After the recent pro-Trump riot at the U.S. Capitol, along with the attempt by a number of Republican lawmakers to overturn President-elect Joe Biden’s election victory, a lot of public conversation in the United States has gone to existential assessments of American democracy. NBC’s Meet the Press moderator Chuck Todd described the U.S. as a “democracy in crisis.” The historical documentarian Ken Burns wrote for Politico that America was in the midst of its fourth great crisis. Social media were rife with similarly ominous interpretations. What is happening?

Bill Scher, a contributing editor with Politico Magazine, worked for a decade with the progressive-populist organization Campaign for America’s Future, and has since written extensively about the strengths and significance of liberal institutionalism in American politics. Following the Capitol violence, Scher has argued that the U.S. needs a new domestic-terrorism law to combat future threats. But he also thinks American democracy passed “the ultimate stress test” during this presidential transition period, showing the significant resilience of the U.S. political system. As much as Donald Trump’s presidency amplified a growing illiberalism and anti-democratic sentiment within the Republican Party, Scher thinks there’s a real opportunity for America’s new president to win broad support for a popular, bipartisan agenda—and even begin to help depolarizing American politics as a whole.

Graham Vyse: You’ve recently made the case at The Washington Monthly that the riot at the U.S. Capitol “underscored democracy’s strength, not its weakness.” How so?

Bill Scher: We have a constitutional system of government that still stands, despite having a sitting president actively trying to thwart it. There are plenty of governments in history where, if the person who holds the most power is trying to hold on to that power, no piece of paper can stop that person. In our case, we have a system crafted by the founders precisely so there wasn’t any excessive concentration of power that would allow for such autocracy to happen.

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