I’m always a bit laggard in my New Yorker reading and typically fall weeks or months behind — so it is when one’s New Yorker reading is done mainly while brushing one’s teeth and facilitating biological imperatives. In the middle of a great piece in the Feb. 3 print edition, “The Last Time Democracy Died,” by the always-interesting Harvard history professor and writer Jill Lepore, came this:
The Democracy Index rates a hundred and sixty-seven countries, every year, on a scale that ranges from “full democracy” to “authoritarian regime.” In 2006, the U.S. was a “full democracy,” the seventeenth most democratic nation in the world. In 2016, the index for the first time rated the United States a “flawed democracy,” and since then American democracy has gotten only more flawed. True, the United States still doesn’t have a Rome or a Berlin to march on. That hasn’t saved the nation from misinformation, tribalization, domestic terrorism, human-rights abuses, political intolerance, social-media mob rule, white nationalism, a criminal President, the nobbling of Congress, a corrupt Presidential Administration, assaults on the press, crippling polarization, the undermining of elections, and an epistemological chaos that is the only air that totalitarianism can breathe.
The piece is well worth consideration in its entirety, the focus being on the 1930s, when democracy almost did die — until Franklin D. Roosevelt saved it by bringing the country together and providing an example for the world (though it would take the Second World War to force the issue). The pursuit of unity is, of course, quite the opposite of our current leadership’s twisted view that fostering divisiveness might somehow save the day.