Author and political expert Robert Kagan drew attention with his Washington Post essay stating that the nation is “already in a constitutional crisis” and may be on the verge of “mass violence,” but it is not. the first to foresee the demise of democracy.
Headlines like “Will 2024 be the year of the death of American democracy?” And books with titles like “How Democracies Die” and “Twilight of Democracy” have become commonplace in the post-Trump era.
The apocalyptic tone of many writings on democracy is not surprising given the scale of the crises facing the nation and the world. But there is a danger that dismal alarmism could itself eat away at democracy even more. The “disaster prediction kind,” as newsletter editor Robert Hubbell dubbed it in his response to Kagan, tends to stoke paralysis and despair.
This very demoralization is toxic to democracy. When the Economist Intelligence Unit first demoted the United States from a “full” democracy to a “flawed” democracy in 2017, it was because public confidence in political institutions had collapsed. “Popular trust in government and political parties is an essential element of the concept of democracy” embodied by the index, notes the report.
When journalists, opinion leaders and even democracy advocates focus exclusively on ways in which government and institutions have failed, citizens lose confidence. And without at least some confidence in the system, the Americans are giving up. If all is lost anyway, why vote, speak, follow the news, or get involved in community and civic life?
This is why defenders of democracy must move beyond catastrophic prophecy and do the hard work of envisioning and defending a way forward. It’s not that serious warnings aren’t necessary, or that threats aren’t real. It is not enough to sound the alarm bells. Indeed, a relentless catastrophe risks obscuring the opportunities that can arise from moments of disruption.
This column, The Civic Voice, will highlight civic solutions and success stories as an antidote to “bad news around the clock”. As solution-focused sites like the Solutions Journalism Network, the Good News Network and the new online magazine Reasons to Be Cheerful attest, Americans crave a little hope.
The value of good news goes beyond spreading joy. Publishing a story about what works “is the ultimate form of holding power to account,” Christine McLaren, co-editor of Reasons to Be Cheerful, said in an interview. That’s because “it gives people a story to show and say, ‘Look! It doesn’t have to be that way! There are people who do it differently and here’s how.
Spreading good news can seem “out of date,” acknowledged journalist Roxanne Patel Shepelavy, writing on “Where to Find Hope” in The Philadelphia Citizen. But hope is more important than ever, “because we cannot cure what ails us if we do not believe there is a cure.”
So where can democracy advocates find hope? Here are some signs that America’s democracy, though shaken on many fronts, has as much (if not more) potential to be reborn and thrive as it does to crumble with a whimper.
– Right to vote. The unprecedented state-level assault on the franchise since the 2020 election, fueled by Donald Trump’s “big lie”, is perhaps the most direct threat to American democracy today.
Yet on the good news front, the audit of Arizona Republicans’ much-criticized 2020 vote reaffirmed that “the truth is the truth” and gave President Joe Biden an even bigger victory. And the John R. Lewis Advancement of Voting Rights Act, which would restore key protections in the Voting Rights Act, is drawing attention on Capitol Hill.
Plus, a surprising number of states make voting easier, not harder. While 19 states have enacted 33 laws that limit voting since the 2020 election, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, the number of laws that have expanded voter access is actually much larger. , totaling 62 in 25 states.
These laws to facilitate voting, along with measures such as expanded early voting and postal voting, “do not balance the scales,” says the Brennan Center. But according to the Washington Post’s Perry Bacon Jr., extending voting rights is one of many “groundbreaking initiatives” in the Blue States, from “Baby Bonds” in Connecticut to greenhouse gas reductions in the United States. ‘Oregon, which offer “a vision for a better America.” “
– Constitutional reforms. On Capitol Hill, as breathless reports remind us daily, partisan and intra-party disputes have blocked infrastructure legislation and put the nation in danger of default. But such congressional deadlocks themselves can usher in important constitutional changes, argued recently John F. Kowal and Wilfred U. Codrington III in Politico.
Constitutional amendments tend to come in waves and “have generally followed periods of deep division and deadlock like ours,” wrote Kowal and Codrington, who wrote a book on the subject. “In fact, history suggests that periods of extreme political polarization, when normal channels of legal change are blocked due to partisan deadlock and regional divisions, can usher in periods of constitutional reform to make the government work again. Political system.”
– The power of the people. The law review article by electoral law expert Richard Hasen, warning that supporters of state legislatures, electoral offices and even the Supreme Court could usurp voter choices in 2024, has been sobering.
But Hasen’s article also pointed out that voters have the final say. He noted that the public retreat has helped overcome some of the worst elements of recent state-level voting restrictions, and that political organization and action “will be needed to strengthen the rule of law standards during this period. elections “. He also suggested to “prepare for mass and peaceful protests in the event of attempts to undermine fair election results.”
Hasen’s article sparked a new wave of articles about the possible collapse of democracy. But Hasen’s analysis spoke not only of sadness, but also of hope. Democracy will be stronger if the optimistic side of the story comes out as well.
Eliza Newlin Carney is a journalist and founder of The Civic Circle, which uses the arts to empower young students to understand and participate in democracy.
The Fulcrum covers what makes democracy dysfunctional and the efforts to fix our systems of government. Sign up for the newsletter at thefulcrum.us. The Fulcrum is a non-profit, non-partisan information platform covering efforts to fix our systems of governance. It is a project of, but editorially independent of, Issue One.