Is Democracy Coming to the U.S.A.?

In the tradition of Alexis de Tocqueville, several authors address the current state of America’s Great Experiment

Compiled by Brian Lampkin

What has happened to American democracy? Has it been undermined to the point of no return or has our republic always been teetering between the hopes and dreams of a Constitutional ideal and a Three-Fifths-Compromise reality of a desperately flawed beginning? Still, while it’s been said many times before, this election seems to be an existential moment for democracy itself. These recent books that Scuppernong’s staff recommends all examine democracy at its breaking point — as some try to find a way forward to save democracy for our children.

Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism, by Anne Applebaum (Doubleday, $25). From the United States and Britain to continental Europe and beyond, liberal democracy is under siege, while authoritarianism is on the rise. In Twilight of Democracy, Anne Applebaum, an award-winning historian of Soviet atrocities, was one of the first American journalists to raise an alarm about antidemocratic trends in the West. The authoritarian and nationalist parties that have arisen within modern democracies offer new paths to wealth or power for their adherents. Applebaum describes many of the new advocates of illiberalism in countries around the world, showing how they use conspiracy theory, political polarization, social media and even nostalgia to change their societies.

Indecent Assembly: The North Carolina Legislature’s Blueprint for the War on Democracy and Equality, by Gene Nichol (Blair, $16.95). University of North Carolina constitutional law professor and attorney Gene Nichol has been a burr under the saddle of the Republican-majority N.C. Legislature for several years, and with good reason. More than any other commentators, his fiery OP-EDs have chronicled the literal dismantling of long-held conventions and values in our previously moderate state. He accused the veto-proof majority of fostering racism, gerrymandering voting districts, legislating bathroom behavior and grossly limiting the power of the governorship, to name just a few of his jabs. Nichol has not been shy to call out these perceived outrages, and in this book, commissioned by Blair, he was asked to “let it rip.” He has. In plain language, he lays out the recent history of this body and the effects of their actions. Many of their enacted pieces of legislation are now cropping up in other states, so in the upcoming election year, this book will remind the citizens of North Carolina what has happened to their state — and maybe, even more importantly, it will serve as a cautionary tale to other states who are about to go down the same path.

Lifting as We Climb: Black Women’s Battle for the Ballot Box, by Evette Dionne (Viking Books for Young Readers, $19.99).  For African-American women, the fight for the right to vote was only one battle. This is an eye-opening book that tells the important, overlooked story of Black women as a force in the suffrage movement — when fellow suffragists did not accept them as equal partners in the struggle.

Democracy in One Book or Less: How It Works, Why It Doesn’t, and Why Fixing It Is Easier Than You Think, by David Litt (Ecco Press, $28.99). The democracy you live in today is different — completely different — from the democracy you were born into. You probably don’t realize just how radically your republic has been altered during your lifetime. Yet more than any policy issue, political trend, or even Donald Trump himself, our redesigned system of government is responsible for the peril America faces today. Poking into forgotten corners of history, translating political science into plain English, and traveling the country to meet experts and activists, Litt explains how the world’s greatest experiment in democracy went awry.  OH

Brian Lampkin is one of the proprietors of Scuppernong Books.

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