Why 'bad information' is the 'real threat to US democracy': columnist

Why 'bad information' is the 'real threat to US democracy': columnist
Image via Creative Commons

With the reelections of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, many civil libertarians have warned that democracy is under attack worldwide. Some of them have also been sounding the alarm about the United States, saying that the Republican Party — especially the MAGA movement — no longer believes in the country's democratic traditions.

But Washington Post opinion writer Jason Willick, in a June 5 column, rejects the argument that one of the United States' two main political parties still favors democracy while the other does not. As Willick sees it, the real threat to U.S. democracy is the deep distrust that Republicans and Democrats have for one another.

A recent study by the journal Nature Human Behaviour, according to Willick, "suggests that the threat to American democracy arises, at least in part, from bad information."

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"People overestimate the threat to democracy from the other tribe and are more willing to defensively subvert democratic norms as a result," Willick argues. "Think of a run on a bank: Investors who think others are about to withdraw deposits will also be more likely to withdraw their own."

Willick contends that framing the United States' political tensions as "democracy versus autocracy" is misleading because it "doesn;t reflect the actual challenge to self-government in the 21st Century.

"People who champion democracy can easily persuade themselves to undermine it if they think the other side is prepared to do the same," Willick writes. "To the extent that there is a risk of authoritarianism in the United States, it doesn't come from hostility to democracy. It comes from Americans' deepening attachment to democracy and their growing fear that it will be taken away."

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Jason Willick's full Washington Post opinion column can be found at this link(subscription required).

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