United States President Joe Biden has embarked on a multiday trip to Europe with one clear goal in mind: telling the world that democracy – not autocracy – is the path forward.
But as he carries that message overseas, back at home there are Americans on the political fringes that critics fear are chipping away at the very idea Biden is aiming to sell to the world.
“This is a defining question of our time: Can democracies come together to deliver real results for our people in a rapidly changing world?” the US president wrote in The Washington Post newspaper before his trip.
“Will the democratic alliances and institutions that shaped so much of the last century prove their capacity against modern-day threats and adversaries? I believe the answer is yes. And this week in Europe, we have the chance to prove it.”
Biden will meet in the United Kingdom leaders of the Group of Seven (G7) industrialised nations and in Brussels with NATO allies before ending his first overseas trip with a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva.
Critics: Republicans are threatening democracy
As Biden departed the US on Wednesday morning, a new poll revealed that nearly three in 10 Republicans believe that former President Donald Trump will be reinstated as president in the coming months.
To be clear, this is something that has never happened in US history nor is there a mechanism within the American system of government to allow that to happen.
The vast majority of Americans – 72 percent – think it is not very or not at all likely Trump will be reinstated, including 84 percent of Democrats and 70 percent of independents, the Morning Consult poll (PDF) released on Wednesday found.
But 29 percent of Republicans believe it is likely, including 17 percent who say it is very likely, a result that amplifies the worries some US political observers have about the underpinnings of American democracy.
“We have to face the facts that Republicans – obviously with exceptions – have become an authoritarian party,” Steven Levitsky, a Harvard political scientist and co-author of the book How Democracies Die, told The Associated Press news agency last week.
“It’s impossible to sustain a democracy in a two-party system when one of the parties is not willing to play by the rules of the game.”
The idea that Trump will get his old job back, which the former president himself is reportedly giving credence to, is being driven by the months-long, constant drumbeat of false claims that the November 2020 election was stolen from the Republican leader.
The effort to undermine Biden’s ascension to the presidency served as the basis for the January 6 US Capitol riot and is the driving factor behind continued attempts to bolster Trump’s unfounded theories.
Over the past months, individual members of Congress voted against the certification of Biden’s Electoral College victory, partisan “audits” of presidential election ballots have been held, and Republicans in battleground states such as Florida, Georgia and Texas have rewritten voting and election rules in reaction to “fraud” that never actually occurred.
These efforts have spurred fears among critics that democracy in the US is under threat.
In Arizona, a state Senate-sanctioned and highly partisan audit of the presidential election results, funded by Trump’s inner circle, it turns out, has captured the focus of the ex-president and his supporters.
They are banking on its conclusion being a catalyst for overturning results there and in other states, eventually leading to the unprecedented “reinstatement” of Trump as president.
“None of that is possible. But this is the kind of thing that he is trying to flush into the conservative media ecosystem,” The New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman, who reported Trump has been privately touting the reinstatement idea, said on CNN last week.
The Morning Consult poll released on Wednesday also revealed that a large majority of Americans – 77 percent – believe democracy is under threat. That includes 77 percent of Democrats and 82 percent of Republicans.
“There are a lot of warning signs,” Rick Hasen, an election law expert at the University of California-Irvine, told the AP. “It is a very dangerous moment for democracy.”