The Democracy Doomsayers Consider 2020

“Democracy dies when there is no support for democracy, when people don’t believe in it,” she said. “Here, Trump is meeting with resistance by institutions at every step.”

No matter how one analyzes it, the troubled times have brought a boom for these scholars. “How Democracies Die,” written by Mr. Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, also a professor at Harvard, became one of the rare books to make it both to best-seller lists and the undergraduate political science syllabus circuit. And many of his colleagues saw their careers buoyed by current events, too.

At the recent conference in Cornell on the topic of democratic resilience in America, Robert Lieberman, the former provost of Johns Hopkins University, couldn’t resist the urge to pull up a mock-up of his new book cover with the title “Four Threats.” It featured a minimalist landscape of dark, foreboding waves.

“The book wouldn’t exist if Trump weren’t president,” he said of his manuscript, an analysis of breakdowns of American democratic norms after the republic’s founding including the 1790s, the Civil War, the Gilded Age, the Great Depression and Watergate.

The Trump presidency, in some ways, was the reason for the conference itself, giving a kind of urgency to those gathered around the table rarely seen at academic gatherings.

Jennifer McCoy, a professor at Georgia Sate who spent years monitoring Mr. Chávez’s elections in Venezuela, presented charts of discontent with democracy in Zimbabwe, comparing them with downward trends among Americans. Kenneth M. Roberts, who teaches comparative Latin American politics at Cornell, showed research that the Republican Party had swung further to the right than most right-wing parties in Europe.

A sense of disbelief seemed to take hold of the room when Lilliana Mason, a government and politics professor at the University of Maryland, began to show the results of a survey she had conducted among voters on the issue of political violence around the 2018 midterms. While 77 percent had said they were against violence of any sort, around 20 percent appeared willing to tolerate some kind of violence in politics.