Democracy Always Has One Foot in a Fairy Tale and the Other in the Abyss.
We Still Rely on the Long-Term Strength of Democracies to Reverse Course When Things Go Wicked.
Democracies neither rise nor get destroyed overnight. Iraq's invasion did not lead to democracy immediately after Saddam Hussein was removed. Instead, it led to the realization that other factors, apart from removing a corrupt authoritarian, were necessary too for democracy to grow. Similarly, the older and more rooted democracy becomes, the tougher it gets to deracinate it. However, all democracies more or less face one thing in common — the swing between euphoria and misery.
“Japan, early twenty-first century, you would still feel like you’d won the jackpot. Greece is in more of a mess, yet it too remains prosperous and peaceful by historical standards. There are many, many grimmer places than this. The crisis was never resolved, but the worst never happened either.”, says David Runciman in his book How Democracies Die.
One of the sources from where authoritarians derive their power is the “anticipatory obedience” ; they get this in abundance from their citizens, says Timothy Snyder in his applaudable work on democracy, On Tyranny, Twenty Lessons From The Twentieth Century.
Synder explains, anticipatory obedience means “adapting instinctively, without reflecting, to a new situation.” These are imprudent acts of compliance throughout history, from allegiance showered upon Hitler in Germany and Austria to the support received by Trump from the Republican party and 71million Americans.
The Republican Party is obsessed with the idea of success, no matter what the cost — it may as well be the nation itself. Either the election result is favorable, or they are impelled to shake the foundations of democracy; hollow the system from within. The most disturbing thing is that Americans have not understood it even yet that election 2020 could have been their last meaningful election. American democracy needs protection from no other but Americans.
Our democratic lineage or institutions will not come to our rescue if we do not take deliberate measures to protect ourselves from the menace of authoritarianism. If representatives try to destroy the same institutions they come to power with, the gravity of the situation shall be taken with utmost seriousness; that could well develop into a ‘well-warned still not-anticipated nightmare.’ Going by what is happening in America, there is enough evidence of Americans having a sheer lack of democratic vision regarding how their voting could change the entire trajectory of American democracy; had it not been for the small gap that saved them.
Authoritarians of the 21st century are very pragmatic in their appeal. Hence, the recognition of their tactics takes time. Their populist distortions offer “personal dignity” to people at the cost of “collective dignity”; as against other people’s rights and their rightful share in the economy. Their promises, at times, have democratic undertones, and therefore they woo a good part of the citizenry. These authoritarian leaders show them a bright future based on short-term benefits, which wither away sooner than most people expect them to. Trump is a classic example of this. He did not live up to most of his 2016 campaign pledges. What’s distressing is the readiness of Americans to part with democracy with so much ease despite being an outstanding example of a mature democracy that it is. I doubt if America can still be gracefully called a liberal democracy as all its elements were rather liberally attacked, from its courts to media.
“Nevertheless, although mature democracies may flirt with the pragmatic authoritarianism, they are unlikely to embrace it.”, clarifies David Runciman. That’s what America proved precisely. It did swing into the abyss, only to come back from it. History shall not repeat and instead make us wiser. We need to decide where we’d be when things go wrong, as they have. After all, abyss and fairy-tale have a thin line between them.
SNYDER, T. I. M. O. T. H. Y. (2021). ON TYRANNY: Twenty lessons from the twentieth century. S.l.: TEN SPEED.
Runciman, D. (2019). How democracy ends.