Head is pounding, sunlight hurts, body aches and there’s a mysterious bruise. Sitting in bed with a Pedialyte and a treat from Magnificent Muffin won’t fix it — it’s a hangover that can’t be slept off. It’s not going away unless we fight it off. It’s not from The Pub, the Burren or Mike’s; it’s from Belarus, Algeria, India, Hungary, Egypt, China, the United States and even the United Kingdom. Maybe we should call TEMS? Democracy’s down bad.
These past four years have been depressing — hopefully not for the Class of 2021, but certainly for the status of democracy worldwide. We’ve entered the 15th year of democratic recession, and this past year was the worst year for democracy on record.
Since 2017, there have been 18 coup plots and attempts, six impeachments, four political assassinations and a U.S. insurrection — not to mention the exploitation of the pandemic by illiberal leaders to solidify autocratic power. Competitive authoritarianism has gone from a fringe topic in political science to a common regime type, political violence has become normalized, discriminatory voting laws are being reinstated and disinformation has spread globally.
However, unlike that nasty hangover from Lax House during Orientation Week, which naturally dissipated, this hangover has to be actively fought off. Fighting for democracy has worked in the past. The Velvet Revolution, a peaceful, student protest led by Václav Havel against communist rule, brought about liberal democracy in the Czech Republic. Ukraine removed the fraudulently elected President Viktor Yanukovych in the Orange Revolution as the youth took to the streets in protest. Tunisia emerged with democracy after sparking the Arab Spring. Protests in Austria encouraged a vote of no confidence that removed their far-right chancellor in 2019.
Today, millions around the world are fighting to protect democracy and spark democratization. Women’s rights activists in Poland were joined by thousands as they protested against the autocratic Law and Justice Party whose court packing resulted in a near-total abortion ban. Russians are taking to the streets to protest the state’s abuse of opposition leader Alexei Navalny. Protestors risked imprisonment in Hungary to fight off the nativist and autocratic Fidesz party.
In the United States, protests are continuing for racial justice, and civil society has mobilized to fight for democracy. Americans have put country over party, with Republican groups such as the Lincoln Project and Republican Voters Against Trump working to combat the illiberalism of Trump-era Republicans.
That’s not to say we will be saved from autocracy. Indeed, many fights for democracy have resulted in a beatdown; autocracy persisted after the Egyptian Arab Spring, and failed states and civil war emerged in Syria and Libya.
Nonetheless, I am confident that we can fix our democracy. We need to wake up. We need to realize that the Jan. 6 insurrection can and most likely will happen again. We need to fight off the next major threat to our democracy through active citizenship, protest and participation.
Will we be the next Rome, or the saviors of democracy? As we’re still in a democracy, we get to choose: To sleep or to fight?