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Suffocating before us. Is democracy taking its last breath?

John Donvan
Monday, October 2, 2017

Democracy is oxygen. I see it that way. I am guessing you do, too. But I have been pondering my own experience in places where not everybody takes that view, as I prepare for Tuesday’s debate, where the resolution is:

“Western Democracy Is Threatening Suicide.”

I’m recalling reporting on democracy-building in post-Soviet Russia and Iraq after Saddam fell, where I encountered ordinary people who seriously questioned whether democracy was for them.

Concerned with stability and security, they were openly indifferent to democratic cornerstones like real elections, the primacy of rule of law, and the guarantees of civil rights – essentials of democracy without which you and I would feel suffocated. I’ll admit, it took me by surprise.

Then, prepping for Tuesday, I came across this recent research finding about modern-day America: 24 percent of millennials (polled in 2011) consider democracy a “bad” or “very bad” way to run things; 26 percent consider it “unimportant” whether people can “choose their leaders in free elections.”

As you know, too, some Americans see the upheaval vote of 2016 as a misfire by democracy, and an assault on the democratic values the current president was accused of denigrating, like tolerance of minorities, respect for the judiciary, and the rejection of authoritarianism.

From that side, we are getting a warning: that the casual indifference to democracy’s virtues that I saw in Russia and Iraq is gaining a foothold here, and also in some of our fellow democracies as well.

That argument will be put forward by French philosopher Bernard Henri-Levy and Harvard’s Yascha Mounk, who, of course, will meet stiff resistance, and a counter-argument. The Hoover Institution’s Kori Schake and Bloomberg journalist Clive Crook are two confirmed believers in the resiliency of American and European institutions of democracy. They will work to place Trump (and also Britain’s Brexit) in that light.

There is just so much to dig into here, and it sure is timely. So join us. Breathe our kind of oxygen. Listen, think, and vote this Tuesday, at 7PM ET.

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