The Death of American Democracy (Explained)
If you want to know when America’s democracy began to die, experts say 2016 seems like a logical point: with nearly a year to go until his term expires, President Barack Obama’s attempt to appoint a judge in the Supreme Court failed when the Senate promised to block any candidate.
Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, both professors at Harvard University, have said that even after Donald Trump’s tumultuous presidency, democracy is in a recession that began before and will last until after the 45th president.
Levitsky and Ziblatt are the authors of the best-selling book “How Democracies Die” and they recently presented “How Democracy could die in 2024 and How to Save It” as part of a discussion with the Protect Democracy group.
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The two painted an ominous picture of a fragile American democracy and a global rise in authoritarianism that has not been seen for at least a generation. They warned that voter suppression laws, an outsized role for a minority party, and a movement that puts the letter of the law in its mind could lead the United States further toward authoritarianism.
Levitsky said that flourishing democracies are built on the principles of political parties that pledge to hand over power when they lose it through elections, that they seek power through elections, that they seek power through elections, that they seek power through elections. refuse to support or excuse undemocratic processes and support the electoral process, which Republicans have all given up on.
“This is the first time that a party has refused to accept the results of an election or not to cede power,” he said.
It could happen again in 2024, and 2020 can be seen as a warm-up, prelude, or training run for what’s to come.
“They refused to avoid violence or to break away from extremist groups,” Levitsky said. “It’s bossy behavior.”
Levitsky and Ziblatt both said that one of the key characteristics of democracy is something missing – tolerance. Abstention is the notion of accepting, tolerating or acceding to a loss of political power as a result of the democratic process, and a determination to regain it through the same process.
Elimination of voters
Both pundits also expressed concern that Republican-led legislatures were trying to change voting laws and procedures so drastically, even though virtually no evidence of electoral fraud has been proven. Levitsky said the Republican Party’s strategy is to tip the elections in major battlefield states like Texas and Arizona in order to tip the elections.
“Many of these measures are technically legal, but they result in the denial of the right to vote,” Levitsky said. “They allow a party to cast ballots. “
Many laws that have been passed at the state level make it not only a civil, but a criminal violation of not complying with the letter of the laws, reinforcing Levitsky and Ziblatt’s concept of a “hard constitutional ball.”
“What 2020 has done is expose the soft underbelly of our election,” Levitsky said.
He said that although the current Republican Party lost in court and even lost the 2020 election, it was a huge success in energizing the voter base and raised millions in campaign funds for 2024.
“This is just a dress rehearsal for what’s to come,” Levitsky said.
One of the common themes the two Harvard experts focused on was the oversized role the minority party plays in American democracy. They pointed out that only once since 1992 has a Republican presidential candidate won the popular vote in an election. In addition, a minority of senators could invoke systematic obstruction to stop the governance of the majority. And, Republicans in the Senate – 50 of them – are 40 million fewer people than Democrats.
“The idea that filibuster is essential to democracies is not true,” Levitsky said.
He studies Latin American democracies and notes that many global democracies have no counterpart in filibustering and still have strong and free governments.
The two researchers point out that systematic obstruction was used on average once a year between 1917 and 1961. Since then, it has grown to more than a dozen.
“It is not the obstruction of your mother or your father. Now it’s an obstruction tool, ”Levitsky said.
Letter vs spirit of the law
Ziblatt said that one of the most dramatic tactics in use today is to use the letter of the law to crush the spirit of the law, or what he called a “hard constitutional ball.” He cited several examples of harshness, including the refusal to let the Obama administration appoint a Supreme Court judge after Antonin Scalia’s death.
Ziblatt and Levitsky said that while the Constitution did not require the Senate to take charge of the nomination, it was also customary to let the sitting US president nominate a selection. Likewise, another example is that of voting rights. While the letter of the law may allow lawmakers to change voting locations, restrict ballots, or even ban postal ballots, the spirit of the law would argue for more participation. wide of eligible voters.
“It is deeply undemocratic to deny legal votes,” said Levitsky, speaking of state legislatures across the United States that have enacted more restrictive election laws while producing virtually no evidence of voter fraud.
More media, not less
Another key area that Ziblatt and Levitsky both addressed was the role of information and disinformation. For example, Levitsky said many democracies grapple with disinformation. For example, a minority party in Peru claims a stolen election, much like the American Republicans. There are similar conversations in Britain and Germany on politics.
“It’s worse in the United States than in Germany or Britain,” Ziblatt said. “However, a two-party system makes it more dangerous than a multi-party system.”
In a two-party system, he said, there can be two different sides, divergent and diametrically opposed, leaving citizens to believe in two very different realities.
Both said corrective action is to report more facts and information through the media so that disparate realities cannot function independently. Levitsky said state-run media from authoritarian governments are different from state-supported media like the BBC or Channel One in Germany.
“These are essential and should be extended to the United States,” Ziblatt said. “The existential threat is where both sides of a two-party system believe the other side is an existential threat.”
Ziblatt compared the current state of American democracy to a heart attack – a two-pronged problem that needs special attention. Like a heart attack, Ziblatt suggested the need for immediate action to thwart the death. However, he said the conditions leading up to 2020 must also be considered.
“We lack formal safeguards that protect democracy,” he said. “If the unwritten rules of restraint are abandoned, then the American electoral process can be overturned. “
Ziblatt said national elections caused near emergencies in 1824, 1876 and even 2000 with the contested election of George W. Bush. However, unlike 2020, these moments resulted in restraint and compromise, not accusations by an entire political party of stolen elections.
“The ballot box is the fix for radicalization,” Ziblatt said.
Experts have also said that 2020 and beyond will be a challenge for many different groups – and a full-scale fight that has not been undertaken since the civil rights era of the 1960s.
“Americans basically didn’t have to fight for this,” Levitsky said. “It’s going to take an organized movement in America that fights for democracy. “
However, this only works if the ballot boxes are open to all citizens.
“If you don’t have free and fair elections, then democracy – and popular power – cannot step in and correct,” Ziblatt said.