Here’s one way I imagine it could happen: In 2024, disputed election results in several states lead to tangled proceedings in courtrooms and legislatures. The Republican Party’s long campaign of undermining faith in elections leaves voters on both sides deeply skeptical of any outcome they don’t like. When the next president is finally chosen by the Supreme Court or Congress, half the country explodes in rage. Protests soon turn violent, and the crowds are met with lethal force by the state, while instigators firebomb government buildings. Neighborhoods organize self-defense groups, and law-enforcement officers take sides or go home. Predominantly red or blue counties turn on political minorities. A family with a BIDEN-HARRIS sign has to abandon home on a rural road and flee to the nearest town. A blue militia sacks Trump National Golf Club Bedminster; a red militia storms Oberlin College. The new president takes power in a state of siege.Packer is trying to bothsides this, but it seems obvious to me that the first scenario is likely if the Democrat wins the 2024 election legitimately and the second scenario is what would happen if Republicans steal the election. Republicans have persuaded themselves that violence is justified in defense of their Cause, so, yes, they're likely to engage in it if they lose in 2024. The people on the left who are ready to engage in violence smash windows and set fires because that's their idea of fun, but they don't really care about righting wrongs -- for them, the subversion of democracy will be nothing more than a pretext for enjoyable mayhem. Meanwhile, most Democrats will fret over the destruction and bloodshed, and will feel a continuation of the sense of futility most are feeling right now.
... Another, likelier scenario is widespread cynicism. Following the election crisis, protests burn out. Americans lapse into acquiescence, believing that all leaders lie, all voting is rigged, all media are bought, corruption is normal, and any appeal to higher values such as freedom and equality is either fraudulent or naive. The loss of democracy turns out not to matter all that much. The hollowed core of civic life brings a kind of relief. Citizens indulge themselves in self-care and the metaverse, where politics turns into a private game and algorithms drive Americans into ever more extreme views that have little relation to reality or relevance to those in power. There’s enough wealth to keep the population content. America’s transformation into Russia is complete.
We can assume Democrats won't riot because they haven't rioted as democracy has eroded in purple states like Wisconsin and Texas. Democrats didn't riot after the 2000 presidential election and don't riot when voters in predominantly Democratic precincts are forced to spend hours in line to vote, or are purged from voter rolls illegitimately. They didn't riot when Mitch McConnell stole a Supreme Court seat from Barack Obama during one election year and didn't riot when Amy Coney Barrett's nomination was rammed through just days before another election. They're not rioting now over the blockade against election reform that's being maintained by Republicans and sold-out Democrats. So if Republicans steal the 2024 election, there's likely to be only brief wave of non-violent protests that will be easy to wait out, with a smattering of violence (though it'll be enough for endless horror stories on Fox). By contrast, there will be real violence, plus a lot of menacing armed protest, if the Democrat wins -- or is declared the winner by the media. (Keep in mind that states run by Republicans won't acknowledge Democratic victories this time, partly out of fear of their own voters, but mostly because anti-democratic zealots will be in key postions three years from now. So the media's call of the election might be premature, as a GOP-controlled political process sets out to reverse the outocome.)
Packer thinks this is the major crisis of our times. He calls for a bipartisan, all-hands-on-deck defense of democracy, while acknowledging that even elected Republicans who pretend to be independent-minded -- Mitt Romney, Susan Collins -- are failing to step up. As for the rest of us:
Citizens will have to do boring things—run for obscure local election offices and volunteer as poll watchers—with the same unflagging energy as the enemies of democracy. Decent Republicans will have to work and vote for Democrats, and Democrats will have to work and vote for anti-Trump Republicans or independents in races where no Democrat has a chance to win. Congressional Democrats and the Biden administration will have to make the Freedom to Vote Act their top priority, altering or ending the filibuster to give this democratic fire wall a chance to become law.I think what will happen is that democracy will fail, and anti-democratic Republicans will run the country for at least a decade, badly. They'll leave democratic institutions more or less in place, in a degraded form. And then, maybe, there'll be the popular front Packer envisions.
It took years, but a coalition of parties that don't agree on much got together to oust Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel. A similar coalition hopes to oust Viktor Orban in Hungary next year, though it's unclear whether that will be possible.
We're failing at this now. We might succeed later, after a tremendous amount of damage has already been done.