And that doesn’t just happen in emerging democracies. Consider, for example, modern Germany. After its hellish descent into tyranny in the 1930s and 1940s, Germany emerged from the war defeated and destroyed, but then reappeared and recreated itself. Today it appears to be an almost supernaturally stable democracy. Angela Merkel served solidly for 16 years as chancellor, and she was replaced by her former finance minister, another moderate. The country’s policies appear to have changed only marginally. The populist right is marginal and ineffective.
Pildes calls this “political fragmentation,” and it is happening all over the Western world. The French Socialist Party – one of the most successful in Europe – is no more than a shadow of itself. Spain had to hold four elections in four years to achieve a viable coalition. Since 2018 ushered in the right-wing populists, Italian politics have been in turmoil, now saved by a technocratic government led by Prime Minister Mario Draghi. Even the Netherlands took a record 225 days to form a coalition government in 2017.
Why is this happening? Some of the reasons are familiar. An era of rapid technological change, accelerating globalization and increasing ethnic diversity have created great concerns. These anxieties then lead to mistrust of traditional institutions and established parties. New figures are surging onto the political scene, some of whom are peddling fear and offering simple solutions to get rid of all this new complexity and bring the country back, to a more stable time, to a time when the country was big (in the haze). , memory often erroneous).
But why does American democracy feel more threatened than, say, French or Spanish democracy?
In these countries, the new radical forces do not seem so determined to attack the heart of the political system. First of all, it should be noted that in Europe the order under attack is the European Union, which is in fact under strain. One of its three largest economies, Great Britain, has left the Union. Others, like Poland and Hungary, seek to weaken it from within.
But that said, America is feeling particularly stressed as its next presidential election approaches. If the scenarios outlined in my special report, “The Struggle to Save American Democracy,” come true – Trump shows up, wins the nomination, and it’s a close election – we will almost certainly face a constitutional crisis. More worryingly, given the changes to electoral procedures, we will likely face this type of challenge after every close election in America. The fundamental legitimacy of the US electoral system has eroded. Republicans in particular have embraced a big lie: that the US election is filled with fraud.
We may have exposed a loophole in the Founders’ Constitution. They believed that in order to create a political system, it was not necessary to make sure that people acted righteously. “If men were angels,” wrote James Madison, “no government would be necessary.” Ambition would be made to counter ambition – and this system of checks and balances would preserve freedom and democracy.
But can a system function without human beings acting in a responsible, even virtuous way? One branch of government, Congress, is supposed to control the other. But today, for Republicans, party politics trumps institutional loyalty. The real Jan.6 scandal isn’t just what happened outside the Capitol, it’s what happened inside when a majority of House Republicans voted to cancel the valid results of a presidential election simply to win the favor of then-President Donald Trump. It was this vote, not the violence, that nearly broke the American system.
We often hear that, unlike emerging democracies, America’s institutions are strong. But, as Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “An institution is a man’s elongated shadow.” If people mistreat them, attack them, despise them, they will slowly fall apart.
And so all of our efforts must be devoted to making people act righteously. In particular, Republicans need to realize that they can and should disagree vigorously with Democrats on taxes, regulations, inflation, the environment – whatever they want. But now they must join these same Democrats to preserve a credible and legitimate political system.
For all of us, this is the most important political issue right now, not your take on Iran or green subsidies. These differences can wait. Let’s save American democracy first.