Is Democracy Doomed? We've Been Here Before.

Roundup
tags: FDR, election 2016, democracy, Great Depression, Trump, Huey Long



Bill Scher is a senior writer at Campaign for America's Future, executive editor of LiberalOasis and a contributor to RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at contact@liberaloasis.com or follow him on Twitter @BillScher.

For those worried about what a Donald Trump presidency will do to the fabric of democracy, new research from Harvard University’s Yascha Mounk and the University of Melbourne’s Roberto Stefan Foa will not soothe. As the New York Times reported last week, the two have created an “early warning system” to detect when democracies are at risk of descending into autocracy, and Mounk says that “the warning signs are flashing red.”

The “early warning system” is three-fold: a decline in belief that democracy is important, increased openness to nondemocratic government and a rise in political parties or movements that deem the current system fundamentally illegitimate. All three criteria are moving in the wrong direction.

Mounk and Foa offer survey data from America, as well as five other nations, showing a huge generational divide on their warning system criteria, with only about 30 percent of millennials believing that it is “essential” to live in a democracy and a mere 19 percent agreeing that a military coup to replace an ineffectual government is illegitimate. And of course, 46 percent of American voters just elected a president who repeatedly disparaged the electoral system, not to mention the free press, and continues to do so even after he won.

This is not the first time that doubt in the sustainability of American democracy has flared. The value of democracy was widely questioned in the mid-1930s, as the Great Depression was yet to be tamed during the early stages of Franklin D. Roosevelt's presidency.

In “The Politics of Upheaval,” the final volume of Arthur Schlesinger Jr.’s New Deal trilogy, the author gathers contemporaneous quotes from despondent liberal writers summing up the national mood: “The rejection of democracy is nowadays regarded as evidence of superior wisdom,” said one. “To attempt a defense of democracy these days is a little like defending paganism in 313,” wrote another.  “Self-government,” proclaimed a third, “has been held up to every ridicule, and many observers count it already dead.” ...




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