Teri Kanefield @Teri_Kanefield Author, lawyer (U.C. Berkeley). An idealist who believes the American Experiment will succeed. I tweet about the law, books, politics, and history. Oct. 13, 2018 3 min read

(Thread) How to save a troubled democracy

Lessons from Chile

To save our democracy, Profs. Levitzky & Ziblatt suggest “stepping back from the daily headlines” and “drawing lessons from the experiences of other democracies.” (Snyder says look at history)

(Info from👇)

1/ Prior to 1970, Chile was the oldest and most stable democracy in South America.

When left wing Allende was elected president in 1970, members of the far right launched a hate campaign against him, vowing to block his programs by any means necessary.

2/ Allende’s opponents called him a communist who wanted to turn Chile into another Cuba.

Stonewalled, Allende tried to push his agenda through by means beyond what the Constitution allowed.

Levitzky & Ziblatt emphasize that democracy is “grinding” work.

3/ It requires negotiation & give and take.
In Chile, there were multiple parties, so no party had a majority.
When one party plays hardball, democracy can go into a death spiral.

In 1973, right-wing General Augusto Pinochet—terrified of communism—led a coup against Allende.

4/ The military generals stormed the presidential palace, murdered Allende, and seized control of the government.

[Extremist today prefer to destabilize & defeat democracy through chaos, disinformation, & cyber wars. It’s less bloody. Democracy dies so slowly that. . .

5/ . . . many don’t realize what’s happening until it’s too late.]

Pinochet’s ruthless dictatorship lasted 17 years.

Why so long?

Even after all sides grew to despise Pinochet, the parties so distrusted each other they couldn’t bring themselves to talk.

6/ After “staring into the abyss” of dictatorship for years, they understood the only way to reestablish democracy was to begin talking.

The various sides came together, opened a dialogue, and agreed to commit themselves to “consensus politics”—negotiating key decisions.

7/ They formed a solid majority, and could thus topple Pinochet’s dictatorship.

After years of brutal dictatorship, the Chileans learned their lesson: Now they’re careful to negotiate and compromise.
Again they have the most stable democracy in the region.

8/ From Levitzky & Ziblatt: GOP hardball tactics have thrown American democracy into peril.

A political activist in VA told me that people in the VA rural areas are “disgusted” with the “gridlock” of politics; they wanted Trump. Now, still disgusted, many won’t vote.

9/ Gridlock is partly a breakdown of compromise, and partly the slow, “grinding” work of democracy. Consensus is hard.

With autocracy there’s no gridlock. Autocracy is efficient. The autocrat doesn’t have to negotiate or compromise. What he says is law, so it's streamlined.

10/ I think some people have been so conditioned to hate the normal “grinding” work of democracy that they’d rather not have it. They want things NOW.

Dear People (who line up behind an autocrat because you don’t like consensus):
I think you’ll miss democracy when it’s gone.

11/ Levitzky & Ziblatt conclude that the only way to save democracy is through democratic means.

If both sides abandon democratic processes, there’s no hope.

One side must hold onto the spirit of democracy—I think what Michelle Obama meant by “when they go low, we go high.”

12/ Historian Browning predicts that future historians will see McConnell as the “gravedigger” of democracy.

McConnell & his pals will never compromise—but we don’t need 100% to come together to stop the current death spiral.
 https://www.nybooks.com/articles/2018/10/25/suffocation-of-democracy/ 

13/ We need a strong enough majority to demand an end to toxic politics.

Polling and psychological studies suggestion between 30 - 40% of the population is naturally un-democratic. See 👇


A coalition of 60-65% of the population can stop this.

14/ It seems to me that the lesson from Chile is: the far left must align with the moderates, never-Trumpers and conservatives, & invite all to join the spirit of democracy.

A large enough majority willing to compromise can topple Trump and stop the death spiral of democracy.

15/ That’s why I’m distrustful of the “fight fire with fire” attitude, which seems like a good way to burn down the house and mobilize the opposition.

It’s also fundamentally undemocratic.

What I learn from Chile is that the way out is to elect leaders who unify, compromise.

Adding a personal note: My husband is from Chile. He was young at the time, but he experienced the Pinochet dictatorship.

Adding this because I see how misunderstandings happened. I ended with the word "compromise" but I didn't mean compromise with the Trump GOP in the sense of allowing for cruelty.

I meant that the way to save democracy is through democratic means. Everyone who wants to save. . .

. . . the democracy has to come together, which won't be easy.

Also: Fight fire with fire sounds like: McConnell uses undemocratic means, so we must do the same.
Or: "He punched so I punched. But he started it."
Both sides abandoning democratic norms means the end of democracy.


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