How Democracies Die

In How Democracies Die by Steven Levitsky & Daniel Ziblatt, they discuss the breakdown of democratic systems and how authoritarian regimes emerge from the total disregard & destruction of political norms. Written in 2018, after TRUMPism had already firmly taken hold of some 45% of Americans, leading them in a downward spiral into a cult-like Spell, the authors describe in great detail how so-called populist politicians induce the people to embrace their grand narrative of lies & distortion.

Now that we are in a post-acquittal no man’s land, a dangerous limbo of not knowing what comes next, How Democracies Die is even more prescient, more foreboding, and more precise in its call for “political leaders from across the spectrum (who) have stared into the abyss to realize that if they do not find a way of addressing polarization, democracy will die.” They go on to say: “it is only when politicians suffer the trauma of violent dictatorship, that the stakes truly become clear.” Perhaps we are not there yet, but we’re inching closer & closer each and every day.

The following is a pictorial narrative, texts drawn from How Democracies Die, which demonstrates the ways in which the recent rise of XTreme TRUMPology has breached the norms of democracy, paving the way for authoritarianism, or perhaps stated, crashing through the guardrails of the constitution to bring us within eyeshot of the abyss.


Those who denounce government abuse may be dismissed as exaggerating or crying wolf. Democracy’s erosion is, for many, almost imperceptible.


When fear, opportunism, or miscalculation leads established parties to bring extremists into the mainstream, democracy is imperiled.


The tragic paradox of the electoral route to authoritarianism is that democracy’s assassins use the very institutions of democracy—gradually, subtly, and even legally—to kill it.


If one thing is clear from studying breakdowns throughout history, it’s that extreme polarization can kill democracies.


Authoritarians rise to power because establishment politicians overlook the warning signs and hand over power.


The abdication of political responsibility by existing leaders often marks a nation’s first step toward authoritarianism.


Populists tend to tell voters that the existing system is not really a democracy but instead has been hijacked, corrupted, or rigged by the elite.


The other major factor diminishing the power of traditional gatekeepers was the explosion of alternative media, particularly cable news and social media… making it easier for celebrities to achieve public support—practically overnight.


The most extreme way to capture the referees is to raze the courts altogether and create new ones.


By buying off or enfeebling opponents and rewriting the rules of the game, elected leaders can establish, with the appearance of legality, the drift into authoritarianism.


Citizens are often slow to realize that their democracy is being dismantled—even as it happens before their eyes.


One of the great ironies of how democracies die is that the very defense of democracy is often used as a pretext for its subversion.


For a demagogue who feels besieged by critics and shackled by democratic institutions, crises open a window of opportunity to silence critics and weaken rivals.


If we view our rivals as a dangerous threat… we may decide to employ any means necessary to defeat them—and therein lies a justification for authoritarian measures.


As mutual toleration disappears… this may encourage the rise of anti-system groups that reject democracy’s rules altogether.


If partisan animosity prevails over mutual toleration, those in control of congress may prioritize defense of the president over the performance of their constitutional duties.


A transformation from watchdog into lapdog, can be an important enabler of authoritarian rule.


Such slogans as “Keep America Great” is a frontal assault on mutual toleration.


TRUMP called the media the “enemy of the American people” a term that, critics noted, mimicked one used by Stalin and Mao.


Citizens become more likely to tolerate, and even endorse, authoritarian measures when they fear for their security.


Leaders who can do whatever they like, smash through the behavior standards that once governed public life.


When the president of the United States lies to the public, our access to credible information is jeopardized, and trust in government is eroded.


As the zone of acceptable political behaviors expand, they rise to action that could imperil democracy.


There’s nothing in our Constitution or our culture to immunize us against democratic breakdown.


A country whose president attacks the press, threatens to lock up his rival, and declares that he might not accept election results cannot credibly defend democracy.


When partisan rivals become enemies, political competition descends into warfare, and our institutions turn into weapons, the result is a system hovering constantly on the brink of crisis.