During the Donald Trump presidency, many people thought they could hear alarm bells. But given the evolution of the Republican Party during a mere four months of the Joe Biden administration, the house of American democracy is unmistakably ablaze.
The manner in which a group conceptualises its past strongly indicates how it is likely to behave in the future. So, Republican narratives about the 2020 election are profoundly disturbing.
House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy rejected his own negotiator's reasonable deal with Democrats. Then Senate Republicans used the inevitable filibuster to scupper it.
Their excuses were risible.
The commission would not also be investigating violence at unrelated protests after the police killing of George Floyd. It somehow was not bipartisan enough. And it would either drag on too long – though it would end nine months before the 2022 midterm election – or it is too soon to investigate the disaster at all.
There are three actual reasons Republicans quashed the commission.
They do not want to anger Mr Trump and his supporters.
hey fear what may be discovered about the culpability of some Republicans. And, especially, it might hurt their chances in next year's midterm elections, in which they believe, and history suggests, they could make significant gains in congress.
Blocking a bipartisan commission will not stop investigations. Mr Biden and/or Democrats in Congress could set up their own investigations, augmented by committee hearings.
But Republicans can now dismiss any findings as tainted products of a partisan witch-hunt. That, clearly, is the key.
A bipartisan commission would have essentially crafted an official narrative of the insurrection that Republicans could not effectively disavow. Absent that, Republicans are free to dismiss any discoveries, and instead promote their own narratives, no matter how fictional.
Numerous House Republicans are championing slain insurrectionists as “executed” martyrs, praising the mob, and claiming they were orderly, and even affectionate towards the police (that they, in fact, attacked).
Democrats have their own partisan motivations. Nonetheless, a bipartisan commission is essential to developing a shared national narrative about January 6. The categorical opposition to that by Republicans is a barometer of burgeoning disaster.
Though Republicans refuse to scrutinise January 6, they remain keen on official investigations, especially when the main focus is the November election itself.
Mr Trump and his supporters have convinced most Republicans that the election was blatantly stolen from him through widespread fraud. There is no evidence of any significant irregularities, ands instead every reason to believe it was one of the cleanest, most effective and widely participated-in elections in US history.
Such hegemonic counterfactual narratives about January 6 and the election results suggest that the Republican Party mainstream is increasingly committed to fantasy over reality. That even often seems almost wilful.
Attorneys Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell, key purveyors of the stolen election myth, have responded to defamation lawsuits by claiming in court pleadings that no reasonable person could have believed their preposterous claims. Yet most Republicans apparently do.
Worse yet, new polls suggest 30 million Americans, predominantly Republicans, believe nightmarish QAnon-inspired delusions about who runs the US government.
In Arizona, Georgia and elsewhere, Republican legislatures are insisting on recounting ballots that have already been counted multiple times in an appropriate manner by the correct authorities. They are outsourcing that task to private companies committed to the stolen election narrative but with no election auditing experience.
Many Republican state legislatures are responding to non-existent election fraud by restricting voting and terrifyingly, transferring power over elections from established officials to themselves.
Mr Trump could not convince Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find” him the extra votes he demanded in his notorious January 2 phone call. So now the position held by this lifelong Republican has been completely disempowered.
Such structural changes are obviously intended to prevent officials who insisted on upholding the law and the facts from being able to do that again.
The Republican Party seems to have become unwilling to accept defeat, and determined to limit voting, and ensure that, if defeated again, it can simply overturn those results.
States run elections but Congress ratifies presidential election results. On January 6, most House Republicans, 139 out of 208, voted to overturn the 2020 election results because Mr Trump lost.
Republicans could win a House majority in next year's midterms. Given their passionate and paranoid election narratives, state-level structural changes and deepening extremism, it is difficult to imagine a Republican House majority confirming the election of a Democrat in 2024.
Tellingly, this dramatic deterioration has largely happened without much direction from Mr Trump.
He is an unchallenged leader and symbol, but he has been strikingly disengaged.
Any hopes his absence would allow a reality-based Republican faction to regain control have been dashed.
The battle within the party is over, and his extremist faction is solidly in command with or without him.
Perhaps traditional intellectual conservatism always served as a tissue-thin veneer that veiled a seething morass of racial, cultural and religious indignation that is now particularly incensed by what it perceives to be a dramatic collapse in power and prestige in a changing America. Mr Trump may have simply pulled away the mask.
Democracy requires major parties that are prepared to lose. The current Republican Party does not seem prepared to accept defeat and is therefore assembling an arsenal of political and other means – including the January 6 insurrection and routine dark hints of violence – to overturn an unacceptable result.
As a result, the American political edifice is on fire.
Decisive Republican defeats in the next few elections could force the party to change course or become irrelevant. But Republicans remain competitive nationally and regionally and are evidently willing to game the system as never before. At a minimum, they want to be able to choose when to agree to lose.
None of this is speculative. It is happening right now. The flames are rising fast, but no political fire engines are in sight. They may not even exist.
Hussein Ibish is a senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute and a US affairs columnist for The National