It’s time to ask a re­al­ly big qu­es­ti­on: is Ame­ri­can-style de­moc­ra­cy about to end?

I don’t mean whet­her Ame­ri­ca’s po­li­ti­cal sys­tem will evol­ve, grow, morph or chan­ge. I mean end.  It’s a qu­es­ti­on I ne­ver thought I’d ask in my li­fe­ti­me. My pa­rents im­mig­ra­ted from Fin­land to the USA in the mid-1950s, and then li­ved for fif­ty ye­ars in the be­lief that the Ame­ri­can way of life and va­lu­es they’d adop­ted in their new ho­me­land would be around for a long time for them and for me, their on­ly son. That was a re­a­so­nab­le as­sump­ti­on back then.  

In fact, it was self-evi­dent. Is it still self-evi­dent now? No. So what’s hap­pe­ned to make this in­to a qu­es­ti­on that needs to be as­ked in 2021? Here are a few key fac­tors.

Outright falsehoods are rampant in America today

For­mer Pre­si­dent Trump con­ti­nu­es to call the 2020 vote “the most cor­rupt elec­ti­on in the his­to­ry of our count­ry.” He touts him­self as “the true Pre­si­dent” and con­ti­nu­es to warn that Ame­ri­can elec­ti­ons are “rig­ged, cor­rupt, and sto­len.” 

Do­zens of U.S. courts, inc­lu­ding the U.S. Sup­re­me Court, were re­a­dy and wil­ling to see evi­den­ce of that wi­desp­re­ad fraud, or evi­den­ce of any fraud at all.  The evi­den­ce was ne­ver pro­du­ced, even to some of the open­ly Trum­pist jud­ges who he­ard the ca­ses and gave Trumps’ le­gal team eve­ry op­por­tu­ni­ty to show wha­te­ver evi­den­ce they might have had. They didn’t and couldn’t be­cau­se the fraud didn’t exist.

Then some elec­ti­on au­dits were done, and they too sho­wed a lack of fraud. In Ari­zo­na, a so-cal­led au­dit was car­ried out by a com­pa­ny which had vir­tu­al­ly no ex­pe­rien­ce in elec­ti­ons and whose ow­ner sup­por­ted the “Stop the Steal” mo­ve­ment. But even their ef­forts re­sul­ted in a big­ger win for Pre­si­dent Bi­den than the of­fi­ci­al Ari­zo­na vote count.

The “sto­len elec­ti­on” is a lie. It’s been pro­ven to be a lie. But it’s a lie that’s be­lie­ved by two-thirds of Re­pub­li­cans, or at le­ast that’s what they say to pol­ls­ters. Per­haps, wor­se still, they don’t re­al­ly be­lie­ve it or don’t re­al­ly care whet­her it’s true or not.  Ma­y­be they’re lying about be­lie­ving the lies about the last elec­ti­on be­cau­se what they re­al­ly be­lie­ve is that Ame­ri­can so­cie­ty (and Was­hing­ton in par­ti­cu­lar) has been cap­tu­red by so­ci­a­lists, ra­ci­al mi­no­ri­ties and se­xu­al pre­da­tors. 

What they re­al­ly want is to aban­don the idea of de­moc­ra­cy and ins­te­ad fol­low an avo­wed­ly au­toc­ra­tic le­a­der. Ame­ri­can de­moc­ra­cy of the past will just be col­la­te­ral da­ma­ge for eve­ry­o­ne but their own group.  That’s re­a­li­ty in 2021 for a huge por­ti­on of Ame­ri­ca.

Political violence is becoming an accepted norm in America

Ne­ar­ly a third of Re­pub­li­cans ag­ree with the con­ten­ti­on that Ame­ri­can pat­ri­ots may need to re­sort to ac­tu­al vi­o­len­ce against their po­li­ti­cal op­po­nents to save the count­ry.

They don’t mean mere rhe­to­ri­cal me­tap­hors. They’re tal­king about spe­ci­fic acts of vi­o­len­ce.  A U.S. Se­na­tor was re­cent­ly as­ked about the pe­op­le chan­ting “hang Mike Pen­ce” [Trump’s for­mer Vice Pre­si­dent] on Ja­nu­a­ry 6th in the U.S. Ca­pi­tol, and Mr. Trump’s con­ti­nu­ed re­fu­sal to cri­ti­ci­ze the chants or the chan­ters.  The Se­na­tor was as­ked di­rect­ly if he can “to­le­ra­te a le­a­der who de­fends mur­de­rous chants against his own vice pre­si­dent?" The Se­na­tor’s rep­ly was that "the Re­pub­li­can Par­ty is inc­re­dib­ly uni­ted right now" and "Trump brings lots of ener­gy to the par­ty."  That’s a clear res­pon­se; he said it would’ve been OK for Mr. Pen­ce to be hung, li­te­ral­ly, if that will help to uni­fy and ener­gi­ze the par­ty.

Anot­her Re­pub­li­can cong­res­s­man re­cent­ly twee­ted a car­toon sho­wing him stab­bing Pre­si­dent Bi­den and kil­ling his col­le­a­gue in the U.S. Cong­ress, cong­res­s­wo­man Ale­xand­ria Oca­sio-Cor­tez. He exp­lai­ned that the car­toon was “sym­bo­lic”. This is the kind of stuff that in con­tem­po­ra­ry Ger­ma­ny would be in­ci­te­ments to vi­o­len­ce that could get an en­ti­re po­li­ti­cal par­ty ban­ned. In Was­hing­ton to­day, it’s just eve­ry­day po­li­tics-as-usu­al.

It ori­gi­na­tes in lar­ge part from the for­mer Pre­si­dent. He had te­pid­ly cri­ti­ci­zed the Ja­nu­a­ry 6th vi­o­len­ce at the U.S. Ca­pi­tol, but in re­cent months he has trans­for­med him­self in­to the head cheer­le­a­der for the in­sur­rec­ti­o­nists, cal­ling them “great pe­op­le”, a “lo­ving crowd”, and la­men­ting that they are now being “per­se­cu­ted so un­fair­ly”.  His fol­lo­wers in Cong­ress have cal­led them mere “tou­rists”. Mr. Trump has gone from being em­bar­ras­sed about Ja­nu­a­ry 6th to tre­a­ting it as one of the high points of his pre­si­den­cy. He has nor­ma­li­zed po­li­ti­cal vi­o­len­ce and ex­hor­ted his fol­lo­wers to car­ry out some sup­po­sed pat­ri­o­tic duty to make it hap­pen again.

And they cer­tain­ly will. Thre­ats have al­re­a­dy been made to bomb pol­ling si­tes, kid­nap of­fi­ci­als and at­tack state ca­pi­tols in fu­tu­re elec­ti­ons. The ave­ra­ge le­vel of ext­re­mism is ri­sing ra­pid­ly among see­ming­ly le­gi­ti­ma­te Ame­ri­can po­li­ti­ci­ans, in Was­hing­ton and in many U.S. sta­tes, even though it’s inc­re­a­sing­ly hard to tell the true be­lie­vers from the op­por­tu­nists. Wha­te­ver the un­der­lying re­a­li­ty may be, many new­co­mers in Ame­ri­can po­li­tics are more cons­pi­ra­cy-min­ded, more jin­gois­tic and more re­a­dy to port­ray pe­op­le on the ot­her side of the ais­le as god­less, evil and amo­ral.

Su­re­ly, they are more li­ke­ly to en­ga­ge in reck­less acts of obst­ruc­ti­on, conf­lict and va­li­da­ting vi­o­len­ce as ac­cep­tab­le po­li­ti­cal exp­res­si­on (at le­ast they’ll turn a blind eye to any more “tou­rists” they see).  Real vi­o­len­ce is a quick way to di­vi­de and con­qu­er any count­ry, es­pe­ci­al­ly when the ins­ti­ga­tor of vi­o­len­ce is a key part of the count­ry’s le­a­ders­hip in the count­ry’s ca­pi­tol. It’s nai­ve to think that the Uni­ted Sta­tes would be im­mu­ne to such dest­ruc­ti­on from wit­hin.

Republicans have effectively abandoned all principles except loyalty to Trump

It wasn’t so long ago that Ame­ri­can con­ser­va­tism was a strong and vi­ab­le po­li­ti­cal phi­lo­sop­hy. Many of us vo­ted for Re­pub­li­can can­di­da­tes who of­fe­red va­lid exp­la­na­ti­ons for the po­si­ti­ons and po­li­cies of the Re­pub­li­can par­ty.  Not any­mo­re.

Now the par­ty fas­hi­ons its po­li­ti­cal doct­ri­nes to jus­ti­fy Trump’s re­turn to po­wer, fil­ling in the gaps of Trum­pism’s no­ne­xis­tent ide­o­lo­gy with an ap­pe­al to “con­ser­va­ti­ve na­ti­o­na­lism” and po­pu­lism. Per­haps Re­pub­li­can con­ser­va­ti­ves were ne­ver very com­for­tab­le with the Ame­ri­can ex­pe­ri­ment in li­be­ral de­moc­ra­cy, but sin­ce Mr. Trump took over their par­ty, Re­pub­li­can le­a­ders have re­ve­a­led an open hos­ti­li­ty to core Ame­ri­can va­lu­es.  Let’s take just two straight­for­ward examp­les.

Freedom of religion and the right to vote

Mic­ha­el Flynn is a for­mer na­ti­o­nal se­cu­ri­ty ad­vi­ser in the Trump ad­mi­nist­ra­ti­on who was ful­ly par­do­ned by his friend Mr. Trump, des­pi­te Mr. Flynn ha­ving twice pled guil­ty to lying to the FBI. Mr. Flynn has now said that the Uni­ted Sta­tes should have a sing­le re­li­gi­on. "If we are going to have one na­ti­on un­der God, which we must, we have to have one re­li­gi­on," he said. "One na­ti­on un­der God and one re­li­gi­on un­der God."  Well, so much for that free­dom of re­li­gi­on stuff and those ot­her troub­le­so­me Bill of Rights free­doms (ex­cept for the Se­cond Amend­ment, of cour­se…that one will pro­bab­ly stick around).

Then there’s vo­ting. It’s comp­lex to dis­cuss in de­tail here, but ef­forts have ex­po­nen­ti­al­ly inc­re­a­sed to chan­ge how elec­ti­ons work in many Ame­ri­can sta­tes. In the first six months of this ye­ar alo­ne at le­ast 30 new laws were enac­ted in 18 sta­tes ma­king it har­der for Ame­ri­cans to vote.

Vo­ting dist­ricts are al­so being re­or­ga­ni­zed to un­der­mi­ne De­moc­rat-le­a­ning are­as. In some pla­ces Ame­ri­cans have par­ti­ci­pa­ted in such re­dist­ric­ting plans more than ever be­fo­re, in at­tempts to stop ger­ry­man­de­ring (me­a­ning li­nes bet­ween vo­ting dist­ricts that are drawn in ways that make no sen­se ex­cept to ma­xi­mi­ze one par­ty’s strength over anot­her). But even in some pla­ces where ci­ti­zens were more en­ga­ged than ever be­fo­re, Re­pub­li­can of­fi­ci­als ig­no­red them and went ahe­ad with their plans any­way. Law­suits re­main the on­ly way to stop them, but the time and mo­ney re­qui­red for an un­cer­tain out­co­me is a ma­jor chal­len­ge.  

Whet­her or not Ame­ri­cans are al­lo­wed to vote wit­hout bar­riers is on­ly the tip of the ice­berg. A lar­ger con­cern is less vi­sib­le: chan­ges to how vo­tes will be coun­ted and who will be in char­ge of coun­ting them. This ye­ar 216 bil­ls have been int­ro­du­ced in 41 sta­tes that seek to chan­ge elec­ti­on ad­mi­nist­ra­ti­on in ways that would inc­re­a­se the po­wer of Re­pub­li­can-cont­rol­led state le­gis­la­tu­res over elec­ti­ons by strip­ping po­wers from im­par­ti­al elec­ti­on of­fi­ci­als and han­ding them to par­ti­san law­ma­kers.  

Even if vo­ters are al­lo­wed to re­ach the bal­lot box, their vo­tes are ir­re­le­vant if they are not fair­ly and ob­jec­ti­ve­ly coun­ted, but these new laws would dras­ti­cal­ly chan­ge the pro­cess.  Some of them give le­gis­la­tu­res and of­fi­ci­als the po­wer to dis­re­gard ac­tu­al vo­ting re­sults if they simp­ly don’t like them. Yes, this is re­al­ly hap­pe­ning in Ame­ri­ca and not on­ly in some ba­na­na re­pub­lic. And it’s hap­pe­ning right now, in 2021, not on­ly in the 1800s.

Si­mul­ta­ne­ous­ly, Mr. Trump has en­dor­sed Re­pub­li­can can­di­da­tes for key state elec­ti­on po­si­ti­ons who share a com­mon pur­po­se: they emb­ra­ce the myth of the sto­len elec­ti­on and the lie that Bi­den is an im­pos­tor in the White Hou­se. Trump’s ef­forts have con­cent­ra­ted on the bat­t­leg­round sta­tes; of the 15 Re­pub­li­can can­di­da­tes run­ning for sec­re­ta­ry of state, 10 of them are avid “stop the ste­a­lers”. 

The in­teg­ri­ty of the last U.S. Pre­si­den­ti­al elec­ti­on hin­ged upon a few brave elec­ti­on of­fi­ci­als who re­fu­sed to bow to di­rect pres­su­re from then-Pre­si­dent Trump to chan­ge the le­gi­ti­ma­te re­sults in their sta­tes. If those pe­op­le are not around the next time, or if their po­wers are re­du­ced or ta­ken away, Re­pub­li­cans lo­yal to Trump will be poi­sed to launch a far more sop­his­ti­ca­ted coup than Trump’s ama­teu­rish ef­fort to hang on to po­wer in 2020.  Iro­ni­cal­ly, it seems that “stop the steal” has be­co­me a code word for real plans to steal the next elec­ti­on!

Such new elec­ti­on re­a­li­ties are al­re­a­dy in place in key U.S. sta­tes like Ari­zo­na and Ge­or­gia. Me­anw­hi­le lo­cal elec­ti­on of­fi­ci­als throug­hout the USA rou­ti­ne­ly re­cei­ve de­ath thre­ats and face dai­ly bat­t­les against po­li­ti­ci­ans trying to un­der­mi­ne them. They wor­ry about whet­her they or their child­ren will be at­tac­ked. They un­ders­tan­dab­ly ask them­sel­ves if they’re wil­ling to go on.

So what does this all mean for the qu­es­ti­on:  is Ame­ri­can de­moc­ra­cy about to end? From what I can see, it sure looks like 2024 could turn out to be the fi­nal hour. Even the mid-term elec­ti­on in 2022 could al­re­a­dy de­ter­mi­ne the out­co­me if, for examp­le, the U.S. Cong­ress is ta­ken over by those who will then cont­rol the laws to make the out­co­me cer­tain in 2024. 

Has the cur­rent U.S. Ad­mi­nist­ra­ti­on re­cog­ni­zed this con­cern? So far it seems like they are mi­red in usu­al pork bar­rel po­li­tics and in­figh­ting. They should ins­te­ad be wor­king on ways to pre­vent state le­gis­la­tu­res from in­ter­fe­ring with elec­ti­ons and cre­a­ting trust­wort­hy vote-coun­ting and vote-au­di­ting pro­ce­du­res for Ame­ri­can elec­ti­ons that could keep the next elec­ti­on le­gi­ti­ma­te and de­fu­se in ad­van­ce any post-elec­ti­on cir­cus. But not­hing has hap­pe­ned yet, and the time re­mai­ning to do anyt­hing is very short.


Tom A. Lip­po is a Fin­nish-spe­a­king Ame­ri­can la­wy­er. Edu­ca­ted at Ya­le, the Uni­ver­si­ty of Jy­väs­ky­lä and Stan­ford Law School, he is the foun­der of FACT LAW, an in­ter­na­ti­o­nal law firm es­tab­lis­hed in 1985. FACT is the first law firm with of­fi­ces in both Fin­land and the Uni­ted Sta­tes. Tom has been a lawy­er in Was­hing­ton, DC ba­sed on Ca­pi­tol Hill for ne­ar­ly 40 ye­ars.