Democracy in Retreat


In some countries the destruction of democratic institutions proceeds gradually, but tenaciously.

In 2008, the United Nations established Sept. 15 as the International Day of Democracy. Ironically, democracy in the world has suffered some significant setbacks since then.

At the end of the Cold War, experts took for granted that liberal democracy would prevail as the dominant political system because it would spread in successive waves of contagion throughout all the continents. One example of such expert opinion was contained in “The Third Wave: Democratization in the Late 20th Century,” published in 1993 and written by Samuel P. Huntington.

Nevertheless, in recent years, the popular disaffection toward liberal democracy is observable on an international scale. This has motivated a series of studies concerning an international trend in threats to democracy. Examples include “How Democracy Ends” by David Runciman, a professor at Cambridge University; “On Tyranny,” by Timothy Snyder, professor and historian at Yale University; and “The People vs. Democracy: Why Our Freedom Is in Danger & How to Save It,” by Yascha Mounk, professor at Johns Hopkins University.

For its part, Freedom House warned in a recent article that “In 2018, Freedom in the World recorded the 13th consecutive year of decline in global freedom. This reversal has spanned a variety of countries in every region, from long-standing democracies like the United States to consolidated authoritarian regimes like China and Russia. The overall losses are still shallow compared with the gains of the late 20th century, but the pattern is consistent and ominous. Democracy is in retreat.”

One of the most quoted books in recent years is “How Democracies Die” by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, professors at Harvard University. In this work, the authors analyze historical examples of democratic collapse resulting from grand events such as a coup (Chile) or civil war (Spain).

They warn that, in some countries, the current destruction of democratic institutions moves gradually but tenaciously. It no longer happens overnight through an act of force and this is why the electorate usually doesn’t realize the danger. They continue giving up their freedom passively, accepting the introduction of anti-democratic measures that limit individual liberty and the division of powers. This is what happened with the institutionalization of autocratic systems in Venezuela, Turkey and Hungary, but a similar pattern can already be detected in established democracies, notably in the United States as a result of Donald Trump’s election.

There are four distinctive characteristics of Trump’s political activity that are part of the logic called “democratic deconsolidation.”

First, he constantly discredits the press: from newspapers such as The New York Times to The Washington Post or the highly prestigious cultural magazine, The Atlantic, which Trump called a “dying” publication.

Second, he attacks members of the opposition, such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and, in general, Democrats and everyone who thinks differently. For Trump, insults replace argument.

Third, Trump has sought to undermine judicial authority, a pillar of the separation of powers in the U.S., with insults and disparaging remarks. He called District Judge Jon S. Tigar an “Obama judge,” and made racist comments about a judge overseeing the fraud case against Trump University by condemning his Mexican heritage. Trump also vilified James L. Robart, the district judge who suspended his order to prevent visitors from majority Muslim states from entering the U.S.

Fourth, Trump has sought ideological submission from government bureaucracies and the destruction of the independence of autonomous organizations. He has accused the CIA and the FBI of being part of the “deep state.”

Trump prioritizes total submission from all government bodies over professionalism. Trump does not believe in the state, only in himself and his impulses.

There are politicians who have risen to power through democracy and, with that power, they undermine democracy.

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About Jane Vogel 102 Articles
In my first career as a pediatric physical therapist, I learned enough Spanish to speak with my clients and do some translation in the medical rehabilitation field. I am retired from PT, but still do translations for therapy agencies. In pursuit of my interest in languages and other cultures, I have just completed the Certificate in Translation from the University of California at San Diego. WA offers perspectives from other countries to English language readers and I am happy to to be working with them.

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