*Debate Club* The Crisis of American Democracy

Nearly all living Americans grew up taking our democracy for granted. Until recently, most of us believed—and acted as if—our constitutional system was unbreakable, no matter how recklessly our politicians behaved.

Democratic backsliding in the United States is no longer a matter of speculative concern. It has begun. Well-regarded global democracy indexes—such as Freedom House,2 Varieties of Democracy,3 and the Economist Intelligence Unit4—all show an erosion of American democracy since 2016. According to Freedom House’s ranking, the United States is now less democratic than Chile, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Taiwan, and Uruguay—and in the same category as newer democracies like Croatia, Greece, Mongolia, and Panama.5

… politicians may exploit the letter of the Constitution in ways that eviscerate its spirit: … pardoning allies who commit crimes on the president’s behalf, declaring national emergencies to circumvent Congress. All these actions follow the written letter of the law to subvert its spirit. Legal scholar Mark Tushnet calls such behavior “constitutional hardball.”9 If you examine any failing or failed democracy, you will find an abundance of constitutional hardball: examples include Spain and Germany in the 1930s, Chile in the 1970s, and contemporary Hungary, Venezuela, and Turkey.

… Partisan rivals came to view one another as such an existential threat that they chose to subvert democracy rather than accept victory by the other side.

… Not long ago, white Christian men sat atop all our country’s social, economic, political, and cultural hierarchies. They filled the presidency, Congress, the Supreme Court, and the governors’ mansions. They were the CEOs, the newscasters, and most of the leading celebrities and scientific authorities. And they were the face of both major political parties. Those days are over. But losing one’s dominant social status can be deeply threatening. Many white Christian men feel like the country they grew up in is being taken away from them. For many people, that feels like an existential threat.

… The Republicans increasingly represent white Christian America, whereas the Democrats have come to represent everybody else. This is the divide that underlies our country’s deep polarization. What makes our polarization so dangerous, however, is its asymmetry. Whereas the Democratic base is diverse and expanding, the Republican Party represents a once-dominant majority in numerical and status decline. Sensing this decline, many Republicans have grown fearful about the future. Slogans like “take our country back” and “make America great again” reflect this sense of peril. These fears, moreover, have fueled a troubling development that threatens our democracy: a growing Republican aversion to losing elections.

… Democracy requires that parties know how to lose. Politicians who lose elections must be willing to accept defeat, go home, and get ready to play again the next day. Without this norm of gracious losing, democracy is not sustainable.

Navy Vet

Article URL : https://www.aft.org/ae/fall2020/levitsky_ziblatt

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