Staring Into the Abyss of American Democracy

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Elections have consequences for many things—some good and others not so–including democratic rule. Will the 2024 election produce good or bad consequences for democracy in America? Will rule by elected authoritarians become real? Or will the rule of law and decency, a good outcome, sustain American democracy in these difficult, polarized times? Are we staring into the abyss of American democracy? Not a pleasant thought, is it? Yet, it is a real possibility, here and now.

Will you, dear citizen, choose a future where elected authoritarians and wannabe dictators rule or one in which decency and the rule of law prevails? Here are four questions that will help you decide the future of American democracy:

1. Should more than 800 persons who have pleaded guilty or been convicted by a jury for attacking the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, be pardoned by the President? Some national politicians regard the insurrectionists as political hostages that should be pardoned. Inconceivable you say? Not so, think about it.

2. Should U.S. civil servants be replaced by individuals loyal only to the President, not the Constitution? Civil servants are the nonpolitical backbone of government who bring professionalism and ethics to the workplace. Their oath of office and duty, as former FBI director James Comey eloquently writes in dedicating his book A Higher Loyalty (2018), “to colleagues and the career people of the Department of justice and the FBI whose lasting commitment to truth keeps out country great.” Is loyalty only to the President, not the Constitution! Inconceivable? Think about it.

3. Should a presidential administration be staffed with only individuals who believe the 2020 election was stolen? Election deniers, especially among Republicans, have not faded from sight. Have they? Is it outlandish to imagine that a future presidential administration could be staffed only with individuals who believe the 2020 election was stolen? Certainly not, if you listen to the voices of election deniers. Think about it.

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4. Should migrant detention camps be built to imprison more than 11 million migrants in the United States? America’s history is not a shining example. Remember the forced removal of native Americans to detention camps called reservations and the shameful history of herding Japanese Americans into camps during WWII. Would building migrant detention camps solve the southern border problem and speak proudly to American democracy? I don’t think so. Think about it.

A “yes” response to these four questions will greatly diminish or even destroy American democracy as we know it. Democracy is not perfect; indeed it is messy much of the time. But, as Winston Churchill once said: “Many forms of Government have been tried and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.…” Think about it.

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A “no” response to the four questions above will reinforce the rule of law and decency. Dear citizen, it is your choice, but know full well what you are doing. Elections have real consequences. There will be no “do over” for the future of American democracy on November 5, 2024. Let’s not totter at the precipice and stare into the abyss of American democracy. Don’t you agree?

These questions are based on an article published in Time magazine April 30, 2024, by Eric Cortellessa.


Every expression of a political opinion generates agreement and opposition.  You are free to express either–politely–in the Comments section below or send an article expressing your thoughts to: connectsolli25@gmail.com. — Editors


Donald C. Menzel, Ph.D. is a past president of the American Society for Public Administration, author and international speaker on ethics reform. Don organized OLLI-USF’s China Special Interest Group. He also served as an OLLI-USF faculty member for over 10 years. Together with his wife, Kay, Don divides his time between Florida and Colorado, and contributes commentary on current issues in both locations.

2 Replies to “Staring Into the Abyss of American Democracy”

  1. Don, we are certainly standing on a precipice. I hope the American voters have the good sense to pull us back from the edge. Otherwise, it’s a long and scary way down to the bottom

  2. These are critical questions, probably we can imagine how OLLI members might reply.
    So let’s look at some more challenging questions, for example, concerning causes of inequality: in terms of class, race, gender…and what roles such inequalities play in a democracy, for example, the disastrous effects of unequal accessibility to voting.
    And, difficult but necessary…in assessing the situation at the southern border, what role has previous American action played in setting up disastrous situations in countries south of us, specifically interference in other nations. Think United Fruit Company.
    In these tough times, we need to look at root causes.

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