A New Playbook for Saving Democracy
My essay in today's New York Times, on six principles for building a pro-democracy movement that can outcompete fascism
This is a big week in our household. Tomorrow is the official publication day for THE PERSUADERS, my new book. Thank you to those who joined Priya and me for a special Zoom tea from our living room yesterday to talk about it.
Today I can finally share with you a big essay I’ve been working on, adapted from the book but distinct from it, for months.
It is titled, somewhat audaciously, “A New Playbook for Saving Democracy.” And it aspires to offer something as bold as that. Having spent the last few years reporting on organizers and activists and educators and others who have found ways to grow support for real multi-racial democracy even in a time of fracture and fury, I tried to mine the lessons I had learned from them into a program for reimagining what a pro-democracy movement that can defeat fascism and deliver real progress looks like.
But first: To say it plainly, I need your help. I really believe the people I profile in THE PERSUADERS can teach us new ways to save democracy in this dark hour. I want this book to spread far and wide and, frankly, to be unignorable. Ordering it in the first week makes such a difference, sending a signal to bookstores and other institutions that this book matters. So please consider ordering it today here:
And forward this email as widely as you’d like to anyone interested in these ideas.
The New York Times
A New Playbook for Saving Democracy
Oct. 17, 2022
By Anand Giridharadas
Mr. Giridharadas is the author, most recently, of “The Persuaders: At the Front Lines of the Fight for Hearts, Minds, and Democracy.”
Polls swing this way and that way, but the larger story they tell is unmistakable. With the midterm elections, Americans are being offered a clear choice between continued and expanded liberal democracy, on the one hand, and fascism, on the other. And it’s more or less a dead heat.
It is time to speak an uncomfortable truth: The pro-democracy side is at risk not just because of potential electoral rigging, voter suppression and other forms of unfair play by the right, as real as those things are. In America (as in various other countries), the pro-democracy cause — a coalition of progressives, liberals, moderates, even decent Republicans who still believe in free elections and facts — is struggling to win the battle for hearts and minds.
The pro-democracy side can still very much prevail. But it needs to go beyond its present modus operandi, a mix of fatalism and despair and living in perpetual reaction to the right and policy wonkiness and praying for indictments. It needs to build a new and improved movement — feisty, galvanizing, magnanimous, rooted and expansionary — that can outcompete the fascists and seize the age.
I believe pro-democracy forces can do this because I spent the past few years reporting on people full of hope who show a way forward, organizers who refuse to give in to fatalism about their country or its citizens. These organizers are doing yeoman’s work changing minds and expanding support for true multiracial democracy, and they recognize what more of their allies on the left must: The fascists are doing as well as they are because they understand people as they are and cater to deep unmet needs, and any pro-democracy movement worth its salt needs to match them at that — but for good.
In their own circles and sometimes in public, these organizers warn that the right is outcompeting small-d democrats in its psychological insight into voters and their anxieties, its messaging, its knack for narrative, its instinct to make its cause not just a policy program but also a home offering meaning, comfort and belonging. They worry, meanwhile, that their own allies can be hamstrung by a naïve and high-minded view of human nature, a bias for the wonky over the guttural, a self-sabotaging coolness toward those who don’t perfectly understand, a quaint belief in going high against opponents who keep stooping to new lows and a lack of fight and a lack of talent at seizing the mic and telling the kinds of galvanizing stories that bend nations’ arcs.
The organizers I’ve been following believe they have a playbook for a pro-democracy movement that can go beyond merely resisting to winning. It involves more than just serving up sound public policy and warning that the other side is dangerous; it also means creating an approachable, edifying, transcendent movement to dazzle and pull people in. For many on the left, embracing the organizers’ playbook will require leaving behind old habits and learning new ones. What is at stake, of course, is everything.
And if you haven’t yet, get a copy of THE PERSUADERS in your hands. I promise it will give you what the people I reported on gave me — hope, at very long last.