How Democracies Die

A friend sent me a copy of the book, How Democracies Die.

Here is my response to my friend after reading the book:

I really appreciated the authors’ clear graphing of their four key indicators of authoritarian behavior with follow-up examples in recent history including, of course, Trump’s track record.

The four are:

1. Rejection of (or weak commitment to) democratic rules of the game.
2. Denial of the legitimacy of political opponents.
3. Toleration or encouragement of violence.
4. Readiness to curtail civil liberties of opponents, including media.

A key component of the authors’ argument is the importance and history of mutual tolerance and forbearance and their loss in modern politics.

I think those terms are important. I would add compromise. If you are tolerant (in politics that probably is the best that can be done) and forbear your opponents, you will be willing to compromise for the sake of getting something done. Apparently, that is all washed away in our rancorous political scene all for the purpose of power and money-grabbing.

These politicians (I refrain from calling them by their elected office nomenclature.) will do anything to keep their cushy jobs and the “anything” is to sell representative democracy down the river while tribalism, authoritarianism and demagoguery appeal to the fears of a significant percentage of an impressionable and not very savvy (my opinion) public.

The railings are soft, the referees are scarce, the presidential deviancy from norms is breathtaking, the environment is filled with hostility and the grab for power and avarice go on. The one percent has been getting richer for forty to fifty years and the rest have had a harder go of it.

The authors believe that the greatest threat to our constitutional democracy is what power the president might grab in the event of a terrorist attack.

Well, we are having an attack from a tiny terrorist, a virus and, so far, the president is revealing himself to be an angry dolt.

The authors echo E.B. White’s emphasis on “freedom of the individual and egalitarianism” as the strengths of constitutional democracy and they say that tolerance and forbearance are the vehicles to guarantee the goal.

In my opinion, the authors are really great on the diagnosis and prognosis of the dis-ease but a bit fuzzy on the cure. Actually, the title tells us that.

And that is nothing new for America — maintaining our balance with so many competing expectations and differing desired outcomes is a monumental task, but we vote to keep doing that task.

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed reading the book.

Thanks so much, Russ.


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