Among the many scholarly attempts to reckon with the causes and consequences of Donald Trump’s rise, few have attracted popular attention on the scale of Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt’s How Democracies Die. Seldom do books by political scientists make it onto the New York Times best sellers list, but this one has, a testament to its broad influence. Levitsky and Ziblatt situate Trumpism within a broader comparative and historical context in order to assess its similarities to and differences from democratic breakdowns elsewhere, particularly in Europe and Latin America. Their broad argument is that modern slides into authoritarianism are not the result of revolutions or military coups, but rather the consequence of a steady erosion of political norms and the assault on such fundamental democratic institutions as an independent judiciary and a free press. In short, contemporary democracies die not as a result of men with guns attacking from outside the system, but rather because elected leaders from inside that system slowly undermine them. Judged from this standpoint, the authors argue that American democracy is now in real danger, and they offer a range of suggestions for saving it. How convincing is Levitsky and Ziblatt’s analysis of democratic breakdown, and how well does it apply to the American case? How useful are the solutions that they offer for rescuing American democracy? We have asked a range of prominent scholars from across the discipline to consider these questions in the present symposium.
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