A reversion is a rapid and near-complete collapse of democratic institutions. Retrogression is a more subtle, incremental erosion that happens simultaneously to three institutional predicates of democracy: competitive elections; rights of political speech and association; and the administrative and adjudicative rule of law. Over the past quarter century, we show that the risk of reversion has declined, while the risk of retrogression has spiked.
The United States is not exceptional, they suggest, adding that the danger of retrogression as clear and present, whereas reversion is much less likely. Since the constitutional safeguards against retrogression are weak, the near-term prospects of constitutional liberal democracy depend less on institutions than on the qualities of political leadership and popular resistance.