fourth estate

He and his enablers really are a threat to democracy. But that isn’t because he’s so powerful.

The shadow of President Donald Trump falls on a flag during a Feb. 2020 campaign rally in Colorado Springs. | AP Photo/Evan Vucci

Opinion by JACK SHAFER

09/24/2021 06:30 PM EDT

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Jack Shafer is Politico’s senior media writer.

Almost nine months after the fact, we’re still learning the full range of Donald Trump’s plot to flush the Constitution and extend his presidency long past its expiration date. This week, a new book by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa revealed that Trump and law professor John Eastman made an 11th-hour effort to convince Mike Pence to unilaterally invalidate the election results, using a two-page-long, easy-bake recipe that Eastman confected. His memo, assessed as low-grade legal garbage by liberals, conservatives, and libertarians, has alerted us to how retrograde Trump politics can get.

Writing this week in the Washington Post, neoconservative scholar Robert Kagan assembled a persuasive case that Trump’s continuing campaign of lies and subterfuge could well succeed in breaking our brittle system in 2024, essentially unbuckling democracy and installing Trump in office regardless of who wins. Yes, it could happen. Trump-directed state legislatures may very well skew election law to cancel a Democratic victory. Our contentious politics may become more violent. Federal authority may fracture and evaporate.

The Kagan nightmare scenario has triggered a large spasm of liberal panic since his essay published, driven partly by understandable worry about the fragility of our democracy, but also an undercurrent of powerlessness—as though Trump could, almost by waving his hand, reassert control of the country.

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