In Madison, Wisconsin, years ago, I photographed a statue in front of the state capitol of Col. Hans Christian Heg, a Norwegian immigrant who gave his life fighting slavery for the Union. Last June, Black Lives Matter extremists, enraged over an arrest, pulled it down, decapitated it and threw it into Lake Monona, likely not knowing who Colonel Heg was or what he died for.

Last week’s guilty verdict avoided another wave of rage on the left, which can be just as mindless as rage on the right. Feeding off each other, they rip apart the Republic. The U.S. could be in secular decline, that is, long-term and irreversible. (Beijing certainly thinks so.)

Several countries no longer exist. The Soviet Union, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia fragmented; West Germany absorbed East Germany. The U.S. is not facing the fate of unworkable Communist regimes, but we should note that no country is guaranteed; all require maintenance.

The underlying cause in all four of the above cases was lack of legitimacy — the feeling that the regime’s rule is rightful, sometimes expressed as “trust in government.” The less legitimacy a regime has, the more police it needs. Once lost, legitimacy is hard to recover.

Legitimacy in the U.S. periodically weakens, in the last century over Vietnam, Watergate and inflation. Now it’s happening again, deliberately aggravated by, arguably, the strangest president in American history. Most Republicans say the 2020 election was stolen and accord the Biden administration little legitimacy. Republicans claim a frightened jury convicted Chauvin. Are we still living in the same country?

Republican states pass laws to suppress non-White voting by absurd “ballot security” requirements and outlaw protests (likely unconstitutional). Congressional Republicans reject every Biden initiative, including poverty relief, voting rights, police reform and infrastructure. They seem unconcerned that the politics of hatred undermines legitimacy nationwide. If it continues, Americans won’t trust anybody, including Republicans.

University of Chicago political scientist Robert Pape found that, of the more than 300 arrested for invading the Capitol, most came from counties experiencing the fastest decline in percentage of White residents. The more non-Whites moved in, the more resentful Whites grew. If this pattern holds, hatred will only get worse as the country turns “majority minority” by midcentury.

You could predict counties with the highest Trump vote by knowing their education and economic-output levels (both low), church attendance (high) and degree of mask-wearing and COVID vaccinations (both low). The latter have a certain self-curing aspect to them.

These differences, heavily urban vs. rural, have been building for years but climbed with the election of a Black president whom detractors called an “Obama-nation.” Much anti-Biden sentiment carried over from Obama-hatred, which now includes Vice President Kamala Harris.

Similar politics afflict Europe, where every country has reacted to the influx of foreigners, mostly Muslim, by creating angry anti-immigrant parties that get fair pieces of the vote: France’s National Rally, Germany’s Alternative, Sweden Democrats and True Finns. Britain’s 2016 Brexit vote was heavily anti-immigrant. No European mob, however, has stormed Parliament.

The toll of COVID-19 is terrible, but “deaths of despair” — from drugs, alcohol, murder and suicide — are big and growing and will continue after the pandemic recedes. There is no vaccine for them. We witness mass shootings every week by unbalanced loners and police shootings of young Black citizens. Even crazy people easily get guns.

There is hope. Municipalities, fearing multimillion-dollar lawsuits, distance themselves from police misconduct. They now fire cops and put them on trial. Cities swear they never taught or tolerated excessive force, but for decades departments retained officers with multiple complaints against them (like Derek Chauvin). Police scream and draw guns over minor infractions, as in the Virginia stop of an Army officer. He’s suing the town, which fired the abusive policeman.

The economy is eager to recover; some foresee another “roaring twenties.” (Remember how the previous ended.) The shift to renewable energy and electric vehicles will open new jobs and clear the air. Extreme weather events are persuading even climate-change deniers that it’s not a hoax. Twitterless Trump, facing several trials, slowly fades.

Gradually, calm and healing may be taking hold. Republicans are marginalizing themselves and losing supporters. Most voters are repelled by the Capitol storming, Russian connections and Rep. Matt Gaetz. Democrats could even gain seats in the 2022 midterms.

President Biden achieved a lot in his first 100 days, without tweeting. His economic policies — especially infrastructure and taxes on the wealthiest — garner majority support. Most Americans like his polite delivery and even temper, in contrast to his predecessor. Government is no longer seen as the problem; it once again solves problems.

The shadows of decline are still reversible, but weakened legitimacy leaves the country unstable. Continued police indifference to Black rights could ignite massive and destructive protests that reverse the slow healing process. It could happen with the next shooting.