47 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents want Trump to be the nominee in 2024, according to a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll. And if Trump and Joe Biden are the contenders, Trump narrowly edges Biden, 48 to 46 percent, among registered voters (albeit within the poll’s margin of error).

Democratic collapse? It’s possible.

How Trump gets reelected matters. Is it a close but legitimate victory where he loses the popular vote but takes the electoral college, as he did in 2016? Or do the insurrectionist schemes that failed in 2020 — getting state officials to block certification and substitute slates of electors  work in 2024? Perhaps by 2024 such shenanigans will have been made legal in certain swing states. Ultimately, does the GOP-appointed Supreme Court majority or the gerrymandered House of Representatives pick the winner?

The intensity and immediacy of the backlash would vary depending on those circumstances, but serious damage to the democracy may be inevitable either way if Trump is on the ballot. There is a significant percentage of the American electorate right now who have been lied to about the integrity of the elections, who believe that elections are rigged unless their candidate wins. Yet it’s nowhere close to 50 percent of America overall. But if Trump were to win a narrow victory again, election denial ideas infecting a larger percentage of the electorate could surface  And if a large segment of a democracy’s electorate loses confidence in elections, democracy probably is unsustainable. Differences between states could deepen. Democratic states would be taking over Republican arguments about states’ rights and applying them in a different way to try to limit the reach of the federal government. People might start moving to where they feel safe and at home and that means red states becoming more red and blue states becoming more blue. And that makes some kind of secession or breakup scenario in the medium term more likely.

Nightmarish scenarios of democratic dominoes could fall in the wake of a Trump reelection. It would be very hard for him to keep the Union together as it is now. That doesn’t necessarily mean civil war; short of armed conflict, there are things that could weaken the bonds between the states. An example we’re already seeing is the governors of Texas and Florida sending migrants to D.C. and Massachusetts, based on the idea that states are competitors rather than collaborators and partners. Actions like that to score points against blue states on any number of issues will multiply, and blue states will retaliate.

If Trump won reelection in 2024, how long until California says:  Why are we sending [more in taxes] for every federal dollar we’re getting back?’. Why aren’t we requiring the federal government to pay for its use of the naval bases in San Diego and Camp Pendleton and other places? What if the ties that bind the US have become so weak that even that can’t result in the enforcement of federal court rulings? A democracy that must by definition rely upon the rule of law is built upon an agreement that these paper or parchment documents have meaning and we will abide by them. If someone like Trump comes into office with a clear contempt for the rule of law, which he has time and again demonstrated, at what point does the rule of law evaporate? At what point does that agreement evaporate? At what point do the people who oppose him say, ‘Okay, are we going to fight him with one arm tied behind our back, even though he won’t do that?’

The chances of civil war increase.

That’s when the potential for violent conflict is real. For those studying the implications of these trends, there’s no more worrisome scenario than that the wheels just come off completely from the restraints against violence in the United States. Some of the preconditions for civil war — a weakening democracy with hindrances to popular participation and divisions along identity lines — are brewing in the United States. Those dynamics could intensify with Trump or a similar figure in the White House. It wouldn’t be an 1860s-style civil war of states vs. states; if it did come to pass, the type of war we could see is an insurgency. Participants are going to fight a type of guerrilla war, a siege of terror that’s going to be targeted very specifically at certain individuals and certain groups of people, all civilians.

The election of Trump would not necessarily cause the kinds of people who stormed the Capitol to stand down, just because their goal of elevating their leader has been achieved four years later. There’s a scenario by which their aggression accelerates because they’ve won and they’re emboldened and they have a president who, with a wink and a nod, encourages them not to allow ‘cheating’ and disloyalty at lower levels of authority. The already commonplace threats and intimidation of public officials, civic volunteers and civil servants — election workers, teachers, health-care workers, librarians could spread and strengthen, egged on by Trump, driving more from their jobs to be replaced by Make America Great Again loyalists. Activated rage would not be limited to Trump supporters. A narrow or dubious Trump victory would inspire massive, potentially violent protests on the left. Then the Make America Great Again, January 6th-style extremists would take that as the signal to rise up.

This is not going to be something that’s just done by one side; that’s why the risk of political violence is so severe. Oftentimes we talk about the passage of anti-democratic laws and the taking of power as if that’s the finish line. It’s just the starting line of a really violent and vicious race. The spiral of violence, response and counter-response would create the kind of disorder that Trump could use to justify invoking the Insurrection Act. Then federal troops would flood the streets of American cities — and this time, not for a parade. The message of prophets of democratic doom can sound over-the-top but to dismiss it would be naive and  vigilance and civic engagement are needed to prevent the nightmare from coming true.

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