Cover art for podcast Democracy Works

Democracy Works

135 EpisodesProduced by Penn State McCourtney Institute for Democracy/The Democracy GroupWebsite

Examining what it means to live in a democracy

31:40

How Democracies Die author Daniel Ziblatt on the ‘grinding work’ of democracy

Daniel Ziblatt has done a lot of interviews since the release of How Democracies Die, the bestselling book he co-wrote with Steven Levitsky. But we asked him a question he’d never gotten before — about a line toward the end of the book when he refers to democracy as “grinding work.”

The idea that democracy isn’t easy is a central theme of this podcast. As How Democracies Die illustrates, it’s much easier to succumb to the power of an autocratic leader than it is to stand up and protect the institutions that serve as the guardrails of democracy. Ziblatt, a professor of government at Harvard, talks about how the book came about and the impact it’s had since it was released earlier this year.

This episode also starts a new feature on the podcast, where we end with a lightning round featuring our Mood of the Nation Poll questions. The poll is open-ended and allows Americans to respond in their own words to questions related to American politics. Some questions vary based on what’s going in the world, but we always ask these four:

  • What makes you angry?
  • What makes you proud?
  • What makes you worry?
  • What gives you hope?

We were very fortunate to speak with Daniel and encourage everyone to pick up a copy of How Democracies Die.

Interview Highlights[5:40] How did this book come about?

Steve and I, we teach together, we’ve taught lots of courses together, graduate courses on democracies and crisis, democratic breakdown and democratization around the world, I work on Europe and he works on Latin America. We haven’t primarily focused on the United States in our work, but during the course of the 2015-2016 campaign season, really the republican nomination process, we kept running into each other and talking about the tenor of the political  rhetoric.

[7:02)] Where does Donald Trump fit into all of us? Did this process of democratic erosion that you describe in the book, did it start before Trump? Or was he kind of a symptom of it?

In many ways I think that there’s a tendency to focus on Donald Trump, the spectacle of Trump and the latest offensive Tweet and whatever people respond to, but really one of the points of our book is to say that these dynamics long preceded President Trump.

[8:14)] What role do you see parties playing in this process of democratic decline?

Parties are really at the center of the story for us. One of the lessons from the book is that throughout American history there’s been around, at least in the 20th century period for which we have opinion poll data, there’s been around 30% of the American electorate that supports demagogic type of politicians.

[11:10] Can you talk a little bit more about what role you see the assault on the press playing?

In one of the chapters in our book, we lay out the strategies authoritarian inclined politicians have used around the world, and this is, again, drawing in lessons from other countries, and once in office, elected authoritarians often, we kind of have a sports metaphor; they try to capture the referees of the the court system, sideline the opposition, and go after the free press.

[13:39] One of the counter arguments to all this is that Trump is all bluster but no action and people on the left are ringing their hands over nothing. What would you say to that?

In our book we have this what we call an authoritarian litmus test, which is a set of indicators, which are questioning the legitimacy of the media, questioning elections, threatening violence or condoning violence; these are all things that candidate Trump rhetorically embraced before the election.

[18:04] You also say in the book that democracy is “grinding work” which ties back to the whole theme of this podcast, Democracy Works, so can you talk about what that phrase means to you?

It’s important to have big goals and big vision in politics, but it’s also about behaving in responsible ways. It’s a distinction between process and policy. At the end of the day, one has to remain committed to the process and forge alliances with people they may disagree with. That’s hard work and it’s grinding work.

Educational emoji reaction

Educational

Interesting emoji reaction

Interesting

Funny emoji reaction

Funny

Agree emoji reaction

Agree

Love emoji reaction

Love

Wow emoji reaction

Wow

Listen to Democracy Works

RadioPublic

A free podcast app for iPhone and Android

  • User-created playlists and collections
  • Download episodes while on WiFi to listen without using mobile data
  • Stream podcast episodes without waiting for a download
  • Queue episodes to create a personal continuous playlist
RadioPublic on iOS and Android
Or by RSS
RSS feed
https://feeds.simplecast.com/r16ncsFm

Connect with listeners

Podcasters use the RadioPublic listener relationship platform to build lasting connections with fans

Yes, let's begin connecting
Browser window

Find new listeners

  • A dedicated website for your podcast
  • Web embed players designed to convert visitors to listeners in the RadioPublic apps for iPhone and Android
Clicking mouse cursor

Understand your audience

  • Capture listener activity with affinity scores
  • Measure your promotional campaigns and integrate with Google and Facebook analytics
Graph of increasing value

Engage your fanbase

  • Deliver timely Calls To Action, including email acquistion for your mailing list
  • Share exactly the right moment in an episode via text, email, and social media
Icon of cellphone with money

Make money

  • Tip and transfer funds directly to podcastsers
  • Earn money for qualified plays in the RadioPublic apps with Paid Listens