Vox gives as its evidence five propositions. The first is that Americans trust our political institutions less. This is true. We talk about the "Confidence in Institutions" poll every year, and it's been a disastrous couple of decades for American institutions for the most part. However, it isn't just the political institutions that Americans trust less. Only three institutions garner majority trust: the military, small business, and the police. Two of those are government institutions, but not democratic ones -- coercive ones. The Federal institutions garner less than a third of voters for the Executive/Judicial branches, with Congress only getting 8% trust.
The general trend in that poll, though, has been for Americans to trust institutions in general less. Banks are down from the upper 50s to the 20s; organized religion from the 60s to the 40s. Public schools are down from the upper 50s to the upper 20s. Newspapers are down from around forty percent to the 25 percent range.
The police and the military are mostly unchanged, which is the real mark of their success. The military's historic low came after Vietnam, but with the odd high attached to momentary military victories, it's been right around where it is. The police are 52% in the beginning, 52% now. Faith in the criminal justice system is very low, but it's improved over the years: Americans expressing confidence in that institution rose from the teens into the twenties.
So it seems as if the issue isn't democracy, here, it's a collapsing faith in institutions generally. That could indicate a rising tide of individualism, which has certainly been observed during the same period (the mid-1970s to the present).
Next up is "young Americans giving up on politics." Eh, youngsters have always been bad about showing up to vote. That's generally good for democracy, as they don't yet understand the world they live in. This is proven by the third argument, which has to do with whether young people perceive it as "essential" to live in a democracy. Far fewer do than their elders -- but that's how they've been educated. They've also been taught to believe a lot of other nonsense they'll sort out in the real world. The other propositions they offer about America are for increasing support for fringe positions ("I hope the military takes over" garners support from 1 in 6 -- but it's a proposition I'll bet is disproportionately disfavored by actual veterans of the military).
What about the Defense One argument?
You can’t beat a surging ideology with no ideology or higher sense of purpose. In the face of the persistent challenge of violent Islamist extremism and the global recession of freedom, what the world has needed is a powerful reaffirmation of the universal relevance of liberal values. Instead, the democratic West has been retreating into moral relativism and illiberal impulses.Hm, now that does sound familiar. Even here in America, we've seen some evidence if "moral relativism" and "illiberal impulses" from the ruling party. Rigged votes are the order of the day in Congress -- the Iran deal, for example, was an exercise in pretending from start to finish. The Clinton campaign's weekend ploy with the DNC is another example, but the Clinton strategy is fundamentally anti-democratic: the real strength of her campaign is in having used a political machine to round up the superdelegates of the party, making it nearly impossible for actual voters to choose another candidate than her. The DNC has structured itself in such a way as to insulate itself from democracy.
The assault on liberal values has been a defining feature of the democratic recession. During the past decade, democracy has typically ended not with tanks rolling in the streets or the president shutting down parliament, but rather in suffocating increments: with a regime steadily rigging elections, limiting opposition rights, taming independent media, and criminalizing the work of independent organizations.
My sense is that the real fear isn't that democracy may be losing strength, but that the people may be electing the wrong kind of candidates. Both authors suggest that the rise of right-wing nativist parties represents an enemy of democracy or at least of 'the universal values of liberalism.' That's not clear to me. It may be that one of the universal values is love of home, love of country, love of the way of life that is one's own. That's not incompatible with liberalism. It is incompatible with overarching super-governments that force everyone to live by all and only the same rules and not enforce border controls.
That's the common flaw of the US Federal government and the EU right now. The reaction against both is, I think, fundamentally democratic. It's the people who are furious about it, and who are going to the polls to try and stop it. They are doing so by electing political parties that organize for the purpose of running in democratic elections.
Someone is losing faith in democracy, but it isn't these people.