Since George Washington left office, more than 220 years ago, the peaceful transfer of power has been a signature of American democracy. The 2020 presidential election tested this bedrock of democratic governance as never before in the nation’s history. And yet, Donald Trump’s unprecedented act of electoral defiance—and the violent afternoon of January 6, 2021—exposed an essential truth about American democratic governance: our system of constitutional and federal law does not secure the peaceful transfer of power; it presupposes it. Indeed, in the case of the United States, our system of presidential elections contains within itself a Chernobyl-like defect. Placed under unusual conditions of stress, it is vulnerable to catastrophic breakdown. In 2020, the US system held up despite Trump’s authoritarian gambit. In the future, we might not be as lucky. What is the source of these vulnerabilities, and can the US electoral system be reformed to eliminate them?
This event was moderated by Peter Carstens, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.