Ginsburg and Huq's "How to Save a Constitutional Democracy" Reviewed

How Fragile is Our Democracy?

Tom Ginsburg and Aziz Huq, professors at the University of Chicago law school, want to convince readers that the last four years are not the result of Trump’s personality, or even of peculiarly American political woes. How to Save a Constitutional Democracy by Tom Ginsburg and Aziz Huq. The University of Chicago Press. 295 pp.

“American exceptionalism” is now a dogma of the right (recall their ceaseless attack on Obama for his supposed apostasy), but, as Ginsburg and Huq explain, the phrase was actually coined by the American Communist Party to explain Marxism’s failure here. Whatever “exceptionalism” means today; no one can argue that the United States is immune to worldwide political and social trends; and, since 2000, those trends have been flowing against democracy and in favor of authoritarianism. The spillover of authoritarian ideas and techniques is a malign effect of globalization: “Innovations in fashion, music, and business spread across borders, and law is no exception,” the authors note.

Ginsburg and Huq’s seek to break down the “exceptional” idea and show us that it not only can happen but is happening here. They warn that “[t]his is a book provoked by the election of Donald Trump, but it is not a book about Trump in any direct way.”  Trump and his administration, in this account, represent less a near-death experience for American democracy than an acute episode of what is likely to be a recurrent worldwide pandemic. They relate Trumpism to the recent rise of autocracy in Hungary, Poland, Venezuela, Turkey, Thailand, and other once-democratic nations. Those case studies provide an eerie description of the road our politics set out on well before January 2017 and offer a solemn warning of what may lie ahead in the post-Trump era.

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