Democracy on Life Support
Democracy is fragile, open to attack not just through coups but more insidiously through erosion of political norms and institutional safeguards. Harvard political scientists Levitsky and Ziblatt offer a close analysis of its current state in the US through historically informed comparative studies of democratic decline drawn from Latin America and Europe.
While unambiguously warning of Donald Trump’s authoritarian impulses, they date the weakening of America’s democratic political culture from the 1980s and the polarization of political life, accelerated by relative economic decline, the growing salience of race and immigration in politics, and the rise of new partisan media outlets. Political parties, not the attitudes of ordinary Americans, constitutional rules or the institutions of the three coequal branches of the US government, are democracy’s primary gatekeepers. Weakening of the key norms of mutual toleration and institutional forbearance, embraced and accelerated by the Republican Party, is the biggest challenge to the survival of democratic government in the US.
Democracy isn’t destined to die in the US, but it remains imperiled, especially should Trump seek to exploit a future crisis to bolster his power. Protecting it requires a new pro-democratic coalition, Republican Party reform and serious practical steps to reduce today’s sharp polarization in US society and politics.
Democracy isn’t destined to die in the United States, but it remains imperiled.
How Democracies Die: What History Tells Us About Our FutureBy Steven Levitsky & Daniel Ziblatt Crown, 2018, 320 pages, $11.00 (Hardcover)