(Thread) Saving Democracy through Anti-Hardball Tactics
Ideas in this thread are from Harvard history Prof. Steven Levitsky and Columbia Law Prof. David Pozen.
On Mar. 26 ⬇️ Prof. Levitsky answered the question: Is American democracy in trouble?
1/ Spoiler: Yes (of course) but there are ways to get through this.
Scholarship has established that the older and richer the democracy, the more resilient to autocrats.
Statistically speaking US democracy SHOULD be safe.
But there are 3 reasons to think we are in danger.
💠Income inequality is the greatest since the great depression.
💠We’ve begun a transition that no democracy has ever successfully completed: A dominant ethnic group [white Christians] losing its majority status.
💠We have a president with visibly authoritarian instincts.
3/ Democratic norms in the U.S. have been unraveling for decades. 30 years ago Newt Gingrich instructed his allies to call Democrats “traitors” and refuse to compromise.
2008, Palin and others told their followers that Obama (and Democrats) were not real or “true” Americans.
4/ The GOP resorted to hardball tactics.
These include: Going around the Constitution; denying Obama a Supreme Court pick; threatening to jail political opponents (“lock her up”) or worse, doing it; delegitimizing political opponents, etc.
5/ The GOP became radicalized and turned to hardball (anti-democratic) tactics because they saw Democrats as an existential threat to America.
In the 1950s and earlier, both parties—as well as universities and all pillars of society—were largely run by white Christian men.
6/ Before 1955 (and 1860) etc., we had democratic norms and institutions—but they benefitted and protected white men only.
When an ethnic group loses dominant status, it can be extremely threatening.
Many feel like the country they grew up in is being taken away from them.
7/ Slavery, Jim Crow, women in the home, were forms of autocracy.
Minority groups & women didn’t fully achieve equal rights until after the Civil Rights & women’s rights movement.
So this whole “equality for all” is really fairly new.
The backlash started after 1955.
8/ The GOP's base (white Christians) is shrinking, so their medium and long-term prospects are not good.
The Democratic Party, OTOH, has morphed into the party of urban intellectuals, minority communities, and young people.
The GOP is becoming increasingly desperate.
9/ In 1994, white Christians were 74% of the electorate.
By 2014, they were down to 57%.
By 2024, they're projected to be less than 50%.
Because the GOP sees Democrats as an existential threat, members have come to fear defeat as catastrophic.
10/ The GOP is therefore willing to use any means necessary (including obstruction and lawbreaking) to stop them.
“Take our country back,” reflects that sense of urgency and peril.
“MAGA” reflects a pining for a bygone era (white male control, and largely anti-democratic).
11/ Extreme polarization can kill a democracy because the more polarized a society becomes, the more willing people are to tolerate anti-democratic violations by their own side.
This is what wrecked democracy in Spain in the 1930s, Brazil in the 1960s, and Chile in the 1970s.
12/ Trump is a symptom of that polarization. He didn’t cause it, and his departure from the presidency will not end it.
The good news: American democratic antibodies are strong. Trump is getting strong pushback from media, courts, law enforcement agency, and civil society.
13/ The Midterms made it clear that we are not like Hungary, Russia, Turkey, or Venezuela where authoritarians steamrolled over a weak opposition.
The not-so-good news: the underlying problems of polarization have not gone away [from me: and seem to be increasing].
14/ Prof. Levitsky concludes that while we aren't sliding into autocracy (because our institutions are holding out) we ARE sliding into dysfunction.
The danger of dysfunction is that people will lose faith in the government, which will further weaken our systems.
15/ As an example of severe dysfunction: a Senator told Levitsky we may come to a time when the only way to get judges appointed will be if both parties control the Senate and White House.
The greatest danger to democracy is what Levitsky calls “escalation."
16/ “Escalation,” says Levitsky, “rarely ends well.”
(escalation = responding with more hardball)
Because the Dems have better medium and long-term prospects, the worst thing they can do imitate GOP tactics, play hardball, and further damage our democratic institutions.
17/ This doesn’t mean Democrats should be passive, or acquiescent, or abandoning vigorous opposition.
But instead of destructive hardball tactics, Prof. Levitsky recommends that Democrats use what Columbia Law prof David Pozen calls anti-hardball reform.
18/ Anti-Hardball Reform means responding in ways that blunts GOP power grabs without putting additional pressure and stress on the democratic institutions.
For more, see: https://www.lawfareblog.com/hardball-andas-anti-hardball …
To take an example: Suppose the GOP passes restrictive voter ID laws.
19/ Such a law will fall more heavily on lower income communities, making it harder to vote.
Hardball response: Take away the right to pass such laws. This, though, weakens legislatures.
Anti-hardball response: organize a massive drive to get everyone the correct I.D.
20/ Levitsky says we're in a political earthquake, undergoing a transition from a white Christian (male) dominated America—which was decidedly undemocratic for women and minority communities—to a true liberal democracy.
This is not an easy transition to make.
21/ Making the transition requires passing through a period of intense polarizing reaction.
To get through this transition with the minimum damage to our institutions, Dems must refraining from hardball tactics.
I expect people to say, “Uh-uh! I have it on good authority. . .
22/ . . .that democracy is already dead!” Or “if we don’t throw them all in jail (or whatever) Democracy Will Die."
Levitsky isn’t on Twitter, so he can’t compete with the Twitter Experts, but here’s his resume:
Please read it and listen to his lecture.
22/ Democracy can only be saved through democratic means.
If everyone who is worried—millions of people—get busy and look for constructive ways to strengthen our institutions, we’ll get through this.
Need ideas?⤵️ https://terikanefield-blog.com/things-to-do/
(I'll soon be adding to the that page)
It would seem to me it depends how it's done.
If the Dems try it the way FDR tried—literal court packing—it's a terrible idea.
I can think of some democracy-strengthening ways to do it, though. So I'm sure smart lawmakers can, too.
Some of the "Democracy is already dead" doomsayers abandon logic.
If the midterms were "rigged" how did the Democrats win by 8 points?
A reasonable answer may be: "without cheating, Dems would have won by even more," but that's different from "Dems Can't Win."
A good question to ask is: Why are so many people trying to persuade us that democracy is already dead?
Putin's motives are clear. Undermining confidence in democracy is part of Active Measures. When enough people lose confidence, it's all over.
All my threads are also blogposts. You can read this one here: https://terikanefield-blog.com/saving-democracy-through-anti-hardball-tactics/ …
You can follow @Teri_Kanefield.