Important discussion in NYT Magazine:
Early last year, Freedom House, an American organization that since World War II has warned against autocracy and repression on the march around the world, issued a special report on a country that had not usually warranted such attention: its own. Noting that the United States had slid down its ranking of countries by political rights and civil liberties — it is now 59th on Freedom House’s list, slightly below Argentina and Mongolia — the report warned that the country faced “an acute crisis for democracy.” In November, the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, an influential Stockholm-based think tank, followed suit, adding the United States to its list of “backsliding democracies” for the first time.
The impetus for these reassessments was Donald Trump’s attempts to overturn the 2020 election results and the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol that followed. But as the reassessments themselves noted, those shocks to the system hardly came out of nowhere; like the Trump presidency itself, they were both products and accelerants of a process of American democratic erosion and disunion that had been underway for years and has continued since. In states across the country, Republican candidates are running for office on the platform that the 2020 election was stolen — a view held by about three-quarters of Republican voters. Since the beginning of 2021, Republicans in at least 25 state legislatures have tried, albeit mostly unsuccessfully, to pass legislation directly targeting the election system: bills that would place election oversight or certification in the hands of partisan legislatures, for instance, and in some cases even bills specifically punishing officials who blocked attempts to overturn the 2020 election outcome in Trump’s favor. And those are just the new developments, happening against a backdrop of a decade-long erosion of voting rights and a steady resurgence of political extremism and violence, and of course a world newly at war over the principles of self-determination and democracy.
How bad is it, really? We convened a panel of experts in an attempt to answer that question: political scientists who have studied the lurching advances and retreats of democracy in other countries and the dynamics of American partisanship; a historian of and activist for civil rights in the United States; and Republican legal and political operatives who guided the party to victories in the past and are now trying to understand its current state.
Carol Anderson is the Charles Howard Candler Professor of African American Studies at Emory University. She is the author of “One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression Is Destroying Our Democracy.”
Benjamin Ginsberg practiced election law for 38 years, representing Republican candidates, elected officials and party committees. He is co-chair of the Election Officials Legal Defense Network, a distinguished visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution and a lecturer at Stanford Law School.
Sherrilyn Ifill will step down this month after nearly a decade as president and director-counsel of the N.A.A.C.P. Legal Defense Fund.
Steven Levitsky is professor of government and director of the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies at Harvard University. He is co-author (with Daniel Ziblatt) of “How Democracies Die.”
Sarah Longwell is a founder of Defending Democracy Together and executive director of the Republican Accountability Project. She is also the publisher of The Bulwark.
Lilliana Mason is an associate professor of political science at Johns Hopkins University and the SNF Agora Institute. She is the author of “Uncivil Agreement: How Politics Became Our Identity.”