Twilight of Democracy (I hope not)

The book cover shows the title, "Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism," and the author's name, "Anne Applebaum," accompanied by "Winner of the Pulitzer Prize." The words are in white except for "Authoritarianism," which is in red. The background of the cover is in gradating shades of blue.

By Eric L.

Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism is a great read for the current moment. The title of the book should give you a fairly good idea of what the book is about. Anne Applebaum’s area of analysis and expertise seems particularly relevant right now. Sadly, she and I agree that hate and the belief in authoritarians has increased in recent times in America. Applebaum discusses how this is also the case in Britain, Hungary, and Poland (countries with which she has experience). Applebaum’s husband is involved in politics in Poland, which provides her an interesting vantage point into the “power elite” (my term). 

If you’re not familiar with Anne Applebaum, I would encourage you to read some of her articles in The Atlantic. I am mainly familiar with her work through this magazine. She is a journalist, but I would also describe her as a historian who has authored several highly regarded books on Russian history. She is also currently a senior fellow at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies. I would describe Anne Applebaum’s politics as different than mine, where she is “center right” and I’m not. We may differ on specific policy prescriptions and perhaps views on liberalism and markets, but we agree that hate and authoritarians are both inimical to democracy. 

The book grabs you from the onset by describing a New Year’s Eve party they hosted as the 20th century ended. She details the somewhat raucous party, the guests, and the optimism many attendees shared for liberal democracies in the 21st century. I am younger than Applebaum, but I recall a similar optimism (and perhaps a little worry about Y2K). She then goes on to describe how in the 20 years since this party many of the guests would no longer speak to each other, and how’d she’d cross the street to avoid some of these folks. In our highly polarized and political society we can all share this sentiment to some extent. Perhaps we don’t know Boris Johnson personally, as she does, but we can relate, and her brief biographical sketch of Johnson is indeed indicative of western politics at this moment. 

The book is written by a good journalist, and thus it is engaging and thoughtful. It is very Western-focused, but it does concern more than the United States. The similarities of the things happening in these countries are a bit frightening. Personally, I’m remembering the era during the last century when fascism began to spread in the West. 

She goes into detail through character sketches of some of the people and the trajectory of their political beliefs. Many were former anti-communists and are now hard-right and authoritarian in nature. She points out that these are not poor, rural people, but actually quite elite, wealthy, and well-educated. She subsequently proffers her theories as to why this is the case, including that of a behavioral economist who suggests about one third of the population, irrespective of political beliefs, has an authoritarian “disposition.” This actually does not surprise me. Applebaum also puts words to the belief of many of these folks that things were better in previous times. The section where she delves into the different types of nostalgia is very interesting. 

I don’t agree with everything Applebaum posits, however I’d like to think she’d appreciate that fact. Specifically, I think she discounts corporate power and race issues in America. They’re addressed, but not to my satisfaction. Where I agree with Applebaum is that democracy is messy, it’s problematic, and not everyone is happy. In sum, it’s tough! It’s certainly much easier to be in complete control and get your way all the time. However, I don’t think I have an authoritarian “disposition” and I think getting my way all the time is not good for me psychologically. That said, I hope we’re not in the twilight of democracy.

Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism is also available in large print and as an eBook and an eAudiobook from Libby/OverDrive.

Eric is a DIY Instructor and Research Specialist at the Elkridge branch. He enjoys reading, films, music, doing nearly anything outside, and people.

How to Talk to Kids About Voting

by Emily T.

The first (and only) song I’ve ever heard to rhyme both Trump and Clinton into the same chorus was sung to me during the 2016 election – by a five-year-old in my son’s Kindergarten class. 

In 2020, election talk is even more ubiquitous. Grownups aren’t the only ones figuring out voting. Many children are hearing about the election and wondering what it all means. Some may be asking their questions, while others may be unsure where to start. It’s never too early to welcome young ones into the voting process and help them understand how important it is. We may be shocked to find what they’ve heard already – and what critical gaps likely are in their understanding. 

Children can understand the value of having a say, and we all know they put a lot of stock in fairness. Such basics of democracy are very accessible. Even preschoolers can use a simple form of voting to make a group decision. Pizza or sushi for dinner? Ride scooters to the park or walk? We grownups can give our little future voters lots of practice with making a choice, counting up votes, and making peace with the outcomes. Of course, the story of American democracy doesn’t end with the idea of one person, one vote, but it is a great way to start talking about it. Reading books about voting can further spark children’s interest and open up fun, informative, invaluable conversations. Encourage your kids to ask questions, then find answers together.  

The President of the Jungle by André Rodrigues, et al. is a playful introduction to voting as a fair way to decide things as a group. In the story, the animals are not too happy with Lion, King of the Jungle, and they want a change. Key election concepts are explained with clever illustrations and a glossary. It’s great for big-picture questions about what’s fair and what makes a good leader. Bonus, it’s also great for character voices if you like that kind of outlet. 

Vote for Our Future!, by Margaret McNamara shows the many ways kids can get involved during election season, even before they are voting on their own. The story follows an elementary class learning and doing all they can about voting as their school becomes a polling place. Vibrant drawing of people in action let kids make observations and ask logistical questions. 

Voting is an important way that families act on their values and help determine what it’s like to grow up in this country. Children of all ages are paying attention. Will they see just how valuable each vote is?  

For additional books, DVDs, and eResources about voting for children and adults, check out the collection curated by our HCLS team here

Be sure to visit our HCLS Voter Smarts Guide 2020 for this year’s essential election information. 

Recommended Articles, Videos, & Games about Voting for Families HCLS “Let’s Vote!” On-Demand Class (K-Grade 2) & “Let’s Vote!” On-Demand Class (Grades 3-5)

Daniel Tiger: Stop, Think and Choose 

PBSKids: Let’s Vote

Common Sense Media: 17 Tips to Steer Kids Through the Political Season 

iCivics: Cast Your Vote 

Ben’s Guide to the US Government 

Emily is a Children’s Instructor & Research Specialist at HCLS Elkridge Branch.. Her family voted on how to celebrate their ballot drop-off this year. “I Voted” S’mores won in a landslide over the “I Vote” Rootbeer Float, and “I Voted” stickers.