I will be making posts about all of the small and insidious ways that powerful forces are trying to completely erode any power that a democracy provides for its citizens. I think we are in the middle of a very dangerous time for the survival of democracy. The following is the theoretical basis for this claim theoretical, but visible in real world experiences.
The NYTimes has a newsletter called The Interpreter, written by Max Fisher and Amanda Taub, both writers in Washington for The New York Times. Max formerly helped launch Vox, The Washington Post’s WorldViews column and The Atlantic’s online foreign news section, and somewhere in there got a master’s in global security studies from Johns Hopkins. Amanda also wrote for Vox, and before that was a lawyer who worked on and taught human rights and humanitarian law, with a particular interest in refugee issues. She has a master’s degree in violence and conflict studies. In the most recent newsletter:
“The political scientists Erica Frantz and Andrea Kendall-Taylor define authoritarianization as “the steady dismantling of democratic norms and practices by democratically elected leaders.”
They say it’s increasingly the way countries become autocracies: gradually, piece by piece, and often via incremental steps that might seem relatively minor.
This is a significant change in the way democracies fall apart, they wrote in a chilling but informative article in December’s Foreign Affairs: a new pattern of democratic failure that means we need to be on the lookout for a new set of risk factors and warning signs.
If a coup is like a wildfire that destroys a forest — a single, cataclysmic event — authoritarianization is more like an infestation that kills a few trees at a time, spreading steadily but quietly until the ecosystem collapses.
Authoritarianizers consolidate their power not by doing anything as dramatic as putting tanks on the street, but by slowly chipping away at checks and balances, undermining the authority of other branches of government, and restricting the free press and civil liberties. That process has already played out in countries like Russia, Turkey and Venezuela. Hungary, Poland and others appear to be following the same path.
This idea has changed the way we read the news, because it means we need to focus more on institutions in order to really understand what’s going on, and look more for initial warning signs. And something we would emphasize: Initial steps down this path can be within the bounds of the law, and they often have popular support.”
Perhaps if we all watch carefully and talk about it and make noise about it, we can stem the overthrow of our Democracy.