How Democracies Die

How Democracies Die

Book - 2018
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"Donald Trump's presidency has raised a question that many of us never thought we'd be asking: Is our democracy in danger? Harvard professors Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt have spent more than twenty years studying the breakdown of democracies in Europe and Latin America, and they believe the answer is yes. Democracy no longer ends with a bang--in a revolution or military coup--but with a whimper: the slow, steady weakening of critical institutions, such as the judiciary and the press, and the gradual erosion of long-standing political norms. The good news is that there are several exit ramps on the road to authoritarianism. The bad news is that, by electing Trump, we have already passed the first one. Drawing on decades of research and a wide range of historical and global examples, from 1930s Europe to contemporary Hungary, Turkey, and Venezuela, to the American South during Jim Crow, Levitsky and Ziblatt show how democracies die--and how ours can be saved."--Dust jacket.
Publisher: New York : Crown, c[2018]
Edition: First edition
ISBN: 9781524762933
Branch Call Number: 321.8 LEVITSKY
Characteristics: 312 pages ; 22 cm
Additional Contributors: Ziblatt, Daniel 1972-- Author


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Jan 21, 2018

“How Democracies Die” is a clear-eyed and level-headed assessment of the potential threat to our democracy presented by the presidency of Donald J. Trump. This book is a welcome and noticeable departure from the more typical writing about Trump as it does not indulge in simply reacting to his transgressions or waste time questioning why the president behaves the way that he does. Rather the authors competently and methodically lay out a case arguing that our constitution alone will not save our democracy or prevent a decline into authoritarianism without parties and political leaders acting in accordance with the time tested norms of political behavior that safeguard our nation from abuses of power and the decay of our institutions of democracy.

The authors spend about half of the book presenting a number of interesting historical case studies illustrating worldwide political behaviors that, over time, threaten or protect democracies. Two key practices that are particularly relevant to the healthy functioning of American democracy are “mutual toleration” and “institutional forbearance.” Simply put mutual toleration describes the practice of recognizing that we all have an equal right to compete in the arena of political ideas and policies, resting on the belief that our opponents are generally “decent, patriotic, and law abiding.” Institutional forbearance is a commitment to play by the rules established in our constitution, using restraint and self control in the practice of the particular powers doled out to the branches of government in a system of checks and balances.

As the authors illustrate, Donald Trump did not begin the breakdown of the exercise of these important norms. Rather they show that multiple historical social and economic factors since the 1960s have steeply increased the partisan divide in our country over the years. This in turn has made possible corrosive political practices that act against tolerance and restraint in use of power by both parties and our governing leaders. We currently find our selves mired in a cycle begun in the mid 1990s (thanks Newt) of dangerous demonization of our opponents, and a lack of compromise that has resulted in a repeated failure to provide results for citizens on important issues , and a tit-for-tat decrease in the practice of restraint in exercising circumventive measures such as an increase in the use of filibusters and executive orders. This, along with a weakening of the systems that used to vet nominees and protect against the capture of the electoral process by demagogues, made Trump’s rise to the presidency possible if not inevitable.

After laying out these concepts, the authors parallel Trump’s campaign and presidential behaviors with the actions of contemporary figures like Erdogan, Chavez and Putin who have weakened their democracies and increased autocratic practices. Like these authoritarians, Trump has attacked institutions of democracy like the press and the court systems, made unproven charges of corruption against governing leaders and organizations, claiming political opponents are criminals and promising to use presidential power to punish them, attempting to purge and pack some departments, etc. While I doubt some Republicans or any fervid Trump supporters will be convinced by their argument, I found it to be both compelling and troubling.

One disappointment I had in the book is that the focus is solely on the practice of parties and political leaders, to the exclusion of a discussion of the behavior of voters. This felt like a failure to not explore the part citizens play in accepting, supporting, or defeating authoritarian leaders. I am sure we have a part to play and I would have like to be dealt into the solution to this troubling world wide trend.

This book will be an enjoyable and easy read for those interested in politics and history.


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Jan 31, 2018

MelissaBee thinks this title is suitable for 16 years and over


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