Why Democracy Is Dying

James Kwak
Published in
5 min readJan 7, 2022

Photo by Kačka a Ondra (CC BY 2.0)

Not enough people care.

In The New York Times this week, David Leonhardt suggested that the only hope for democracy may be a “conservative-liberal alliance.” Specifically, he quotes political scientist Steven Levitsky’s proposal for a 2024 “fusion ticket” combining the Democratic Party with anti-Trump Republicans; think Joe Biden running with Liz Cheney as his vice-presidential nominee.

On its face, this is not a crazy idea. I have argued for years that progressive Democrats should not compromise with moderates, let alone conservative Republicans—that the path to political victory and to a better society begins with an undiluted focus on the economic welfare of ordinary people. Today, however, our top priority has to be protecting democracy from Donald Trump and his followers. (If you don’t believe me, please read Barton Gellman’s analysis.) Unchecked economic inequality certainly helped make Trumpism possible. But even the most enlightened economic policies, enacted today, would be unable to reverse the tide of inequality in time for the 2024 election.

This means we need to look for political solutions to the threat of authoritarianism, and a fusion ticket is a plausible one. But I fear that rallying people around “democracy” will be a losing cause.

To begin with, it’s important to realize that the most likely scenario is not that American democracy is overthrown by a mob assault on the Capitol. Neither the Pentagon nor even this Supreme Court would uphold that outcome. Instead, the coup will occur under cover of procedural legality. Republican state legislatures—operating under the well-established principles that states have primary responsibility for elections and that the legislature determines how presidential electors are chosen—are already passing laws giving them the power to intervene at key points in the voting process. In Georgia, for example, Barton Gellman explains:

a GOP-dominated state board, beholden to the legislature, may overrule and take control of voting tallies in any jurisdiction … The State Election Board can suspend a county board if it deems the board to be “underperforming” and replace it with a handpicked administrator. The administrator, in turn, will have final say on disqualifying voters and declaring ballots null and void.

James Kwak
Writer for

Books: The Fear of Too Much Justice, Take Back Our Party, Economism, White House Burning, 13 Bankers. Former professor. Co-founder, Guidewire Software. Cellist.