A Republic — If You Can Keep It

Legend has it a woman asked Benjamin Franklin a question as he exited Independence Hall after the Constitutional Convention in 1787. “Doctor, what have we got? A republic or a monarchy?” Franklin supposedly replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.”

As I’ve expressed before, I keep looking around at what’s happening in this country, both in our government and among our society, and I’m not liking what I see in either place.  I see a nation divided, one in which half the population is increasingly bigoted, intolerant of those who either don’t look, act, or think in the same manner as they do.  I see a nation in which violence is becoming an accepted norm.  I see a situation that is untenable, that must either be resolved by peaceful means, by acceptance and mutual cooperation, else will be resolved by violent means.  With the Big Lie that began even before the 2020 election results were finalized, and the resultant attempted and failed coup on January 6th, 2021, I see red lights flashing, warning that this is anything but “business as usual.”

There are many ways in which an authoritarian government can gradually take over a nation whereby people don’t even realize what is happening until it’s too late.  The first and most obvious, of course, is “divide and conquer.”  Tell people lies long enough and loud enough, and ultimately they will believe the lies.  Another, more subtle one, is to ‘dummy down’ the populace, keep them from learning true history or the role of government, keep them from learning how to think for themselves, and educate only the children of the wealthiest and most powerful.  But it is the people in a nation who have the most power over whether a democracy can remain so, or whether it will transform into an autocracy.

In their 2018 book, How Democracies Die, authors Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt write about about how elected leaders can gradually subvert the democratic process to increase their power.  The book warns against the breakdown of “mutual toleration” and respect for the political legitimacy of the opposition. This tolerance involves accepting the results of a free and fair election where the opposition has won, in contrast with advocacy for overthrow or spurious complaints about the election mechanism.  Sound familiar?

The authors also assert the importance of respecting the opinions of those who come to legitimately different political opinions, in contrast to attacking the patriotism of any who disagree, or warning that if they come to power, they will destroy the country.  Other threats to democratic stability cited by the authors include economic inequality and segregation of the political parties by race, religion, and geography.  Sound familiar?

Published during Trump’s second year in office, the authors dedicate a number of chapters to the study of the United States, Trump, and the 2016 presidential election, and end with predictions for three potential scenarios for the post-Trump United States.

Levitsky and Ziblatt, both Harvard professors, have spent 20 years studying the breakdown of democracies in Europe and Latin America, and they believe that democracy no longer ends with a bang—in a revolution or military coup—but with a whimper: the slow, steady weakening of critical institutions, such as the judiciary and the press, and the gradual erosion of long-standing political norms.  Again, sound familiar?

I bought and skimmed this book shortly after it first came out, but I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t give it much credence at the time.  Back then, I thought Donald Trump was simply a stupid, arrogant buffoon who, while I despised him and his every move, I didn’t think he posed a serious, enduring threat.  I’m still not sure that he, in and of himself, poses a threat, but the movement that he started, the “maga” cult he created, has permeated the halls of Congress, the Supreme Court, and even state governor’s mansions and legislatures.  Not only that, but it has riled a large portion of this nation, largely those with less education, less ability to understand the real issues the nation faces.  So yes, now I see that as a very real threat.  Levitsky and Ziblatt were prescient and saw the threat long before I did.

This week, I plan to read, not just skim, How Democracies Die, with a sharper eye, for I believe the authors are on to something here.  I’ll let you know my conclusions, may even write a review of the book, when I am done.

31 thoughts on “A Republic — If You Can Keep It

  1. The other book which I would recommend–but I would guess you’re probably already familiar with it–is “On Tyranny” by Timothy Snyder. This slim volume contains the answers to the “now what?” of democracy dying, with advice based on the experience of people who lived in previous totalitarian states. Even once we’ve realized we live in an autocratic state–maybe especially then–we need to continue to resist. On Tyranny explains how that can be done in the smallest of ways, everything from the language we choose to use, to making eye contact with and talking to our neighbors. I keep it around as a reminder and to help me stay encouraged….

    Liked by 1 person

  2. There are, currently, too many, countries that are ruled by popularly voted dictators, because people can’t think and decide for themselves, and, they sign their most basic rights, away, and, they still, hypnotize themselves, that, they’re, totally, “free”, because they had, cast that, vote…

    Liked by 1 person

    • You make a good point. This is why a well-rounded education is so very important. Young people need to learn history, see and understand the mistakes of the past so as not to repeat them, and most importantly, learn to think for themselves!

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  3. Jill, elected and appointed officials who are perpetuating that there was election fraud, even still, are doing a disservice to our country. These same officials who are demonizing the opposing party are doing a disservice to our country. Those officials who are promoting the liars and lying and denigrating the truth tellers are doing a disservice to our country. Then the sycophants and opinion entertainers leverage this disservice by disinforming the public. People need to clearly and loudly tell these folks you owe us the truth and civil discourse. If they cannot do those two things, we need their resignation. It matters not the perceived importance of said folks. Keith

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yes, my friend, they are doing a great disservice to this country, but they seem not to care. We can tell them our views until the cows come home, but it seems they only laugh once they hang up the phone or shred our letter. They laugh because they think they don’t need to answer to us. Our only real power comes on November 5th, 2024, when we go to the polls and, in the words of Nancy Reagan, “JUST SAY NO” to the liars, the cheats, those corrupted by dark money. Sigh.

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  4. Democracy is dying in America, but only if the citizens of America allow it. Right now it is at a turning point. Do Americans want to continue in a democracy, or fo they want to didtort into something else? England is in a similar position. Brazil just rejected a populist, for now. Canada is one step away from becoming a Conservative stronghold.
    Democracies are under siege all over the world. How long can they last? And what is going to replace them? If we continue al9ng the lines presently drawn, governments won’t matter, because there will be no human race. This will be good hor the rest of life on Earth, but it obviously will not be good for humans.
    If we really care about a future, we have to make changes right now. Big changes!

    Liked by 4 people

    • Perhaps democracy is already dead in the U.S. It took me a while to see it, but I think we have been transitioning toward an autocracy for the last six years, and today it is plainer than ever that the voice of the people does not matter Yes, it is happening around the globe … the UK, France, Sweden, Germany … and it has already happened in Turkey and Hungary. Big changes, my friend, are easier said than done.

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    • Demicracies are, not just dying, all around the world, they’re, already, dead, people are just, too blind, to know it, because they rather, live inside, the safety and security of that, bubble, than to, burst it, and, deal with a, totally, messy, clean up job…

      Liked by 1 person

      • No. If they are already dead, there would be no need for pretence. Any elections would be one-party elections, so why even bother.
        Democracy is badly damaged, I will give you that, but it is not dead. Some countries, like Canada, are not as far gone as, say, the USA or Israel. But even those countries are still not autocracies or dictatorships — yet! Where there is life, there is hope! Once you lose hope, what reason do you have to live?

        Liked by 2 people

      • Democracy is not dead…It’s broken, like the legal system. Everyone thinks the grass is greener on the other side, so they flip and flop. They resist their duty as Americans, and they are backing out of the political process that keeps our government in check. Broken…not dead. It’s up to us to fix it.

        Liked by 1 person

          • I have been on CNN today catching up on what is going on around the world, and I had to giggle when Schiff said that McCarthy is answering to his Mar-a-lago boss. That is a great way to describe that relationship for sure. (sighs) I think “YET” is also a realistic assessment of the state of the world. My question is how do we fix it without stooping to their level? 🤔

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            • Schiff hit the nail on the head with that one. Governance is not the goal of McCarthy and his band of loons … retaliation is. We’ve got a bunch of bozos running the House today! Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr. I’m no genius with a pat answer to your question, but I think the only way we can fix it is to educate the people of this country, the voters. They need to understand that this isn’t a Hollywood movie or a Broadway play, but this is reality and it will destroy lives if the people continue electing cruel, corrupt, greedy, arrogant bastards like McCarthy, Gaetz, Gossar, Greene, and so many more that it would take me an hour to list them all. If there are any Republicans with conscience, who are bothered by the current status quo, they need to speak up now and stop McCarthy’s corruption. It would only take 4-5 of them to put an end to this circus, but so far they’re all falling into a nice line of support for the b.s. Sigh.

              Liked by 1 person

              • It’s like watching reality television…like the girls fighting over the Bachelor. Weird analogy, but that is what it reminds me of.

                Schiff is not going to lay down and not fight, so that is a plus. He is going to continue to fight to make changes, and he actually said it on CNN to make McCarthy know that he is not accepting all the bull. I have never seen things this bad in Congress. People that hold those seats need to do their damn job and fight for us and this country.

                Liked by 1 person

                • Sadly, dear Sis, the Republicans in Congress see their job as obstruction. They believe their constituents want them to “own the Libs” as the saying goes, to head off at the pass any legislation that supports the rights of the people. How do we counter this? I dunno. I’m out of ideas, short of blowing up the Capitol at midday when 90% of the legislators are in it! Sigh.

                  Liked by 1 person

                  • I definitely feel that pain that is so frustrating when you have no idea what to do next. The only answer that I can come up with is that we need a reboot. We have state constitutions and the federal Constitution for a reason…It’s in those writings that the people can find the answer. Another problem is that many citizens don’t know they have a right to challenge their lawmakers and remind them that “if mommy isn’t happy then daddy gets fired” LOL. The other idea is that it is going to take an extreme situation to make the lawmakers pull together instead of all this bullying and bullshit from the GOP. How do we stop a bully? Kick them straight in their nuts! 😝

                    Liked by 1 person

  5. The problem is this all started long before Trump. Maybe with Reagan? Or Nixon? Daddy Bush made it worse & his son Dubya managed to steal 2 elections without any batting an eyelash. Ever heard of Dybolt?
    Trump saw all this & decided it would be easier to steal an election if he were a Republican.
    But Dems have sat back & joined the party, learning how to get rich off republicans’ moves.
    We could have had Bernie as our president but the Dems demonized him because they didn’t want REAL change either.
    On top of that, they had the FBI following peace activists & others infiltrating us rather than go after the Right Wing Fascists who wanted to overthrow the government.
    So, we are in trouble & actually we always have been.
    I just hope the young people coming up can save our democracy because we’ve been in a trance for decades.

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