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  • This is the idea that took over the world.

  • First there was one democracythen 10, then 20.

  • There were some setbacks, but people really seemed to want democracy.

  • And eventually, most of them got one.

  • But 15 years ago, democracy stopped spreading, and it might not pick back up again.

  • Even some places that seemed safely democratic turned out not to be.

  • And people are even getting worried about established democracies like the U.S.

  • So is there something wrong with democracy?

  • I'm Max Fisher. 

  • I'm Amanda Taub.

  • We're journalists at The New York Times.

  • And this is The Interpreter.

  • We can measure democracy kind of like a health score.

  • Over here, there are full democracies like the United States (US).

  • And over there are dictatorships like North Korea.

  • So the further left a country is, the less democratic it is, and the further right a country, the more democratic it is.

  • Now let's see what happens when we add how rich the countries are.

  • The higher on the graph, the richer the country, and the lower on the graph, the poorer the country.

  • Generally, countries have moved up and right.

  • As they got richer, they became more democratic.

  • You've got your Englands, your Latvias, your Indonesias.

  • You see a pattern?

  • Countries getting richer.

  • Countries getting more democratic.

  • But look at countries like China and Saudi Arabia.

  • They got richer, but never got more democratic.

  • Look at Russia and Venezuela.

  • They got democratic, but then backslid, which wasn't supposed to happen.

  • So what's going on?

  • China looked exactly like places we thought would become democracies next.

  • They built up the rule of law, civil society, and some institutions.

  • Normally, those are the building blocks that eventually add up to democracy.

  • But they were really designed to make citizens just happy enough to protect the authoritarian system from the will of the people.

  • And whenever the government feels like it could lose control, it uses the other side of its strategy: violent oppression and coercion.

  • We're seeing this in more places where dictators are learning how to stop democracy from forming.

  • And at the same time, some elected leaders are developing their own playbook for pulling democratic systems down from within.

  • A handful of seemingly established democracies are sliding back towards dictatorship.

  • These countries didn't have coups or invasions.

  • In each case, voters elected strongman leaders who dismantled their democracies from within.

  • Venezuela had been democratic for 40 years, then Hugo Chavez rose on a message that only he spoke for the people.

  • People cheered as he accrued power for himself, jailed his opponents and tore down the democratic institutions that constrained him.

  • And when the dust settled, Chavez was unchecked.

  • Society descended into chaos that is getting worse every day.

  • Other elected leaders are using similar tactics, but always bit by bitin ways that aren't obvious and might even be popular at the time.

  • One of the most powerful forces that can turn people against democracy is polarization.

  • When people feel scared enough of their political opponents, it feels more important to protect their side than it does to protect democracy.

  • Leaders can exploit that fear.

  • So if you're Russian and you support Putin, you might blame society's problems on gay people or nefarious Western plots.

  • If you're Turkish and support Erdogan, you fear the secular elites will impose military rule.

  • And we're seeing that kind of polarization and fear start to take hold in established democracies.

  • "You are a racist, no good American."

  • "I was just called a racist."

  • Could it happen in the United States?

  • It still feels impossible.

  • And it might be.

  • So far, the system is resilient.

  • But the warning signs are here.

  • Polarization.

  • Populism.

  • Distrust of institutions.

  • A desire for strongman leaders to smash the system.

  • These things don't necessarily mean that democracy is doomed.

  • But they show that in times of social stress, even a free people can dismantle their own democracy without realizing they're doing it.

  • Democracy is still a pretty new system of government.

  • That century-long trend might not have been a trend at all.

  • Just a few one-time moments that we mistook for inevitability.

  • We want to believe it will last forever, but we can't be sure.

This is the idea that took over the world.

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Is There Something Wrong With Democracy? | NYT The Interpreter

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    Helena posted on 2019/09/28
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