Will America’s Democracy Die?

Anchorage Daily News, Oct 5, 2020 – Janet McCabe

Most of us have lived our lives in the freedom of American democracy. It has never occurred to us that a democracy as enduring as ours could be weakened and die. But history has shown otherwise. In their 2018 best-selling book, “How Democracies Die,” authors Steven Livitsky and Daniel Ziblatt present examples of conditions that have allowed other democratic countries to succumb to dictators.

Early in this history, the loss of democratic government was characterized by rapid governmental takeover, the most notorious being Adolf Hitler’s seizure of Germany. More recently, gradual erosion of democratic practices and safeguards are making nations around the world vulnerable to would-be dictators.

When democracy disappears slowly, people become tolerant of practices that would have shocked them in earlier times — lying to the public, for example. Attacks on institutions that guard democracy frequent precede takeover by a dictator. The court system is weakened, the free press threatened, and the rule of law and constitutional separation of powers are disregarded.

But the most significant factor weakening democracy is buildup of rigid hatred between political parties and allegiances. To quote their book, “When democracy has worked, it has relied upon two norms that we often take for granted — mutual tolerance and institutional forbearance. Treating rivals as legitimate contenders for power and underutilizing one’s institutional prerogatives in the spirit of fair play are not written into the American Constitution. Yet without them, our constitutional checks and balances will not operate as we expect them to.”

How might these observations play out in America’s Nov. 3 election?

President Donald Trump’s most adamant supporters have been in states where traditional manufacturing jobs have been lost. Now the pandemic has compounded existing hardships in these states. Business closures necessary to prevent the spread of COVID-19 have widened the gap between the “haves” and “have-nots”.