American Democracy Did Not Survive Intact

The Trump administration will be remembered chiefly for its impact on the institutions of American democracy, a legacy that started coming into focus even before the months-long campaign by the president, his legal team, and loyal aides to overturn the results of the 2020 election. 

That has a prompted a debate over just how America’s institutions fared. Does the peaceful transfer of power mean they survived, or did that merely paper over significant damage? Last month, Andy Smarick of the Manhattan Institute argued here in The Dispatch that the institutions of American democracy proved up to the challenge. Reading his piece, I could hear the proverbial narrator speaking in my head: “No, they didn’t.”

The institutions of American democracy are weaker than they were four years ago. The Trump administration, and the lackluster response to its abuses, have set bad precedents, allowed irresponsible and criminal conduct to go unpunished, and proved that crucial accountability mechanisms in the Constitution are hollow and toothless. 

The next demagogue to sit in the Oval Office can look to the Trump administration, not as a cautionary tale, but a foundation on which to build. Recognizing this fact is crucial to setting an agenda of reform. Congress must respond to the Trump era with an Executive Accountability Act to prevent the next demagogue from doing even more serious damage to American democracy. 

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