It was an opinion that was designed to raise eyebrows — and it worked. The Washington Post published an op-ed late last week from Robert Kagan, a conservative at the Brookings Institution, with a headline that read, "Our constitutional crisis is already here."
Kagan's first sentence read, "The United States is heading into its greatest political and constitutional crisis since the Civil War, with a reasonable chance over the next three to four years of incidents of mass violence, a breakdown of federal authority, and the division of the country into warring red and blue enclaves."
For those who take such warnings seriously, it's discouraging to know there's no shortage of experts ringing similar alarms. Rick Hasen, one of the nation's leading election-law scholars, told Politico last week, "In Sept. 2020, I wrote a piece for Slate titled, 'I've never been more scared about American democracy than I am right now.' A month ago, I was on CNN and said I was 'scared s---less' .... But I'm even more frightened now."
Political scientist Daniel Ziblatt, the co-author of "How Democracies Die," recently told The New Yorker, "Turns out, things are much worse than we expected." He added that current conditions in the United States are "much more worrisome." Around the same time, more than 100 scholars of democracy signed a joint statement of principles, warning that the United States' democracy "is now at risk."
It was against this backdrop that Donald Trump, who's chiefly responsible for fueling fears over the nation's future, sat down with a conservative media outlet over the weekend and poured some fuel on the fire:
'[Democrats] cheat on the elections. They don't need votes. They cheat on the elections. I mean, you look at 43,000 votes were found last night. They cheat on elections. When you cheat on elections you don't have to destroy the country. They are destroying our country. Our country will not survive this. Our country will not survive.'
As is always the case, what democracy's opponents do is more important than what they say. And as we've seen in recent months, Trump and his allies have done quite a bit, from trying to overturn election results to launching a campaign of new voter-suppression tactics to delegitimizing elections they disapprove of.
But as Yale's Timothy Snyder has warned, the rhetoric of democracy's opponents isn't irrelevant. When a former American president — who may yet run again and who continues to lead a major political party — tells a national audience that the United States "will not survive" because of election crimes that exist only in his mind, I'm not inclined to look away.