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Bringing America back from the brink

Bringing America back from the brink
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The election of Donald TrumpDonald TrumpNoem touts South Dakota coronavirus response, knocks lockdowns in CPAC speech On The Trail: Cuomo and Newsom — a story of two embattled governors McCarthy: 'I would bet my house' GOP takes back lower chamber in 2022 MORE to the U.S. presidency was a watershed moment: Previously, Americans had plucked their commanders-in-chief from the Cabinet, the halls of Congress, governors' mansions across the country and from the ranks of the military. Trump became the first occupant of the Oval Office never to have performed any kind of public service to the nation.

A taboo was broken in 2016. Experience in government or in uniform was, suddenly, no longer a prerequisite to become America's head of state.

Joe Biden unseated Trump in November, but it's not inconceivable — with the bars of qualification and temperament set to such a low standard — that disaffected Republicans will now respond with a vengeance. If the zealous wave of "MAGA" populism which brought Trump to victory remains unplacated, there’s a strong likelihood, given the steady diet of dog whistles and discontent provided by the 45th president and his proxies, that the alt-right could go even further afield from the GOP establishment next time. Could the insidious likes of failed presidential hopeful David Duke, former national director of the racist Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, find their electoral prospects improved?

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The tragic events of Jan. 6 confirmed fears that matters are indeed spiraling out of control.

The mob ransacking of the Capitol amounted to an attempted coup by supporters of a president who cast himself as the ostensible champion of law and order (per the refrain of his now permanently suspended Twitter account). Rampaging thugs desecrated the Holy of Holies of American democracy, inflicting numerous casualties.

Social media flashed calls to put Vice President Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PenceDemocrats don't trust GOP on 1/6 commission: 'These people are dangerous' The Memo: CPAC fires starting gun on 2024 Merrick Garland is right to prioritize domestic terrorism, but he'll need a bigger boat MORE on trial for committing treason and to hang House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiMcCarthy: 'I would bet my house' GOP takes back lower chamber in 2022 After vote against coronavirus relief package, Golden calls for more bipartisanship in Congress Democrats don't trust GOP on 1/6 commission: 'These people are dangerous' MORE (D-Calif.) and then Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellThe bizarre back story of the filibuster The Bible's wisdom about addressing our political tribalism Democrats don't trust GOP on 1/6 commission: 'These people are dangerous' MORE (R-Ky.) for the "crime" of executing their constitutional obligation to certify Electoral College ballots. Republican senators Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyThe Memo: CPAC fires starting gun on 2024 Trump at CPAC foments 2022 GOP primary wars Democrats scramble to rescue minimum wage hike MORE (R-Utah) and Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamOvernight Defense: Biden sends message with Syria airstrike | US intel points to Saudi crown prince in Khashoggi killing | Pentagon launches civilian-led sexual assault commission Graham: Trump will 'be helpful' to all Senate GOP incumbents John Boehner tells Cruz to 'go f--- yourself' in unscripted audiobook asides: report MORE (R-S.C.) were later bullied at the airport, where they were heckled as "traitors" for breaking with Trump.

Ultimately, even Trump's most hard-core enthusiasts turned on their captain, chastising him for acknowledging his own defeat.  

Trump may now be gone, but Trumpism will most assuredly not be leaving with him.

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The seeds of disenfranchisement are sprouting vigorously and threatening to overrun the garden of America's political experiment. Many Republicans, including some who have since distanced themselves from Trump, still harbor severe doubts about the legitimacy of November's vote tallies; new impeachment proceedings — a seemingly unavoidable consequence of Trump's heinous conduct — will almost certainly exacerbate their feelings of injustice.

Some of the party faithful will stand by the former president, but others will not. "This isn't their Republican Party anymore," Trump’s son, Donald Jr., proclaimed on Jan. 6, pointing a finger at GOP lawmakers — at that moment in the Capitol — who were unwilling to fight for his father, "this is Donald Trump's Republican Party." It seems that there could yet be multiple Republican parties moving forward.

Across the aisle, President BidenJoe BidenNoem touts South Dakota coronavirus response, knocks lockdowns in CPAC speech On The Trail: Cuomo and Newsom — a story of two embattled governors Biden celebrates vaccine approval but warns 'current improvement could reverse' MORE sits atop another ideologically fragmented caucus as an emboldened progressive wing of the Democratic Party wrestles for greater influence over appointments and policy. The struggle between Democrats over the direction of their party is poised even to define the Biden presidency with the strong winds of partisan majorities in both legislative houses at the White House's back. What alignment of forces might emerge on the Democratic side is an open question.

The next four years will test the structural integrity of both major blocs within American political life. And after each of them has flirted with the wholesale discrediting of the process by which Americans choose their leaders — Democrats after 2016 and Republicans after 2020 — the national project is in a dire state.

This current trajectory leads to everyone losing.

The disintegration of the narrative and social contract underwriting America is devastating the institutional edifice which enshrines and aims to protect the rights and privileges of America's citizens.

The world is watching with trepidation as the drama unfolds, but the world — whose other corners have not been immune to home-grown crises either — can also offer the lessons of past tragedies.

In 1995, a Jewish Israeli gunned down Israel's prime minister Yitzhak Rabin after a peace demonstration in Tel Aviv. The country was plunged into profound turmoil which almost tore apart the delicate fabric of its young, then 47-year-old society. What ensued, however, was an intense period of cheshbon nefesh (soul-searching), an angst-ridden, public accounting during which Israelis rededicated themselves — some begrudgingly — to their collective, if imperfect national enterprise. That covenant has come under strain recently, as COVID-related pressures and heated protests accompany Israel's march to its fourth election in under two years, but it remains fixed securely in place.

America — which hopefully, will never know another political assassination — has always occupied a special place in the human imagination. That holds doubly true today, in an era when people are searching desperately for inspiration in the face of a deadly global pandemic. Biden's words after clinching his Electoral College victory on Nov. 7 struck precisely the right, conciliatory tone for the occasion. "I pledge to be a president who seeks not to divide but unify," he announced, adding his promise to "work as hard for those who didn’t vote for me as those who did."

Tackling the social, economic and public health challenges on America's plate will take significant amounts of time, resources and effort. It will demand that the United States summon its better angels for the task. One harbinger of a possible shift in attitudes is the decision of corporate donors to reconsider their priorities and withdraw funding from politicians whose irresponsible behavior has fostered civil unrest.

Joining hands, toning down inflammatory rhetoric and focusing on the immediate mission of steering America as safely as possible through the COVID-19 storm are the recipe for returning the nation to its original moorings and restoring its cherished stature as the world's beacon of success.

Shalom Lipner (@ShalomLipner) is a nonresident senior fellow for Middle East programs at the Atlantic Council. From 1990 to 2016, he served seven consecutive premiers at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem.