US economy

The Idea of American Decay

“Dictators have shifted emphasis from blunt-force repression (although this still happens, too) to subtler methods like manipulating information or sowing division, aimed at preventing dissent over suppressing it,” he wrote. Now, history is being rewritten in Russia, Hungary and China, where governments are repressing and sanitizing elements of national history in favor of contemporary politics — as is also happening in the United States.

This tactical similarity with foreign autocrats, some experts argue, throws American ideals into question internationally. “If crucial facts can be denied by a major American party and millions of American citizens, aren’t all American claims to truth and rationality suspect?” said Robert Daly, director of the Kissinger Institute on China.

“For as long as I can remember, U.S. democracy, even with its flaws, was held up as the gold standard of democracy worldwide,” said Cynthia Arnson, director of the Latin America program at the Wilson Center. Now, according to a Pew Research survey, a median of just 17 percent of respondents said democracy in the U.S. is a good example for others to follow.

America still benefits from some positive reputational assessments around the world, with a majority of respondents to the Pew survey expressing favorable opinions on America’s technology, its military and its entertainment output. But some experts argue those sources of soft power are also under threat in conjunction with democratic backsliding.

“One of the side effects of losing the democracy is losing control over the markets,” Rebecca Henderson, a professor at Harvard Business School, said, adding, “I think it’s an incredibly dangerous moment. I think we absolutely could lose the democracy.”

Contextualizing Jan. 6: American democratic backsliding is a concept that can seem totalizing. So to break it down, here’s a playlist to help you understand how we got here.


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