Parallels of 1930s in the 2020s


Figure from The Economist Democracy Index. USA fell from 8.22 in 2006 to 7.96 in 2019 or the 25th most democratic country. Some of the countries ranking higher: Norway 1st, Canada 8th, Australia 9th, Switzerland 10th, Germany 13th, France 20th, and Japan 24th. Ranking below Taiwan 31st, Philippines 54th, Mexico 73rd, Turkey 110th, Russia 134th, China 153rd and North Korea 167th.


The New Yorker February 3, 2020 pp20-24 The Future of Democracy “In Every Dark Hour” “In the thirties, democracy’s survival was in question. What was our answer?”


“The future of democracy is topic number one in the animated discussion going on all over America”. ‘a contributor to the The New York Times wrote in 1937. After victory in WWI (1917) new European states were carved out of the Russian, Ottoman and Austrian empires but many latter fell with the rise of Mussolini (Italy) and Hitler (Germany). At the same time, U.S. “corruption, monopoly, apathy, inequality, political violence, hucksterism, racial injustice, unemployment and starvation” raised doubts about our form of democracy as well.


Strikingly, some parallels are obvious in our recent history. Post ‘Cold War’ democracies were on the rise but by 2005 “the number of democracies around the world began to fall and ‘strong men’ emerged with Putin (Russia), Erdogan (Turkey) and Duterte (Philippines) to name a few. In fact, in “The Democracy Index", America rated as a full democracy has fallen into a flawed democracy as of 2016 (See Chart).


“Nothing so sharpens one’s appreciation for democracy as bearing witness to its demolition. Mussolini called Italy and Germany ‘the greatest and soundest democracies which exist in the world today’”. Hitler said “With Nazi Germany he had achieved, a ‘beautiful democracy’”.


“It’s a paradox of democracy that the best way to defend it is to attack it, to ask more of it, by way of criticism, protest and dissent.” FDR in 1932 with the New Deal sought to rescue American democracy beating Herbert Hoover 472-59 (Electoral College). Given the economic state of affairs, FDR was enabled “with powers he assumed were barely short of dictatorial”. New Deal projects brought people of all walks and places together to build roads, bridges, dams in rural and urban America. Notable examples can be found in every town accross America and we all are aware of a couple big ones being the Hoover Dam and the Lincoln Tunnel.


As we argue about the politics of our current times and the very real economic struggles of wage earners, what is the path forward? Unlike the weather, which is beyond our control, we can influence change in political direction by just choosing to act. And like the thirties, we need our civic leaders, educators, journalists, activists and citizens to catalyze needed change and overcome forces that seek to silence dissent. Dialoging with our neighbors and finding common ground is another essential element of moving forward.

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