Sometimes, you wonder if the world is doomed to descend into autocracy. Certainly, that’s what the coverage of the past few years suggests. We read about the nations that are already there, like China and Russia, of course, and Saudi Arabia and Iran. Or about countries like Hungary, Turkey and Poland that are nominally democratic but have been trending less so.  

What strikes me most about this discussion of a global decline in democratic norms and values, however, is how little coverage has gone to places where democracy remains robust. How much do you read about countries that are performing well on this front, places like Norway, Iceland, Sweden, New Zealand, Denmark, Canada, Ireland, Switzerland, Finland or Australia? Asking the question pretty much answers it. 

These are strong, stable democracies. They have a healthy electoral process, their governments function admirably, political participation is robust, and civil liberties remain core to their identity. Amid concerns about democracy’s future, they’re shining examples of its staying power.

 There’s no question that there’s reason for concern. Plenty of countries, including some of those above, are home to anti-democratic movements that reject the basic freedoms, civil liberties and pluralism that we associate with democracy. Moreover, unhappiness with the way democracy is working appears to be rising. 

One key to what’s going on in this country may lie in a Pew poll from earlier this summer: Americans see declining trust in both the federal government and in one another. They cite poor government performance, fear about the corruption of the political process by monied interests and a general rise in disrespect for others and their beliefs.

 Moreover, I’m struck over and over by the extent to which people I encounter lack confidence in elected leaders today. And people believe that our political leaders, both in Washington and in the state capitals, are failing to confront the big problems that concern people: drugs, health care, affordability, education, good jobs and ethical conduct.

Yet here’s the thing: over the course of countless public meetings over the years, I don’t ever recall anyone rejecting the Constitution or representative democracy itself.  

What may be most interesting about the poll I cite above is that even as Americans express their dissatisfaction, they also recognize the stakes and want to see things turned around. They believe that low trust in government and in one another make it more difficult to govern effectively, and by a hefty margin believe it’s possible to improve on both fronts. Greater transparency, more effective restrictions on the role of money in politics, and more “honesty and cooperation” among political leaders, they told pollsters, would boost confidence. Similarly, they believe more cooperation among ordinary citizens would help rebuild trust in one another. These are, of course, among the bedrock values of representative democracy. 

There’s one other point from which I take great hope: younger people, on the whole, seem to be more inclusive and tolerant in their views than their elders, and they have a more positive view of the role of government. On the whole, the older people I meet tend to be more cynical and pessimistic; younger voters — on issues from immigration to social inclusiveness — tend to be more expansive. Time, in other words, is on the side of democratic values.  

So while I would never urge complacency in the face of the assaults we’re seeing on democratic norms, both here and elsewhere, I’m not pessimistic. Democracies have great internal strength, and they give cause for optimism that the core democratic processes of deliberation, compromise, negotiation, and cooperation will, in the end, endure.

Mr. Hamilton is a senior adviser for the Indiana University Center on Representative Government.

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