Whatever remained of the democratic republic known as the United States of America vanished on January 20, 2025 when, for the second time in his life, Donald Trump was sworn in as President.
That day was a complete reversal from four years before, when Trump slunk out of town, his attempted coup having come up short. This time it was the Democrats’ turn to sputter in frustrated rage about a stolen election, their complaints swatted away with a smug “How does it feel?” not only from Republicans but from a distressingly significant portion of the American public.
This did not, as some had warned, mark the end of American Democracy. Far from it. “Democracy” was too valuable and too popular a brand to be unceremoniously dropped.
But it was, in its heart, dead as a form of government “of the people, by the people, for the people.” It did not die with a bang, or even a whimper. It simply ran out of air. In an atmosphere almost entirely devoid of fact and truth, there was nothing to breathe.
The fatal irony of that winter’s day was Americans’ view of themselves as a people wedded to fairness.
There was, of course, nothing fair about Trump’s Second Coming. This contradiction was pointed out by the marginalized and now powerless usual suspects, completely without effect. Too many of their fellow citizens, not to mention the Republican Party and a cacophony of talking heads, no longer aspired to fairness. It wasn’t necessary. We were fair. We did not do unfair things. Chalk it up. A done deal. No need for refreshment or upkeep, let alone re-examination.
Fairness, whether in small matters or momentous political acts, means conclusions are reached, and decisions made, by giving equal weight and consideration to contrasting or even conflicting ideas. But it only works if the players are constrained by reality, and share a common standard for distinguishing fact from fiction, and truth from lies.
In practical, political terms, it means all sides play by the same rules based on the shared principles—belief in democracy, for example—and even strive toward the same destination—the common good, for example—though by different paths. Most importantly, there are political consequences when you break the rules.
Donald Trump, from the first day of his first term, deliberately and in plain sight obliterated these “norms.” He matter-of-factly lied about the size of the crowd at his inauguration and then made sure his press secretary forced this lie on the media.
He never looked back, nor did the country ever really catch up with him. His “Big Lie” upon exiting the presidency, and the traction it gained while he was out of office, rendered any real consequences meaningless–beyond a four-year break from actually having to do the work of president.
Anyway, there he was in 2025, once again taking the oath of office. Just how this happened is a matter for history—providing such a thing will still exist.
Trump and the Republican Party fundamentally transformed American politics into an uncompromising, zero-sum game. There were no common objectives, no common good, just wins and losses—with every point won matched by an equivalent loss on the other side. And no issue was worth pursuing unless it produced such a loss.
Some people saw this from the beginning, and indeed raised the alarm. Legions of Trump followers saw it and applauded. And a whole lot of people just didn’t see it affecting them one way or another.
You could say the country eventually caught on. After all, Trump was voted out of office by a considerable margin. But more than anything, the rejection came from a desperate need for a return to some kind of normalcy, where everybody played by the rules.
And in a brash stroke of strategic genius, the Republicans declared it so. Bolstered by their relentless media enablers, they offered a normalized version of the country in which the attempted coup was simply a handful of lawbreakers running amuck; restrictive voting legislation was incidental cleanup; and government mandates, not Covid-19, were the real danger. And above all, it was the Democrats who were breaking the rules.
Building on this foundation, the Republicans finessed their way to victory in the 2022 elections. They allowed Trump to pound loudly enough on the door to satisfy his followers while at the same time, with a wink to the less devoted, pretending it was closed.
Gerrymandering, the nominal losses suffered by a sitting president in off-year elections, and a good helping of standard, ginned-up fear—of black people mostly—did the rest.
The Republicans emerged with small, but solid majorities—ten House seats and two Senate seats. More important, and somewhat under the radar, they swept races for governor, attorney general, and secretary of state across the nation.
Then came zero-sum politics on steroids. The Republicans enacted brazenly partisan legislation, and did so with impunity.
To cite just a few examples, they targeted selected Democratic representatives, removed them from committees and—in the case of Rashida Tlaib—expelled her altogether for supporting Palestinian “terrorism.”
Wielding their power of the purse, they specifically prohibited the Justice Department from expending any funds whatsoever investigating, indicting, or prosecuting individuals involved in the January 6 attack on the capitol. This conveniently occurred just as the investigation moved beyond the actual rioters and began targeting the organizers of the event.
Finally, the four-and-a-half-month government shutdown at the beginning of 2024, pitting a poison Congressional budget against a presidential veto, forced Americans to simply throw up their hands in despair—and then look for someone to blame. That someone, of course, was President Biden.
The 2024 election was, in a way, anti-climactic. The polls were clear. The country was ready to give Donald Trump his second chance. So it was curious to see the lengths the Republicans went to making sure things went Trump’s way—at least until you realized the point was not the election, but teaching the country a lesson about power.
Nevada provided a typical example. The governorship and office of attorney general were safely in Republican hands, and the newly elected Secretary of State was an original purveyor of the Big Lie in the state. He unleashed a small army of citizen “investigators” on the Democratic stronghold of Clark County, collecting thousands of complaints about mail-in ballots in the weeks before the election, and almost as many charges of irregularities on Election Day.
Confronted with overwhelming evidence of potential fraud, the Attorney General—with full backing from the Governor—had no choice but to act. He ordered the Nevada Highway Patrol to intercept the voting machines and paper ballots being transported to the Clark County Election Center, as well as confiscating the mail-in ballots at the Center.
The whole works then reappeared two days later at the Secretary of State’s office in Carson City, where it was announced they would be “audited.” A week later, the Secretary announced approximately two-thirds of the mail-in ballots were deemed “irregular,” that is it was not “readily apparent” they had been properly cast by a legitimate voter.
To rectify the situation, the names of these approximately 400,000 voters were listed on the Secretary of State’s website, with instructions that anyone whose name appeared on the list should contact the office immediately.
Those individuals who did respond were referred to a questionnaire asking for, under penalty of perjury, detailed personal information as well as an accounting of where and when the ballot had been first received, and where and when it was mailed.
Needless to say, when it came to certifying the election, the Secretary of State regretted the large number of voters who had not taken the opportunity to cure the problems with their ballots. He did hint that one reason might have been that, as many suspected, they were not real voters at all. Donald Trump won Nevada by almost 100,000 votes.
The Democrats and their attorneys’ frantic appeals to the courts turned farcical as one District Court Judge after another struggled to either assess the complex mechanics of the alleged improprieties or simply punted to the next higher level.
The Supreme Court, by a consistent 6 to 2 majority (the late Justice Breyer’s seat left vacant by the Senate’s refusal to act on Biden’s appointee) essentially told the country its hands were tied. The conduct of elections was up to the states, as per Article I, Section 4, Clause 1 of the Constitution.
So there was Donald Trump once again, Ivanka holding the Bible, Chief Justice Roberts administering the oath of office. It was one of the few times the ceremony was conducted indoors, in this case before a selected audience. Nor would there be a parade, but it was too cold for that anyway.
A wide area around the Capitol had been cordoned off, with concrete barricades and barbed wire blocking the streets and sidewalks. Just like four years before, Washington D.C. was filled with angry Americans. But this time they weren’t getting anywhere near the seat of power.
Erich Obermayr is an author, community activist, and career archaeologist specializing in sharing historical and archaeological research with the public. He writes about Nevada politics and social issues. He lives in Silver City, Nevada, with his wife. Support Erich’s work in the Sierra Nevada Ally here.
The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of the Sierra Nevada Ally. Our newsroom remains entirely independent of our opinion page. Published opinions further public conversation to fulfill our civic responsibility to challenge authority, act independently of corporate or political influence, and invite dissent.
Founded in 2020, the Sierra Nevada Ally is a self-reliant publication that offers unique, differentiated reporting on the environment, conservation, education, and public policy, and gives voice to writers, visual artists, and performers. We rely on the generosity of our readers and aligned partners.