While discussing his new book “How Democracies Die”, co-authored with Harvard professor Daniel Ziblatt, Steven Levitsky, a professor of government at Harvard University, noted the current Supreme Court nomination process of Brett Kavanaugh. Levitsky argued increased political polarization will result in increased conflict, while addressing a crowd of about 40 students and faculty members Saturday on the present state of democracy in the United States and the current administration’s role in the democratic landscape.
“As we grow polarized, Americans on both the left and the right are willing to tolerate abuses against the other side,” Levitsky said. “Daniel and I had a really interesting meeting with seven Democratic senators earlier this week. One of them, Michael Bennett from Colorado, told us, ‘I’m quite sure that never again will a president without a majority in the Senate get his or her (Supreme Court justice) nomination passed. The days of a minority president nominating a person to the Supreme Court, ever, those days are done.’”
Levitsky said President Donald Trump has contributed to the public’s declining faith in U.S. government.
“There are things to worry about … the impact of his discourse is accelerating the erosion of the public trust in our institutions,” Levitsky said. “Same thing with the press. An independent media and press freedom are essential institutions in any democracy. And Trump’s discourse, that the media is conspiring against him … has accelerated the erosion of public trust in independent media.”
However, according to Levitsky, the United States is still in a strong position in terms of democratic prosperity.
“U.S. democracy isn’t dead, it’s not dying, it probably won’t die,” Levitsky said. “Social scientists don’t agree on too many things, but there are a couple of factors they agree contribute to the longevity of democracy — age and wealth.”
Additionally, Levitsky said University students can improve the country’s democratic processes through election participation. Last September, the University joined the Big Ten Voting Challenge with the aim of raising voter turnout among U-M students. Since September, the challenge has grown to include all 14 Big Ten universities.
“In this country, the way we are going to save our democracy is through elections,” Levitsky said. “It’s not going to be people taking arms, it’s not going to be a massive march on the White House … if young people don’t like the direction (in which politics headed), if young people don’t like it, they’ve got to vote. The people who are most likely to oppose what’s been going in government in the last two years are the people who are least likely to vote.”
Joseph Wong, a political science professor and vice provost of International Student Experience at the University of Toronto, is currently co-authoring a paper on democracy’s alternative pathways to inaction and said the lecture compiled a wide variety of political science focus areas for discussion.
“The workshop, I think, is really appealing, because this is one of the few that I’ve been to where you have comparatist (political scientists) working on countries all around the world, and then also a pretty large staple of Americanist (political scientists),” Wong said. “The parallels between American cases and comparative cases became more striking, and the idea of American exceptionalism is much more of a concept than anything empirical.”
LSA freshman Caroline Grueneis said the lecture worked to ease some of her worries about the polarity of modern politics.
“To see just how deeply polarized people are, and how on both sides, (they’re) thinking about the same thing and being strategic and pragmatic about what they’re giving up and saying, ‘I’m giving up this for the good of the country in the short-term,’” Grunenis said. “After watching this, it kind of made me feel better in a way. I’m very angry and in a way it kind of alleviated some of my anxieties and my level of unhappiness around the topic, because it made me feel like there’s a movement going forward.”