and Senate, who spent part of Wednesday trying to attract the attention of the angry Trump voters with their own obstruction of the election process. These lawmakers were turning a formal reading of the Electoral College votes into an elaborate all-night production, when they were surprised by the mob they had helped incite and dropped what they were doing to run for shelter.

Those senators and representatives know that the Constitution does not give Congress the right to override the voters, but these Republicans acted as if it did, firing up the crowd while increasing tension by stringing out the process.

It was a shocking to see, but really, we should not be surprised.

Trump’s steady attack on our rules, customs and laws – both written and unwritten – has degraded the structures we need for our democracy to function. And he has been protected from the consequences of his reckless actions by Republicans in Congress. He has been held accountable only by the voters, and that may not have come in soon enough.

In June, when Trump visited Maine, we called on him to resign because of his horrendous mismanagement of the pandemic response.

At the time, we acknowledged that the election was only five months away, but questioned whether the country could take another five months of his misrule.

Now we wonder if we can last another two weeks, until the inauguration of Joe Biden, the winner of the 2020 election.

We can’t just laugh off another outrage by our norm-buster in chief. If Republican senators are still unwilling to remove him from office – and prevent him from running again – they need to say what they would do to protect us from the president who they have protected for so long.

Trump has destroyed faith in our fragile democracy among millions of his followers, and they will not go away, even when he does. Fixing what he has broken won’t be easy, and he should be held accountable.


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