Signs of an Un-Healthy Democracy

Signs of an Un-Healthy Democracy

Think of governance systems as a scale. On one end of the scale, you have governance where everyone has a direct and equal vote a specific type of democratic governance. Let’s call that Deep Democracy. On the other end of the spectrum, you have concentrated rule by one person which is called Autocracy.

In the middle, you have all forms of governance in between those two. The US form of democracy has never been at the Deep Democracy end of the scale, but is towards that end of the scale.

Autocracy Term-o-rama
  • Autocracy – One person rule
  • Plutocracy – Rule of the few
  • Aristocracy – Rule by the Aristocratic Class
  • Oligarchy – Control by a small group of people
  • Kleptocracy – Rule by the few and mix in some stealing
  • Fascism – Originally a brand of autocracy coined by Mussolini during his rise to power. Now fascism is used generically to describe descent into autocratic rule
  • Totalitarianism – All or nothing rule. Compliance is required.
  • Dictator – Ruler of an autocracy, often in a cruel method
  • Tyranny – Rule in an oppressive way

Throughout history, we have seen societies veer between tyranny and democracy. Even within the last 100 years, there have been dozens of examples of democracies collapsing into tyranny.

In order to promote healthy democracy, it is important to understand the warning signs that lead us into Tyranny. We are blessed with many scholars who have produced great works, many in just the last few years. (Check out the Resources below)

What causes the slide towards Autocratic tendencies?

Anything that pushes voters to be less interested in participating in democracy. 

On an emotional level, it is feelings of apathy, confusion, frustration or just being too busy to pay attention.

As the people cede power, others step in and will often find creative ways to keep that power. We have seen these techniques used over and over again:

Voting Issues
  • Making it more difficult for people to vote
  • Intimidating people from voting
  • Overturning vote passed initiatives or elections
Threats of Violence
  • Intimidating elected representatives 
  • Intimidation of the press
  • Showing up with guns at protests
  • Dissuading voters from voting or encouraging voting apathy
  • Threats through Social Media
Destroy Common Truth
  • Erosion of Common Truth as an ideal
  • Gaslighting
  • Oversimplification and its cousin overcomplication
  • Promoting narratives that drive division
  • 100% Commitment to the Narrative of the Leader
Worsening Inequality

As people struggle more and more to survive, they have less time and attention to pay to governance. We also see lots of tension and othering when people are struggling and as we discuss in our section on Truth, this is often exploited.

Political Power Concentration
  • The Wealthy and Corporations having more power than ordinary citizens
  • More extreme candidates being elected
  • Not raising people to understand or talk about politics
  • In 2022, we are seeing candidates running for local office who state they are willing to overturn an election
  • Senators not willing to vote for election protections
  • Laws to limit protesting rights
  • Using courts to concentrate power
  • Reducing citizens’ ability to provide feedback to their representatives
Decrease in Societal Contracts
  • Lack of Social Trust in Communities
  • System produces conflict rather than shared vision
  • Lack of accountability leads to further apathy
  • When people see others not being held accountable, they often think “I should do the same”
Conflicts used to further divisions
  • Banning books
  • Citizen bounty laws, where citizens are paid to turn in other Citizens (such as Texas new abortion law)


  • Diane Rehm Show episode  with Richard Hasen, Election Law Expert
  • William Greider – Who Will Tell The People book
  • Constitutional Convention risk   article
  • Timothy Snyder – On Tyranny book