The pillars of American democracy are tumbling around us like the Roman Forum of old, and our elected guardians are pulling them down with the same short term blindness the barbarians once did.

For a few years now – since 2018 at least – I have lived with what you might call the sense of an ending. Around then I began to see a shadow falling over the United States. It has only intensified in the years since.

Considering what we have just lived through – and what we are living through still - you may not have the stomach for more bad news. I understand that. But what's coming next could make the last two years look like a speed bump.

Put simply, we are living in the last days of American democracy. We have about two to five years left, if we're lucky. It's not hyperbole to suggest that, it's empirical fact now.

The pillars of democracy are tumbling around us like the Roman Forum of old, and our short-sighted leaders are pulling them down with the same blindness that the barbarians once did.

An sinister insurrectionist in full military garb brought ziplock handcuffs.

An sinister insurrectionist in full military garb brought ziplock handcuffs.

This has all happened before. Many unlucky generations have had to endure this kind of frightening instability and deadlock. In Ireland, it came to us as prelude to a civil war. I have lost count of how many times these lines by the Irish poet W.B. Yeats have come to my mind in the past five years:

We are closed in, and the key is turned
On our uncertainty; somewhere
A man is killed, or a house burned,
Yet no clear fact to be discerned:
Come build in the empty house of the stare.
A barricade of stone or of wood;
Some fourteen days of civil war;
Last night they trundled down the road
That dead young soldier in his blood:
Come build in the empty house of the stare.
We had fed the heart on fantasies,
The heart's grown brutal from the fare;
More Substance in our enmities
Than in our love; O honey-bees,
Come build in the empty house of the stare.

In 2015 I wrote – and was among the first to, as it happened - that Donald Trump's candidacy was new in that it was making subtext text. He was prepared to race bait openly. He was prepared to religion bait openly. He would say what other Republican candidates would only imply. This was new and what the moment demanded, apparently. He was conservative politics as usual, but this time with the gloves off.

When he announced his candidacy the political commentators here scoffed and shrugged. I didn't. I felt the seismic shock the Obama presidency represented to so many conservative voters who had opposed him for his politics, his effectiveness, and sotto voce for - yes - his skin. 

We are still living in the reactionary fallout of Obama's successful eight-year presidency. The world and time have moved on you may think, but those who loathed him haven't forgotten a day of it.  

As it happened, I had a ringside view of President Obama's inauguration in Washington D.C. It was celebrity central down there below the dais that day, behind me sat the then New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, nearby was Bruce Springsteen and a bevy of celebrated African American Oscar winners. When Justice Robert's congratulated the newly inaugurated President Obama I saw fists pump the air in a moment of joy that I will never forget. But I didn't feel the sense of an ending back then, and I do now.

Like a lumbering Golem created from the collective unconscious of outraged conservatives, Trump soon appeared to haunt his steps. 

Worse, he began to pursue him like a dog catcher after an unlicensed dog. There was something about Obama that you couldn't trust Trump suggested, but that you couldn't put your finger on it. It wasn't his race, heavens no, it was his dubious origins, there was something different about him, nudge nudge, and it amounted to fraud on his part, but not on his critics part.

Contrast the average Trump voters loathing for this interloper president with his groundbreaking embrace by the left and you begin to see how the national chasm widened. Good sense, moderation, compromise, and finally democracy itself have been thrown into that widening chasm in all the years since. 

The scale of the mayhem in the Capitol building during the insurrection is still only coming to light

The scale of the mayhem in the Capitol building during the insurrection is still only coming to light

If racism and slavery are America's original sin – and they are – it's not a story that many here have the courage to countenance. Full flight from the discussions that groundbreaking presidency represented and embodied have sent the reactionary pendulum swinging so far in the opposite direction – it has not stopped yet - that very soon we may not even recognize the country in which we all now live.

Liberals often console themselves that the reactionary forces behind the January 6 insurrection and the Trumpification of the GOP will have the sense not to dismantle a 250-year-old democracy, on which we all depend.

But that is to misinterpret what is actually happening here. Those who oppose the new authoritarianism will become its enemies, and in fact, are already, and the die is cast.

The violent January 6 insurrection was not in any sense rational. It was based upon Trump's big lie of election theft, it was ginned up by a man who could not accept his defeat, his endless "stop the steal" rallies sent the credulous in pursuit of the fabulous, and it killed people. 

Currently, Steve Bannon's insurrection broadcasts are the #9 News Podcast in America on Apple. He calls his quasi-religious show the War Room. His main contention is that the Biden administration is illegitimate. He daily calls his listeners to action. For him the insurrection has not ended, it's growing pace.

If as predicted the GOP take the House and Senate in 2022, they will pave the way for the possible return of a Trump presidency, or another even more competent authoritarian who will take his place. Unarguably the way is being paved for the fatal weakening of U.S. democracy and the start of a right-wing dictatorship. 

Ballooning inequality, decades of stagnating middle-class wages, economic and health insecurity, the way computer technology has created two-tier coastal cites of well paid white-collar professionals and their low paid taxi drivers and cafeteria workers, as our national manufacturing and output has dwindled, as CEO remuneration has exploded and ordinary workers have been left further and further behind - these and more systemic problems have created fertile ground for our reactionary politics and the ideologues who exploit them.

I am also alarmed by the hesitancy and slowness of the prosecutions after the insurrection. It seems the damage it did to American democracy isn't being held to the account or seriousness that it should be yet. Nor is it clear to me that our long-standing institutions can withstand all the relentless attacks from without and within. The clock ticking has become deafeningly loud.

You cannot interpret this as anything but a declaration of war on democracy. We are in the endgame. We can resurrect democracy or lose it forever.

— Rep. Eric Swalwell (@RepSwalwell) January 15, 2022

Trump has convinced the majority of Republican voters that he won the election he in fact lost in a landslide, he has convinced too many of them that the election was unscrupulously stolen. The clear implication of these oft-repeated lies is that democracy itself no longer works in America. Using the old Goebbels playbook he is accusing his opponent of the actions he has committed himself.

It's working because one set of American voters have now embraced the idea they can only lose when they have been cheated. Actual state ballot counts be damned. 

But when you stop believing in democracy, history shows, you get a dictator. And when you get a dictator you will soon get war.

Last year I visited Emperor Hadrian's ruined Villa in Tivoli, just outside of Rome. I spent an instructive afternoon there exploring this seat of this once mighty imperial power because from this vast estate he once governed the known world.

Now it's an old ruin the summer breezes catch. You have to stand in its center to try to conjure the civilization that built it. As Emperor, he would not have believed that the Roman empire could fall. But it could and it did. All empires can.

The founder of the far-right militia group, “Oath Keepers,” is behind bars. Over 700 people have been arrested and charged with crimes related to the violent Jan. 6 insurrection. @maryaliceparks has more from the White House.

— Good Morning America (@GMA) January 15, 2022

We are closed in, and the key is turned, Yeats wrote. If we can not rise to the challenges of this dark moment and defeat the dangerous anti-democratic shadows that are growing around us, the remaining days of our democracy can be numbered in triple digits. 

Can you picture yourself in a few years anxiously checking if your passport is current? Can you see yourself scrambling to take care of your financial and legal affairs? Is this the American future that you dreamed of? Right now, it's the future that's on the way.

So this is the time to start fighting to protect your democracy.  All the alarms are going off. Now is the time to do what you can, where you can. There's quite literally not a minute left to lose.