A quarter century on, such optimism seems naive.
Consider the United States, the paragon of liberal democracy.
An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll finds that only 14 percent of the people approve of Congress and only 19 percent approve of the GOP. Seventy-one percent believe America is headed in the wrong direction.
Nor is this the exceptional crisis of a particular presidency.
JFK was assassinated. LBJ was broken by race riots and anti-war demonstrations. Richard Nixon, facing impeachment, resigned. Gerald Ford was rejected by the electorate. Ronald Reagan was highly successful -- like Nixon, he won in a 49-state landslide after his first term -- but during the Iran-Contra scandal of 1987 there was a real threat of a second impeachment. And Bill Clinton was impeached.
Our democracy seems to be at war with itself.
Now there is talk of impeaching Obama. It will become a clamor should he grant executive amnesty to 5 million illegal immigrants.
Political science has long described what seems to be happening.
From the tribal leader comes the monarch, whose reign gives way to an aristocracy that produces a middle class that creates a republic, the degenerative form of which is that pure democracy of which John Adams wrote:
"Democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There is never a democracy that did not commit suicide." Then comes the strong man again.
Is that our future? Is Western democracy approaching the end of its tether, with the seeming success of authoritarian capitalism in China and Russia? Recent history provides us with examples.
World War I, begun 100 years ago, brought down many of the reigning monarchs of Europe. The caliph of the Ottoman Empire was sent packing by Kemal Ataturk. Czar Nicholas II was murdered on the orders of the usurper Vladimir Lenin.
Fighting off a Bolshevik invasion, Marshal Pilsudski rose to power in Poland. Admiral Miklos Horthy ran the communists out of Budapest and took the helm. Mussolini led the 1922 March on Rome. Hitler's Beer Hall Putsch in 1923 failed, but his party utilized democracy's institutions to seize power and murder democracy. Out of the Spanish Civil War came the dictatorship of Gen. Franco. And so it went.
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