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Not Looking Too Promising For American Democracy, Experts Say

Stopping anti-democratic insurgencies depend on members of establishment parties standing firmly against them, the authors of "How Democracies Die" said.
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Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, authors of How Democracies Die, told Anderson Cooper last night that Republicans are now an openly anti-democratic force that rejects electoral defeat.

"What's interesting is that there have been other events like this in other countries. France in 1934, there was an attack on the parliament. the police fought the right-wing radicals off in that case. But six years later, democracy died in France. and part of it was there was an investigation, there was a committee that investigated that attack. and it was highly politicized. They never really fully came to terms with it, and this was a harbinger of things to come. Spain in 1981, there was an attempted coup where -- where soldiers came into the parliament as they were counting votes. transitions of power, always dangerous times. And at that moment, the establishment politicians, the king of Spain stood up and said this unacceptable, and Spanish democracy survived," Ziblatt said.

"So how mainstream politicians and establishment figures respond to events like this determine our fate. And right now, looking where we are compared to other countries, it's not looking very promising."

"I mean, that's terrifying that a lot of it depends, at a juncture like this, on what our political leaders choose to do. and that is -- I mean, that's pretty stunning," Cooper said.

"Yeah, that's right. And so, we often think that the threat to democracy is people simply marching in the streets. That obviously is a problem. You know, people marching in the streets with guns, not accepting election results but a major determinant, also, when we look throughout history. Again, we are not the only country to ever experience this. How establishment politicians respond and do they draw a clear line and separate and condemn this kind of behavior or don't they, and when they don't, then things degenerate," Ziblatt said.

"Steve, last time you were on, you brought up comparison to the Civil War. And you know the pushback a lot of people, you know, scoffed and shrugged that off and said by invoking that, you are being hyperbolic. are you?" Cooper asked.

"Look, I don't think we're going to fall into a large-scale war equivalent to the civil war. But look, when we wrote How Democracies Die, a lot of people dismissed it as alarmist. And after January 6th -- after Donald Trump spent two months incessantly trying to illegally overturn the election, it's really difficult to deny that we're in a dangerous place," Levitsky said.

"So again, we are not going to slide into civil war but the Republican party's the only mainstream political party among all established Western democracies that has turned against democracy. You won't find a party like the Republican party or mainstream party anywhere in Europe. That we were in entirely new territory. You've got to go back to the 1930s to find a mainstream party that is behaving in this way."

"Dan, it's so interesting. You know, we have now gotten a more definitive account from Congress about, you know, what happened in the White House. Some of the things that were going on in the White House, and particularly that meeting in which President Trump is, you know, talking to the acting attorney general and trying to essentially pressure him repeatedly. And, you know, contemplating getting rid of him repeatedly over the course of the hours, he had to be talked out of it over the course of some three hours. I mean, that just -- it's just extraordinary. It's sort of worse than many people even realized," Cooper said.

"Yeah, because you know, there is always a grassroots movement in any society that doesn't accept democracy," Ziblatt said, citing the Ku Klux Klan as an example,

"But the critical thing is what do the mainstream parties do? And when they play along with this, when they play footsie with this kind of winking and nodding at it, thinking maybe we need to kind of roll with this a little bit in order to get access to office, they end up killing democracy in the process. And so, it's incredibly reckless to do this kind of thing. And one thing we should say is, at the end of the day, you know, democracy did survive January 6th."

He pointed out that in a couple of states, Republican secretaries of state stood up for free and fair elections.

"But it came very close and so our democracy survived, but just barely. And so, we shouldn't rest easy. I think we should take this very seriously," he concluded.

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