Whoever the Democratic Candidate Is, Americans Have Already Lost

I watched the debate from a pub in Ireland. A man sitting next to me pegged me for a Yank. “Sorry about all that — screwed no matter what you do,” he said before the final minutes of the debate ended. I nodded, accepting his sympathies for my condition as an American during a week when it has been hard to be an American.

It is only when I am not in America that I feel my American-ness. From the moment that blue passport cover places me in a different line at customs, my citizenship speaks louder than my race, gender or religion. Maybe I had to watch that debate from outside of the U.S. to fully appreciate what was happening to us, Americans.

A survey of the political commentariat shows a consensus forming: Joe Biden is fighting the final rounds of a match that the refs won’t call but probably should. Usually, after reading all of the news and polls, I turn to the everyday political discourse, which often diverges from that of the professional political watchers. What should scare Biden loyalists is that this time, the two agree. Even the most die-hard Democratic voters can see Biden’s decline for what it is — an opening for Donald Trump to win his second presidential term.

A few days after that disastrous debate, the Supreme Court finally weighed in on presidential immunity. There is no other way to read its decision than as a signal that whoever owns the Republican Party also owns the power to break the law. Whether he wins or loses, Trump owns the G.O.P., lock, stock and barrel. I’m not sure the country has fully accepted what that means.

When the Supreme Court decision was announced I had moved on to Greece. Again, it felt like a portentous place to be as the United States moved closer to an autocracy than it has been since perhaps Reconstruction. Greece prides itself as the birthplace of deliberative democracy. As you walk through the ancient ruins, the biggest ideas to transform human society don’t look very big. The buildings where they were debated are crumbling. Modern development dwarfs what were once massive structures to Western ideology. Despite standing for more than 2,000 years, these relics of early democracy feel fragile.

Americans don’t build monuments as well made as the ancient Greeks built. The idea has always been that our democratic ideas are the real monuments. The statues and artifice of political memory should never be stronger than those ideas. Sometimes we have made our monuments cheaply, as if to say that having perfected the means of democracy — if not its platonic ideal — we don’t need to bother with strong foundations and materials.

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