Can We Keep Our Republic?

When Benjamin Franklin left Independence Hall on the final day of deliberations at the close of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, he was asked  “Well, Doctor, what have we got—a Republic or a Monarchy?” to which he responded “A Republic, if you can keep it.”

These days it sometimes feels like we are in danger of becoming a autocracy.  In the book How Democracies Die, the authors list four key indicators of authoritarian behavior to test leaders.

  1. Rejection of (or weak commitment to) democratic rules of the game.
  2. Denial of the legitimacy of political opponents.
  3. Toleration or encouragement of violence.
  4. Readiness to curtail civil liberties of opponents, including the media.

They maintain a politician that meets even one of these criteria is cause for concern.  In the last century authoritarian leaders have come to power, changing the existing government into a autocracy by fooling the kings or the people into thinking only that leader can fix everything.

Democracy Index map
Democracy Index map

In 2022, the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) reported the United States of America (US) as a flawed democracy (overall score of 7.85 of 10), ranking 30 in a field of 167 countries analyzed in their report.  This is a decrease of four spots from 2021 report and kept the US in the flawed democracy group since 2016.  The report goes on to say:

The US’s overall score in the Democracy Index remains weighed down by the country’s intense levels of political and cultural polarisation. Pluralism and competing alternatives are essential for a functioning democracy, but differences of opinion in the US have hardened into political sectarianism and almost permanent institutional gridlock. This trend has long compromised the functioning of government, and the US score for this category remains at a low of 6.43 in 2022, unchanged from 2021….

Political culture is still the weakest category for the US, with a score of 6.25 in 2022, unchanged from 2021. Social cohesion and consensus have collapsed in recent years as disagreements over an expanding list of issues fuel the country’s “culture wars”….

These debates have extended beyond the usual set of actors (such as politicians and activists) and now implicate corporate executives as well as primary school teachers and librarians (over lesson plans and books discussing sexuality, gender and racial identity). A highly politicised media, including popular TV channels and social media platforms, continue to foment and amplify these divisions.

We must pull out of this democratic death spiral or we may end up with an autocracy!  “When American democracy has worked, it has relied upon two norms that we often take for granted—mutual tolerance and institutional forbearance.”1“How Democracies Die” pg 212 The political parties in the United States need to revive these norms and add new ones.  It cannot be done by one leader, it will take all of us! Get involved: vote; write letters to the editor; peacefully protest; contact your representatives; join with organizations like this one to amplify your voice. Do it today, before our democracy dies!

Author: Dirk Huizenga

Founder of Denver Center for Democracy.