Congress expert Norman Ornstein on what the debate over the debt limit says about dysfunction in Congress, and his ideas for how to fix it.
Many political scientists who study democracy are alarmed by developments in Europe, the U.S. and elsewhere in the world. In Europe, right-wing or anti-establishment parties have gained influence in Poland, France, Greece and other nations. In South America, Venezuelans have seen their democratic freedoms plummet. And in the U.S., many political scientists see warning signs of democratic erosion. They point to the campaign rhetoric of Donald Trump, his open admiration for Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin and his choices for top positions in his administration. Diane and her guests discuss threats to liberal democracy at home and abroad.
- Moises Naim Distinguished fellow, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and chief international columnist, El Pais; author of "The End of Power: From Boardrooms to Battlefields and Churches to States, Why Being in Charge Isn't What It Used to Be"
- Alina Polyakova Deputy director of the Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center, The Atlantic Council, and senior fellow at the Future Europe Initiative; author of "Dark Side of European Integration"
- Yascha Mounk Lecturer on government at Harvard University; fellow in the political reform program at New America; author of "Stranger in My Own Country"
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. For a long time, conventional wisdom deemed that once a nation became fully democratic, it would remain so. But with the rise of populist anti-establishment leaders in Europe and elsewhere, and the election of Donald Trump, many political scientists have begun to question the stability of liberal democracies.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining me in the studio to talk about threats to democracy and which nations are at risk, Yascha Mounk of Harvard University and New America and Alina Polyakova of The Atlantic Council. Joining us by phone from Miami, Moises Naim of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Throughout the hour, we'll welcome your comments, your questions. Give us a call at 800-433-8850. Send an email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. And welcome to all of you.
MR. YASCHA MOUNKThank you so much, Diane.
MS. ALINA POLYAKOVAThank you, Diane.
MR. MOISES NAIMThank you, Diane.
REHMGood to see you all. Yascha Mounk, define for us the term, liberal democracy. What are the primary elements?
MOUNKI think it's really important to understand that our political system has two elements that have often gone together, but they don't necessarily have to go together. So the first is that they are democracies. I think the best way of thinking about what democracy means is simply that it's a mechanism for translating popular views into public policies, that it's a system in which we have electoral institutions and other institutions and other institutions so that what people want and believe can be translated into what we do politically.
MOUNKThe other element is the liberal element. And that doesn't mean liberal/conservative. It doesn't mean Democrat/Republican. It means for protection of individual rights, the rule of law, respect for ethnic and religious minorities. And my sense is that what's happening in the world at the moment is that these two things that have often gone together are coming apart more and more. That we see a rise of two new regime forms, illiberal democracy or democracy without rights on the one side and forms of animocratic liberalism or rights without democracy, places where the rule of law is respected, but where people's views aren't heard on the other side.
REHMSo you've identified three primary factors as a kind of early warning system. Give us a sense of that.
MOUNKYeah. So political scientists have long believed that what they call Democratic consolidation as a one-way street, that once a country is relatively affluent, once you’ve had a couple of turnovers of government through free and fair elections, you really don't have to worry about the stability of democracy anymore. Democracy has become what they call the only game in town. And so in my recent research with my colleague, Roberto Stefan Foa, we start to think about and look a little bit at whether or not democracy still is the only game in town.
MOUNKNow, what does it mean for democracy to be the only game in town? Well, three things should have to be true. Most people give a lot of value to democracy, they're in favor of democracy, they think it's important to live in a democracy, that's a first. The second is that they really don't -- aren't open to other alternatives to democracy. They don't like the idea of dictatorship or military rule or technocrats running things. And the third is that there aren't any parties, politicians, political movements that are really powerful that undermine democratic norms, that in many ways, want to abolish the system or radically change the system.
MOUNKAnd we started to look at some of these warning signs in the United States and other places and what we found has been pretty concerning.
REHMMoises Naim, what about examples of liberal democracies elsewhere in Latin America, for example?
NAIMLatin America has a long history of swinging before the -- between autocracies and (word?) democracies. Democracies are always imperfect in Latin America and elsewhere. And then, we have these wide swings, very often propelled by financial crisis, by economic crashes. And in general, Latin America has been a pioneer, sadly, in the world that we now see where there is a huge gap between expectations and government performance. That has always existed and exists everywhere.
NAIMGovernments always tend to underperform compared to the expectations of the voters of the population. But in recent years, we have seen the gap going even further because, first, their expectations are higher and second, governments, democracies, are having a harder time delivering because of financial constraints, because of political gridlock for a variety of reasons that create conditions that lead people to hope that perhaps a non democracy can have a better performance, which is not the case, except that they are more able to hide their underperformance and repress those that challenge and protest against the government.
REHMAnd to you, Alina Polyakova, what have you seen happening in Europe?
POLYAKOVAWell, looking at both Western, Eastern Europe today, of course we see the surge of these populist far-right political parties and leaders that very much subscribe to this anti-liberal, we say, managed democracy view of the world. A view of the world that is very much at odds with what we come to understand as Western liberalism more broadly. And this is driven by similar factors across Western and Eastern Europe and also in the United States. I think it's important to remember these are not isolated incidents, what's happening in South America, what's happening across Europe and what's happening in the United States.
POLYAKOVAIt's part of a bigger historical moment, as I see it, that is giving the rise to these populist authoritarian leaders who may come to power in democratic countries, but then can incrementally roll back some of those democratic constitutions that we came to believe were not possible to dismantle so easily.
REHMMoises, specifically, what do you see happening in Venezuela?
NAIMYeah, Venezuela is an extreme example of a government that one election became -- started as a democrat government and started undermining democracy from the inside. It used its powers to limit checks and balances, to treat political people, the opposition, criminalizing the opposition and going down the list that we have seen around the world. They do that in some places very stealthily and in some places more openly. But we see a pattern.
NAIMThere is a, you know, a behavior that is now global in how these governments that win elections and initially democratic governments end up becoming highly centralized, autocratic and, as I said, undermining the democracy that allowed them to win.
REHMAt the same time, Yascha Mounk, to what extent are populations themselves and, indeed, the media complicit when democracies begin to falter?
MOUNKThe really worrying thing at the moment is the extent to which people are falling out of love with democracy and becoming open to alternatives to it. And so we were talking earlier about these three warning signs. They are flashing red, at the moment, in the United States. When you ask people how important is it to you to live in a democracy, you ask people who were born in the 1930s and the 1940s, over two-thirds say ten out of ten, really important. You get to millennials, born since 1980, less than one-third say that it's really important to them.
REHMDo they understand what you mean by the term democracy?
MOUNKSo I think they know what we mean by the term democracy. They may not know what the alternatives to it are. People feel very differently about the world when they've lived through Communism or fascism or when they or their parents have fought against Communism and fascism. You know, a lot of younger people don't have experience with those regime forms and so they take what's good about our system for granted and they only focus on the negative sides and the injustices. And there are real injustices in our society, without a doubt.
MOUNKAnd so they become very open rebelling against it. One of the things that worries me, you know, Moises was talking about Venezuela. Well, you know, for a long time, political scientists thought that democracy in Venezuela was relatively well established, quite consolidated. In the early 1990s, they thought that Venezuela was one of the best cases in Latin America. And when you go back to that time, a similar number of people were saying, it's not important to me to live in a democracy. A lot of people in Venezuela were saying, you know what, I'm open to an authoritarian alternative just like we are today in the United States, where a number of people who are open to army rule has gone up from 1 in 16, 20 years ago, to 1 in 6 today.
MOUNKSo Venezuela, to me, is one of the cases -- but it's very different from the United States in many ways, that chose that when people turn against democracy, in a way they now seem to be turning to some degree against democracy in the United States, what happens 10, 15, 20 years down the line can be really bad and the political situation in Venezuela today is really bad.
REHMAlina, do you see the same thing happening here?
POLYAKOVAWell, I just -- Yascha brought up the youth. And just to stay with that for just one second. It's interesting to also see that in Europe, for example, young people are still much more pro-European than older generations. But at the same time, they are turning towards these populist parties in much greater proportions than they were, you know, 10, 15 years ago. And I think this is a really worrying trend of polarization that we're seeing across the EU and we're seeing this in the United States as well.
REHMAlina Polyakova, she's deputy director of the Eurasia Center at The Atlantic Council. She's the author of "The Dark Side of European Integration." Short break here. We'll be right back.
REHMWelcome back. We're talking about worrisome trends around the world that could indicate the weakening of democracies in previously liberal countries that we have known and relied on, and that includes the United States. Three people are with me. By phone and Skype from Miami is Moises Naim, he's at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and chief international columnist for El Pais. He's the author of "The End of Power: From Boardrooms to Battlefields and Churches to States, Why Being in Charge Is Not What It Used to Be." Alina Polyakova is with The Atlantic Council, and Yascha Mounk is lecturer on government at Harvard University. He's the author of the book "Stranger in My Own Country."
REHMJust before the break, Alina, you were talking about the young people, the young people around the world and what it is they think they want in terms of perhaps preferring, to a certain extent, military dictatorship to liberal democracy.
POLYAKOVARight, you know, going from what Yascha had said earlier about young people turning toward military rule, I think on the one hand these young people, you know, millennials as we call them, have had a profoundly different life experience than their parents and certainly their grandparents. They have never had to live through war on their own land, like World War II for example, and they never really experienced what it means to live in authoritarian regimes.
POLYAKOVAAnd they in many ways now take for granted that many of the benefits that they receive from the European Union, you know, travel across borders, the ability to work wherever they want, et cetera, are going to be there forever. They're very much taken for granted. And I think the one important thing that I like to highlight is that there's a huge educational gap in how people view democracy versus authoritarianism.
POLYAKOVAIn the United States, for example, from a survey from about five years ago talking about warning signs, we saw that individuals without a college degree, half of them would approve of an authoritarian leader that is completely unchecked by Congress or other forms of checked government we have in the U.S.
REHMAnd where was that survey taken?
POLYAKOVAThis is world values survey. So it's a huge survey that is global. And these are just the figures for the United States. And this number has been growing over time.
REHMIs that shocking to you, Yascha?
MOUNKYeah, so this is some of the same data that we draw on in the study, and, you know, we went to that data because we had a suspicion that things may be deteriorating. But when we started to actually look at those questions, questions that don't just look at are you happy with a particular government you have at the moment, are you happy with how particular legislation is going but really questions about are you happy with this political regime form, of democracy itself, we were very shocked.
MOUNKWe thought we might find something. We didn't hope that we would find something quite so extreme. So the movement away from support for liberal democracy has been -- has been strong in the United States and in other countries. And I agree with Alina that it's sort of a -- it's a slightly paradoxical thing, where, you know, part of the reason for this is not that -- you know, I don't think most people actually would like army dictatorship.
MOUNKIn countries where they've experienced military dictatorship, most people tend not to like it. I think America -- Americans have a freedom-loving people. I think they would actually hate it if it actually came to that. But it's an abstract idea for them. And what we see at the moment is their deep dissatisfaction of a system, and that makes them ready to say you know what, let's do some experiments, let's try something new, anything, I don't care what.
MOUNKIf it actually came to that, they would hate it, but at that time it might be too late because once you slip out of liberal democracy, it's very, very difficult to get back to it.
REHMSo in the declining democracies that you have studied, how was the electorate itself co-opted into becoming part of that letting go?
MOUNKWell, what often happens is that you have a populist leader who says a couple of things. He says there's a common sense -- all of the political problems are not because the world is complicated, and there's automation, and there's globalization, and it's difficult to know how to deal with it. No, he says the political elites are corrupt. They care more about their own bank accounts and about ethnic and religious minorities, which you dislike, when we care about you. And all we need to do to fix our political problems is for you to elect me. I'm going to be your voice, I'm going to speak for you, I'm going to speak for the real people. I'm going to get rid of all the corrupt people, and your problems will be solved.
REHMWhere have you seen that happen?
MOUNKI've seen that happen in Turkey, in Russia, in Hungary, in Poland, in Venezuela, and some might argue that it has been happening in the United States.
REHMMoises, how do you see it?
NAIMI completely -- I completely agree. And we have seen a formula. We have seen a pattern on what you have to do to win an election in the 21st century. And it's uncanny and very worrisome how these patterns are everywhere. It starts, as he said, with denying any value to what has been happening and whoever is creating an internal or domestic enemy, the elites, the people that have been in government, is Washington, And then also creating an external enemy.
NAIMPolarization becomes a very important tool in which this leader generates popular support. And so the external leader in Venezuela, (unintelligible) the United States, in Putin's Russia is NATO, and for Donald Trump the Mexicans and China. And so you need -- you know, they create an external enemy. They deny legitimacy to those domestic politicians, their rivals. They don't think of them as rivals. They think of them as mortal enemies and that do not have legitimacy.
NAIMAnd the results are the criminalization of political rivals and the delegitimization of the media. It's very important -- you know, they don't -- they start by denying the media the right -- they don't treat them as legitimate players, and they don't treat their political adversaries as legitimate players.
REHMDo you believe, Moises, you are a man who has lived in many parts of the world, do you see this happening here in the United States?
NAIMI hope not, but I don't -- I agree with the view that the red lights are flashing. I think that we are looking -- you know, we -- in all of these countries you have seen a lot of complacency, a lot of recklessness on the part of the electorate, you know, willing to just, you know, kick the table and see what happens (unintelligible) we can try anything. And, you know, very shortly after that they decide no, that's not a good idea, let's go back to democracy, but then it becomes too late.
NAIMOne of the dangers of this trend is that, yeah, it's easy to try a new thing and then discover that when you don't like it, you cannot get rid of it.
NAIMComplacency, confusion and conflict are very much ingrained in this.
POLYAKOVAAnd just to piggy off of that, I mean, populism, which is basically what we're talking about, is not a political ideology. It is a political tool that can be used both on the left and the right, and we're seeing this very clearly across Europe. If we put together, so leftist populist and rightwing populist, then what we see is a Europe dominated by these kinds of groups in many ways.
POLYAKOVAAnd the other thing that we're also seeing is that there's a sort of emergence of we could call it the nationalist internationalist. I mean, that's a bit of an oxymoron ,but there's certainly a growing number of political leaders who see themselves as forging an alternative model of governance to Western liberalism. And I think Mr. Putin in Russia has come to embody what that could possibly look like in some of these other countries.
REHMAnd to you, how important, Yascha, has the role of the media been in countries around the world and here in the United States?
MOUNKThe media play an important role, but I think the technological changes we've seen accelerate deeper causes. It's not so much a cause of its own, it's an enzyme, it's a catalyst that makes these other causes much more dangerous. So why do you think we're seeing this illiberal international that Alina has described on the march, you know, across countries that are very dissimilar to each other, from the United States to Germany, from France to Hungary, from India to Turkey.
MOUNKWell, I think there's a number of things that has been happening in most places in the world. One is a huge urban-rural divide where urban areas have been doing very well over the last 20 or 30 years, and rural areas have really lagged behind more and more. And they feel...
REHMAnd you're talking about employment and income and living standards.
MOUNKYes, absolutely, living standards, opportunity but also culturally, I think, the divide between these areas has grown. So that's one thing. The second thing that's important is just living standards in general. That's clear in some ways in European countries or in Turkey, but in a place like the United States and most of Western Europe, it's absolutely striking. All through the history of the stability of democracy, we've seen very rapid increases in the living standards of average people from one generation to the next.
MOUNKSo in the United States, from 1935 to 1960, the living standard of an average American doubles. From 1960 to 1985, it doubles again. And since 1985 it's been stagnant. Somebody who's 30 years old today has a 50 percent chance of earning more than their parent did when they were 30. It used to be over 90 percent of the population for that is true. And so the question now is, is our system stable if we live in relatively affluent societies. In that case we're probably going to be fine.
MOUNKOr is our system only stable if we have this continual increase in the living standards of average people? And if that's the case, then we may be headed for some very, very turbulent times.
POLYAKOVABut at the same time, again going back to Europe, we are seeing the emergence of populist authoritarianism in affluent societies, societies that have been very much hit by the financial crisis.
POLYAKOVASuch as Sweden, such as The Netherlands, Denmark. All of these countries are seeing huge surges in populist authoritarianism, and I'm not even talking about Switzerland, one of the wealthiest countries in the world, where they have a majority ruling populist far-right party for quite some time now. So I think it's easier to perhaps think about this in terms of kind of relative deprivation, economic decline, but in fact this is a much broader pattern.
REHMYou know, during this 2016 election, Moises, we heard a great deal of criticism of globalization as being a very important part of why so many people are suffering. They've lost jobs, they've lost incomes. How important a role does globalization play in these feelings of almost discrimination against workers at the lower levels?
NAIMYes, globalization has become shorthand for trade, for international trade, and of course there's no denying that that hasn't had an impact but never as much as technology. Technological change and new technologies destroy jobs, have been far more important in creating...
REHMBut that's not -- that's not what many politicians said during this campaign.
NAIMYes because remember, Diane, I mentioned the importance of having an external enemy. You have to have an internal enemy that you don't recognize as such, as a legitimate alternative voice, and you need to have an external threat.
REHMAnd you're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. We are going to take your calls in just a few moments. You can join us on 800-433-8850. Yascha, one of the more alarming pieces of research you've come across has to do with the number of Americans who say Army rule in this country would be a good thing.
MOUNKYes, and that's a great indicator because it's a very extreme alternative. It's not saying do you want the president to have a little bit more power, do you want experts to have a bit more of a role. If you say Army rule is a good system of government, you really have fallen out of democracy with a very deep way. Now 20 years ago, one in 16 Americans said Army rule would be a good system of government.
REHMOne in 16 20 years ago.
MOUNKYes, and today it is one in six. So it's still a minority of Americans, it's still not all that many people, but it has more than doubled over the course of 20 years.
REHMSo what does that mean when the president-elect appoints a number of generals to really high places, where previously there would have been civilian leadership?
MOUNKWell, I think it's a worrying development. It's worrying to have military generals in positions that were usually reserved for civilians. It is also worrying when the president-elect says, as he did a couple of days ago, that he wants a private security force around him, which is how authoritarianism has started in many different countries. You know, there's one...
REHMWhat does that mean, a private security force? I mean, do you interpret that as doing away with the Secret Service? Do you interpret that as surrounding himself with paid non-governmental police? How do you...
MOUNKThat's my understanding. I haven't followed that news story in 100 percent of detail, but my understanding is that the president has been protected by the Secret Service and at local events by local police forces. And Donald Trump was saying no, during the campaign I built up a bunch of bodyguards and private security forces that I employed, and I want to continue doing that as president, which other presidents have not done.
REHMAnd give me an example of another country where that kind of private security force was sort of an early indicator?
MOUNKWell in -- I'm reluctant to make that comparison, but in a lot of fascist countries. One of the key elements that captured the state and that gave a leader power were private security forces of a very similar kind. Now I don't think that that's what Donald Trump is planning to do, and I should be clear about that. By the way, I think one of the important differences between Donald Trump and populist leaders in places like Poland or Hungary is that they are ideologically committed to the project of illegal democracy, that they understand, that they want to make the country a lot less liberal, much more hierarchical.
MOUNKI don't think Donald Trump is as ideological self-conscious as they are. I don't think that he has a clear alternative for the kind of system he wants in the United States. I just think that he has very similar instincts.
REHMYascha Mounk, he's a lecturer on government at Harvard University, author of the book "Stranger in My Own Country." Short break here, we'll be right back.
REHMAnd welcome back. As we talk about signs around that world that those countries that were formerly democracies may be shifting. And Alina, you talk specifically about Poland.
POLYAKOVARight, so, one thing that we should remember is that once you have a populist government come into power, there's no just one point when truth and democracy is gone. These are slow incremental changes that happen over time. They happen through democratic processes. So in Poland, for example, we have the ruling party, the PiS Party in power now, since 2015. They have been instituting some of these push backs and rollbacks in democracy. One, most recent one, is now inciting mass street protest across Poland.
POLYAKOVAIs their attempt to censor the media by not allowing independent journalists to report directly from the Parliament, which was always the case before. And since last week, Polish people have come out on the streets protesting against this. And the government has been forced to respond, so they have taken this law off now, off the voting measures. So what we are seeing is that society, civil society can push back, but it takes engagement and it takes people following and holding their governments accountable for what they're trying to do as they implement their vision of illiberal states, as Viktor Orban of Hungary has called this.
REHMAnd Yascha, we've gotten a number of emails to this affect. Is the United States a democracy or a republic? In the United States Pledge of Allegiance, democracy is not mentioned, but instead, the republic. Please clarify.
MOUNKThe founding fathers were very explicit that what the founding is a republic and not a democracy. Well, what did they mean by a republic? By a republic, they meant a system in which there are some mechanisms for the peoples' voice to be translated into public policy, to be influential. But it's also a lot of protections against tyranny, against giving one man too much power. To protect the rights of individuals, of minorities to have the rule of law. And so, one way of capturing that is precisely to say that what they were founding is what was not a democracy.
MOUNKIt was a liberal democracy. And what is happening when you have somebody who does not care about individual rights, who violates the rule of law, for example, by having forms of corruption in the government. By appropriating more and more power to himself, is precisely to make it the kind of democracy against which the founding fathers were warning. So, this is a different set of terms to think through the same issue, but to speak in those terms, I think the problem is precisely that we are now living through a shift from what some of these people would call republics to democracies. What I would call illiberal democracies.
REHMAll right, I'm going to open the phones now. First to Mark in Whitson, North Carolina. You're on the air.
MARKYes, thank you. And I'm really concerned about this overreach that you people are involved in. I've, you know, I've been a lifelong Republican, and I have never, ever heard of anybody, anywhere, my children, my parents, friends, anyone, who thinks that they would support a military style government in the United States of America. You know, you say it's one in six. I don't think it's one in six million. And I have seen conservatives and liberals and moderates.
MARKI just think that what you're doing is just saying things that just really aren't factually true. I just do not believe that many people believe that they want a military style government. I think a lot of people are dissatisfied with Washington.
NAIMYes, it's very interesting. One pattern that is very common in the world today in this subject is denying the importance of experts, of data, of statistics, of science. And so, you know, you can throw a statistic and a, you know, a survey result, as Yascha did, and then the reaction is, well, that's not true. And so there is this extolling of the military at the same time there's the denigrating of experts, of experience. So, even having experience is a marker of elitism that that is denigrated against.
NAIMAnd it's very interesting how, and you know, this brings us into the terrain of fake news and everything else. But it's, essentially, denying the importance, you know, this repute of experts, essentially.
REHMDo you want to comment, Alina?
POLYAKOVAI agree with everything that Moises said. You know, the way statistics works, right, is, it's, it is a minority of Americans who say they would approve of military rule. And just because I may not know, I don't know anybody either that would say that openly. But that doesn't mean that that those people don't exist in the country as a whole. This is how surveys work.
REHMHow do those surveys get taken?
MOUNKRight, so this is a survey done by Gallup in person with 3,000 people. So, you know, it's sort of a gold standard of how we can go and talk to people and figure out what people think. And that's what the survey found. But you know, military rule is a very extreme form, right, and it is, even today, only one in six people, which is not that many people. But, but, but, but the gentleman who called in said he is based in North Carolina. So, let's talk about a much more concrete form in which Democratic norms are being undermined in a radical way.
MOUNKThe most basic democratic norm we have in this country in this country or in any country is that we use elections as a way to determine who gets to rule. And what we've just seen in North Carolina is that we had an election for Governor, which was very narrowly won by the Democrat candidate. And the Republican legislature turned around and said, after the election, you know what, in that case, we will slash the rights and responsibility of the office of a Governor.
MOUNKThis is institutional brinksmanship. This is a way of stretching the rules to the very limit outside of any conception of legitimate Democratic norms. Which makes me extremely concerned for the survival of democracy. Because if we can no longer say, you know what, you won the election, so you get to rule for the next four years. I don't like you. I don't like your policies. I don't like that you get to make these decisions. But what the democratic system allows me is that I have a chance to beat you at the polls four years from now.
MOUNKBut instead, people are saying, you know what, I hate you so much that I'm going to stop you from being able to exercise the office to which the people have elected you. Then we're really sliding away from democracy.
REHMWhich is precisely what happened to Barack Obama.
MOUNKWell, I think that there -- didn't happen that people sort of undermined the nature of the office, but they certainly undermined the legitimacy of him holding the office. You know, by claiming, for example, that he wasn't a natural born US citizen.
REHMAll right. Let's go to Ralph in Waterford, Michigan. You're on the air.
RALPHThank you. Well, I think the premise of your show is perhaps the most outrageous thing I've ever heard on NPR. Which is you can have a liberal democracy or you can have a military rule. What I think the elections are telling us is that we want to have a more conservative democracy. Liberal policies have failed right and left over the last 50 years and we're just taking a little turn in this country to conservatives. And you are making it out to be that there's going to be a military takeover. That's my comment.
MOUNKLook, I have huge policy disagreements with Ted Cruz. I have considerable policy disagreements with Marco Rubio. I think that they are, in my sense of a word, liberal Democrats. Not because of a liberal on a liberal/conservative spectrum, but because they understand the importance of a rule of law. They do not undermine basic Democratic norms. They do not say that they're going to punish people for free speech or undermine the ability of a press to be critical of them.
MOUNKSo I am very willing to accept that lots of people, whom I have deep disagreements about many issues are very, very legitimate politicians who are absolutely respecting the basic norms of our political system. I think what we are seeing over the course of a campaign and in the last month or so is an attack on basic Democratic norms that doesn't have to do with liberal/conservative. It doesn't have to do with left wing or right wing. It has something to do with whether or not we have some amount of consensus about the basic ground rules in which we all agree.
MOUNKSo that we can change policy by means of election by voting for someone who wants to go to Washington and change things up. But change policy up, not institutions.
NAIMI think it would be very unfair to summarize our conversation of saying that we think that the United States is at the brink of a military dictatorship. We have not said that. We are saying that there are, there, in other countries, and now also in the United States, there is a series of political social economic conditions that are creating a weakening, a government that can weaken the checks and balances that are inherent and necessary for democracy.
POLYAKOVAThat's exactly right. This is not a binary, you know, either or situation that we're trying to describe here at all. I think what we're trying to talk about is also not a partisan issue from my view. This is about core democratic institutions and principals that all Americans, I would argue, hold as valuable and is key to our nation and to our republic. And what's worrying is we're seeing rhetoric and discourse that is aimed at undermining those key principals that are not Republican or Democrat. They're universal about America, more broadly.
REHMLet's go to Carolyn in San Antonio, Texas. You're on the air.
CAROLYNHello, I am surprised that people would not know what Trump is about. I've been listening to him for a year and a half. He is an autocrat. He is definitely not interested in listening to the morning briefings or anything that a President should be do -- a President-elect should be doing. Our election was tainted by the Russians. He admires Putin. He is every way a man who will probably become a dictator.
REHMDo you see a dictator in the making here, Yascha?
MOUNKIt does concern me that Donald Trump has evident admiration for a number of dictators. I don't think that Donald Trump wants to turn the United States into a dictatorship and I think that we have enough resources in the system to resist any moves toward (unintelligible) but we would only be able to resist those if we understand that this is a real danger. That liberal democracy cannot be taken for granted, that it's not stable forever because it has been over the last decades.
MOUNKAnd are willing to draw a clear and bright red line when he oversteps the marks of his constitutional authority. And this is not just a matter of liberals or Democrats mobilizing against him. It's a matter of principled conservatives like Evan McMullin, or like moderate Republicans in the Senate and the House saying we're with you on environmental policy but we agree with you with. But we're not with you when you try to actually undermine institutional protections.
REHMOur caller mentioned Russia's Putin. I wonder to what extent he himself has had a role in these anti-establishment populist movements in Europe.
POLYAKOVAAbsolutely. You know, Russia has been facilitating and encouraging these types of anti-EU, anti-establishment political parties on the left and the right for years. And it is only now with our own revelations in the United States about Russia's interference in our electoral process that we are coming to terms with what in fact has been a long term and very well developed strategy to undermine our democracies in the West.
REHMAnd you're listening to The Diane Rehm Show. Moises, do you want to weigh in there?
NAIMYeah, there is -- as President Obama himself said in his last press conference, there is very little of importance, of significance, that happens in Russia, where Vladimir Putin is -- does not have either a hand or is not involved. So, it's very hard to imagine that there is this significant effort, both in Europe and in the United States to stealthily influence politics that are -- is being done without Putin being aware of it.
REHMSeems to me what you are all saying is that there are warning signs. Not only around the world, but here in the United States. And as a result of those warning signs, we, as a polity, must be more aware, more educated about what's going on in our country. And make sure that we react and react to what's happening.
POLYAKOVAThat's exactly right. As we all have been saying, we shouldn't be too alarmist about everything that we're saying on the show today. There are checks and balances. One of those, of course, is the citizenry. It's civil society. And one thing that Western democracies do have, old democracies have are vibrant, civil society spaces. Where you have watchdog organizations, other types of groups that are monitoring what the government does. And this is one thing that makes democracies resilient. It's much more troubling in places where you don't have a well-developed civil society.
POLYAKOVALike in the post-socialist space or other places in South America, for example, where you don't have that clear check on government. And this is something that I think should be seen as a citizen's right and a citizen's duty to do with any government.
NAIMYes, I agree with all of that, and I do believe that the United States still has very strong checks and balances that limit the power of the Executive and others. However, I want to say that around the world, that phrase was uttered many times in many countries that were persuaded, that they had the anti-bodies against authoritarianism. And that the institutions can contain any attempt at centralizing power. Complacency, confusion are very, very important to keep in mind. Yes, the United States is not at the brink of an authoritarian government.
NAIMBut being complacent, being confused about what it all means, what is a republic, what is a democracy, what are the checks and balances that are being undermined? With very deliberate confusion in the conversation created by interested parties can create conditions that are very dangerous.
MOUNKTwo things tend to happen when democracy becomes less stable and you see the rise of these populists and often would be authoritarians around the world. The first is that, you know, countries used to be stable, they used to work well, so people say, we don't have to be worried. And we don't have to take it seriously when somebody like Vladimir Putin says, perhaps I want a hierarchical democracy. When somebody like Viktor Orban in Hungary says, perhaps I want an illiberal democracy in which courts don't really have a right to check what I'm doing.
MOUNKWhen somebody like Donald Trump says, you know, perhaps I want a Muslim registry. People tend to say, you know what, I'm sure he's not actually going to do it. Let's not worry too much. And what we've seen often -- we haven't seen yet what Donald Trump is going to do as President, and I hope very much that he will see the light and become a great President.
MOUNKBut what we've seen in many countries is that people tend to do things that are very close to what they said they would do, including on the things on which people didn't quite take them seriously. That's the first thing. The second thing that we've seen in many countries is that once they are in power, either they or similar movements stay around in the political system. It's difficult to get rid of its energy once it's in the political system.
REHMAnd we'll have to leave it at that. Yascha Mounk of Harvard, Alina Polykova of the Atlantic Council. Moises Naim of the Carnegie Endowment. Thank you all so much. And thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.
Most Recent Shows
Trump impeachment witness Fiona Hill on what her own background says about this political moment, and why she thinks the greatest threat to American democracy now comes from within.
Cities and states across the country are exploring reparations programs for Black Americans, but not all reparations advocates think it's the right approach. Diane talks to Mayor Daniel Biss of Evanston, Ill., and William Darity, Jr., and Kirsten Mullen, the co-authors of the book, "From Here to Equality: Reparations for Black Americans in the Twenty-First Century”
The New Yorker's Evan Osnos traces the roots of divisions in the U.S. from 9/11 to January 6. His new book is "Wildland: The Making of America's Fury."