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Old 03-29-2024, 08:08 AM
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Question The Idea of American Decay

The Idea of American Decay
By: Lauren Jackson - New York Times - 08-05-2022

Did the Capitol riot make the belief in American democratic decline mainstream?
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From “The Daily” newsletter: One big idea on the news, from the team that brings you “The Daily” podcast.

The idea that America is in decline isn’t new.

For decades, academics have warned that partisan gridlock, politicized courts and unfettered lobbying were
like dangerous substances — if taken in excess, America’s democratic systems were at risk of collapse.

But what happens when the idea itself gets mainlined? When words like “died,” “decline” and “dagger”
sit near “America” on front pages across the country? When a majority of the American public rewrites
the story they tell themselves about their country’s standing in the world?

That’s what some experts say is happening now — that the Capitol riot and its aftermath have normalized
a sense among Americans that the country, its economic system and its standing in the world are in decline.
New data supports this claim: 70 percent of Americans believe the U.S. is “in crisis and at risk of failing,”
according to a recent poll.

Fortifying America’s democracy is not just about ensuring the trustworthiness of elections, but also about
safeguarding Americans’ belief in the possibility of change. So what happens when that self-conception
falters — when Americans begin to believe their country isn’t winning, but instead is losing a long battle?

A fractured collective narrative at home
“Jan. 6 and then the Republican reaction is a really important turning point in the perception of our American
decline,” said Francis Fukuyama, a political scientist and author. Mr. Fukuyama noted that while he had been
writing about American political decay for years, the concept had assumed more systemic import after the
Capitol riots — and wider acceptance.

Just a few years ago, a majority of Americans believed the U.S. was one of the greatest nations in the world.
In a Pew Research survey from 2017, 85 percent of respondents said either that the U.S. “stands above all
other countries in the world” or that it is “one of the greatest countries, along with some others.” Additionally,
58 percent of those surveyed said the American democracy was working “somewhat” or “very well.”

“Prior to the rise of all this populism,” Mr. Fukuyama said, “there was a basic progressive narrative to American
history. And that was based on a Declaration of Independence and a Constitution that were flexible enough to
be modified over time to be made more inclusive.”

“This American narrative that has held us together, it doesn’t hold anymore,” he said, adding that the riot,
“more than anything that happened during the Trump presidency, I think does underline that.”

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Now, nearly two-thirds of respondents in the NPR/Ipsos poll agreed that U.S. democracy is “more at risk”
now than it was a year ago. Among Republicans, that number climbs to four in five. This narrative persists
on both sides of the political spectrum — with each side pointing the finger at the other as a threat to the
nation’s well-being. It’s also a narrative that has direct effects on American democracy — polarizing partisanship
on national and local levels, affecting critical legislative functions like passing budgets and limiting social
consensus-building in response to crises like Covid.

In light of these varied crises, “what is most striking is not what has changed but what has not,” Peter Baker,
The Times’s chief White House correspondent, wrote on the anniversary of the Capitol Riots. “America has not
come together to defend its democracy; it has only split further apart.”

It is this growing chasm that some political theorists say will be most difficult to reconcile in the interest of
shoring up America’s democratic institutions.

“We have two Americas,” James Morone, a professor of political science at Brown University, said, with
Americans in urban centers experiencing the benefits of globalization while many in rural areas feel left
behind as the American middle class shrinks. These two Americas also often inhabit opposing factual realities,
allowing misinformation to persist and even fuel violence. “And here’s the thing: Each is represented by a
different party. That’s one reason the two-party system is breaking down.”

Rippling effects abroad:

This national self-doubt also has implications for the perception of American strength and supremacy globally,
a challenge for President Biden’s foreign policy as his administration struggles to win back the global repute
thrown into question by four years of “America First.”

In his address at the Capitol on Jan. 6, Mr. Biden said, “Both at home and abroad, we’re engaged anew in a
struggle between democracy and autocracy.”

Donald J. Trump and his allies continue to push a false retelling of the 2020 election, in which Democrats stole
the vote and the Jan. 6 riot to disrupt President Biden’s certification was largely peaceful or was staged
by Mr. Trump’s opponents. This approach is part of a broader transformation of authoritarian tactics globally,
as Max Fisher, the Interpreter columnist at The Times, points out.

“Dictators have shifted emphasis from blunt-force repression (although this still happens, too) to subtler
methods like manipulating information or sowing division, aimed at preventing dissent over suppressing it,”
he wrote. Now, history is being rewritten in Russia, Hungary and China, where governments are repressing
and sanitizing elements of national history in favor of contemporary politics — as is also happening in the
United States.

This tactical similarity with foreign autocrats, some experts argue, throws American ideals into question
internationally. “If crucial facts can be denied by a major American party and millions of American citizens,
aren’t all American claims to truth and rationality suspect?” said Robert Daly, director of the Kissinger
Institute on China.

“For as long as I can remember, U.S. democracy, even with its flaws, was held up as the gold standard of
democracy worldwide,” said Cynthia Arnson, director of the Latin America program at the Wilson Center.
Now, according to a Pew Research survey, a median of just 17 percent of respondents said democracy in
the U.S. is a good example for others to follow.

America still benefits from some positive reputational assessments around the world, with a majority of
respondents to the Pew survey expressing favorable opinions on America’s technology, its military and its
entertainment output. But some experts argue those sources of soft power are also under threat in
conjunction with democratic backsliding.

“One of the side effects of losing the democracy is losing control over the markets,” Rebecca Henderson,
a professor at Harvard Business School, said, adding, “I think it’s an incredibly dangerous moment.
[I think we absolutely could lose the democracy.”]

Contextualizing Jan. 6: American democratic backsliding is a concept that can seem totalizing. So to break
it down, here’s a playlist to help you understand how we got here.

[Here's Another layout of the conditions then - see below]:

Note: Did the podcasts help incite the mob?
By: Stuart A. Thompson (see below)

In a new analysis, the podcast run by Stephen K. Bannon, President Donald J. Trump’s former adviser, was
flagged 115 times for misinformation in a designated time period.Credit...Justin T. Gellerson for The New York Times

Political podcasts played a major role in promoting lies and misinformation about the 2020 U.S. presidential
election, which later fueled the deadly protests on Jan. 6, according to a study by the Brookings Institution
that analyzed nearly 1,500 episodes from the 20 most popular political shows on Apple’s podcast app.

None of the predictions of widespread voter fraud came true. But some podcasters frequently advanced the false
belief that the election was illegitimate, first as a trickle before the election and then as a tsunami in the weeks
leading up to the violent attack at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, according to new research.

The report is the first data-driven look at how political podcasts played a role in shaping theories of electoral
fraud. You can read more here:

[Election Falsehoods Surged on Podcasts Before Capitol Riots - Researches Find]

On The Daily this week
Monday: The Omicron variant of the coronavirus appears to be milder than previous variants, but it’s
still dangerous.

Tuesday: How prenatal screenings for chromosomal abnormalities in fetuses promised “peace of mind” but
instead caused anguish and confusion.

Wednesday: Our F.B.I. interview with one Capitol rioter.

Thursday: A conversation with Rep. Liz Cheney about the riot and the state, and future, of the Republican Party.

Friday: Could America’s electoral system sustain another attack? We explore the state of the nation’s democracy.

That’s it for the Daily newsletter. See you next week.
Have thoughts about the show? Tell us what you think at

Were you forwarded this newsletter? Subscribe here to get it delivered to your inbox.

Love podcasts? Join The New York Times Podcast Club on Facebook.
About this writer: Lauren Jackson is a journalist based in London. More about Lauren Jackson - see below.

What I Cover:

I have been based in London for The Times since 2019. As a writer, I have reported on international affairs and
technology — analyzing the wars in Ukraine and Gaza, artificial intelligence and the influence of Big Tech.
As a photographer, I have published work from Britain, Germany and Mongolia. As an editor, I have guided
editorial and product strategy for “The Daily” — The Times’s daily podcast — and for The Morning.

Her Background:

Before joining The Times, I worked at the United Nations, the Reuters Institute and CNN, where my reporting
on religion won three awards from the Religion News Association.

I grew up in Arkansas and have also lived in Greece, Israel and Rwanda. I have a bachelor’s degree in political
and social thought from the University of Virginia, where I was a Jefferson Scholar. I have two master’s degrees
in diplomacy and public policy from Oxford University, where I was a Rhodes Scholar.

Journalistic Ethics:
I work to understand sharply divergent perspectives and represent them with nuance, humility and empathy.
I am committed to upholding the standards of integrity outlined in our Ethical Journalism Handbook, and
I am always open to feedback. I welcome your ideas.

Boats Personal note:
As we all know we were glued to our TV's watching these issues take place.
Much of what we saw - and heard - was very disturbing and you could feel the
uptake growing and was made to excite the rioter's From and To the Capitol
where the masses were gathering and Trump kept up the verbiage to a ferver.
It was something I couldn't believe as I and many others were watching the
ongoing riot build and build to a frenzy of which you just knew Trump had
excited to them to due whatever it took to rid his Vice President - Pelosi
and to take over the Capitol and Congress to rid those who were counter
to Trump's so called win - that had not been confirmed and to stir up the
verbiage to a point where masses were building up into a frenzy.
Take the Capitol at all cost per Trump - there's no two-ways about it he
could not believe he lost his position and that he stirred up his people
to take the capitol and rid those who were counter to his loss of his
presidency. It got real ugly and many protectors of the capitol
suffered severe wounds trying to prevent them entry and to protect
those Representatives within the capitol at that time.
I never thought I'd see that day the aggressive and destructive attempt
to take over our Congressional Leaders within.
Let's face it - Trump stirred the up into a frenzy do what you have to
his former Vice President and Speaker Pelosi! It was a site I thought
I'd never see and yet to this day many support those along with
Trump not to be responsible for their actions that day.
I'm against Trump and he deserves condemnation for pushing these
follower's to suffer whomever in House at all cost plus his Vice
President! Completely illegal and must be held accountable!
Re-election to be denied and incarceration to be considered.

O Almighty Lord God, who neither slumberest nor sleepest; Protect and assist, we beseech thee, all those who at home or abroad, by land, by sea, or in the air, are serving this country, that they, being armed with thy defence, may be preserved evermore in all perils; and being filled with wisdom and girded with strength, may do their duty to thy honour and glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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