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US Institutions After Trump

It would be a mistake for Americans to take comfort in the fact that their democratic institutions survived four years of attacks by Donald Trump, culminating in the January 6 insurrection at the US Capitol. In fact, most of these institutions have been failing and are in desperate need of repair and reform.

BOSTON – The storming of the US Capitol by Donald Trump’s supporters on January 6 may be remembered as a turning point in American history. The insurrection, incited by the president himself, has raised profound questions about the kind of political institutions future generations will inherit.

Two narratives have come to describe this nadir of an already-tumultuous presidential transition in the United States. The first frames the Capitol insurrection as a singular failure of US institutions, which implies that the solution is to clamp down on right-wing extremists, social-media echo chambers, and their mainstream enablers.

But while such measures are long overdue, this narrative fails to capture the extent to which the Capitol attack was a direct result of Trump’s presidency, or the economic hardship and social grievances that led to Trump’s rise. In addition to leaving the country alarmingly polarized, Trump’s single term also fundamentally damaged US institutions, and decimated political norms that a well-functioning democracy needs.