Monday, January 29, 2018

Is Democracy Failing?

With the fall of the Berlin Wall liberal democracy seemed to be triumphant. After all, Francis Fukuyama, in a wild misreading of Hegel, declared that the dialectic of history would end when everyone accepted that liberal democracy was the only way to govern. The idea of democracy, accompanied by free enterprise economic policies, would triumph... because Hegel thought it was inevitable.

In truth, for those who care, Hegel himself did not see things that way. He saw the final manifestation of the World Spirit in the figure of Napoleon invading Prussia. And his views, as all post Hegelian thinkers have known, aimed more toward a police state than a liberal democracy. All good Hegelian Marxists have understood perfectly well what Hegel meant-- and it was not about the triumph of liberal democracy.

Nowadays, we are bemoaning the world’s turn away from democracy. Roger Cohen suggests that the world is reacting against democracy. Apparently, eh believes that the dialectic has not ended-- the thesis of democracy had provoked an antithetical movement, autocracy.

In America, the triumph of democracy means that America would be saved from its bigoted past by the new Messiah, Barack Obama. With the advent of Obama liberal thinkers believed that they had gained control over the minds of the American people. They were horrified to discover that they had not. When Americans elected Donald Trump to the presidency, our intelligentsia threw a massive tantrum. They could only explain it by thinking that it was the product of a vast right wing conspiracy, run out of Moscow.

Of course, we do not have a direct democracy. If you try to decide an important issue through a referendum, and if the American people vote against what the cognoscenti think is right, these same great minds will immediately repair to the courts to have the referendum declared unconstitutional.

At the beginning of the American Republic, senators were appointed, not elected. And, of course, a single voter in Wyoming has far more clout in a senatorial election than a voter in California. We do not have a direct democracy and never have.

If the world is turning away from democracy, as clearly seems to be the case, the reason might be that our democracy has become dysfunctional. We have a free market where lawyers and bureaucrats and environmentalists and other activists make it their business to slow down or to stop manufacturing and industry. In the Chinese autocracy, strangely enough, they have a less powerful regulatory state… and seem largely unwilling to allow activists to veto or delay any piece of legislation or any project that does not fulfill their expectations. As it happens the Chinese Communist Party has been sending cadres to oversee corporations-- in America we call them compliance officers.

And of course, America's obsession with talking about sex all the time makes us look decadent. If America wants to fight in the trenches for the rights of the transgendered, countries around the world are not going to want to emulate our shining example.

In the Obama years we learned how to fight the good fight against thought crimes, with little concern for the jobs lost or the slowing economic growth.  

Harvard professors Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt are deeply concerned with the ways that our democracy is becoming dysfunctional. After eight years of Obama’s defiance of democratic norms, they are happy to pay lip service to his influence and to blame it all on Republicans. The nation is divided against itself. People are at each other’s throats. The anti-Trump left has mounted a Resistance against the president and is doing everything in its power to remove him from office. Naturally, the authors blame Republicans.

Since Levitsky and Ziblatt emphasize the importance of the norms underpinning democratic governance, I will emphasize that the most basic norm is: accepting the results of fair elections, of elections that are conducted according to the rules. Those who have lost an election become part of what is called the loyal opposition. They do not attack the legitimacy of the election and do not mount a domestic insurgency in the name of a disloyal opposition—if it was anything at all, the French Resistance was a disloyal opposition.

In a New York Times op-ed the authors offer two basic norms that govern democracy:

To function well, democratic constitutions must be reinforced by two basic norms, or unwritten rules. The first is mutual toleration, according to which politicians accept their opponents as legitimate. When mutual toleration exists, we recognize that our partisan rivals are loyal citizens who love our country just as we do.

The second norm is forbearance, or self-restraint in the exercise of power. Forbearance is the act of not exercising a legal right. In politics, it means not deploying one’s institutional prerogatives to the hilt, even if it’s legal to do so.

Accepting your opponents as legitimate is a good thing. But, accepting election results is not the same thing as accepting that a  duly elected president is patriotic.

What happens when the president apologizes for the country, when he has spent two decades at the feet of a hate-America preacher, when his wife declares that she had not felt any pride in the country before her husband was nominated, when the president says that there is nothing special about the country and when he is happy to empower nations that hate America? And let’s not forget the president’s commuting the prison sentence of convicted traitor Bradley Manning, his releasing from prison FALN terrorist, Oscar Lopez Rivera and his trading five Taliban commanders for a deserter. And what about sending his National Security Advisor out to explain that deserter Bergdahl had served with honor and distinction. Let's not forget, the Obama years gave us professional football players who displayed their disloyalty to country by refusing to respect the National Anthem. As you recall, Obama said that he respected Colin Kaepernick's decision.

Call it patriotism if you like, but you are stretching the meaning of the word.

Next, the authors suggest that leaders should show forbearance, that is, they should not abuse their powers and circumvent the constitution.  About that we would certainly agree. If you go out and sign treaties, like the Paris Climate Change Accord and the Iran Nuclear Deal, and call them deals in order to circumvent the Senate’s power to ratify those treaties, you are not exercising forbearance.

If you govern by executive order… as with the Dreamers… you are not exercising forbearance.

The authors do not explain how it happens, but they do suggest that democracies are subject to polarization:

History suggests, however, that democratic norms are vulnerable to polarization. Some polarization is healthy, even necessary, for democracy. But extreme polarization can kill it. When societies divide into partisan camps with profoundly different worldviews, and when those differences are viewed as existential and irreconcilable, political rivalry can devolve into partisan hatred.

Parties come to view each other not as legitimate rivals but as dangerous enemies. Losing ceases to be an accepted part of the political process and instead becomes a catastrophe. When that happens, politicians are tempted to abandon forbearance and win at any cost. If we believe our opponents are dangerous, should we not use any means necessary to stop them?

Have the virtuous and idealistic Democratic opponents of Donald Trump treated him as a legitimate rival or as a dangerous enemy. Harvard Law Professor Laurence Tribe, a shining example of a great legal mind, completely lost control of his rational faculties and declare that Trump was the “Devil Incarnate.”  And he went on to recommend that his colleague Alan Dershowitz, a liberal Democrat himself, should not offer an opinion about obstructive of justice because said opinion might be used to perpetuate the reign of the Devil Incarnate.

The nation is polarized, but it was also polarized in 2016 when the Pew Research Center polled the nation. We note that the authors neglect to mention that the Pew survey was taken during the last year of the Obama administration, where it becomes more difficult to blame it on Donald Trump:

Yet our parties are more polarized than at any time during the last century. Whereas 50 years ago some 5 percent of either Democrats or Republicans said they would be displeased if their child married someone from the other party, today 49 percent of Republicans and 33 percent of Democrats say so. According to a recent Pew Research Center survey, 49 percent of Republicans and 55 percent of Democrats say the other party makes them “afraid.”

The authors cannot see that the fault for the polarization lies with the Obama presidency and with serious intellectuals like them, professors who are so biased that they called see straight. According to them, Senate Republicans polarized the nation by refusing to take up the nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. You recall that people took to the streets, that they protested and rioted, that they expressed full throated outrage over this horrific violation of Senatorial norms:

Perhaps the most consequential was the Senate’s refusal to take up Mr. Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. Since 1866, every time a president had an opportunity to fill a vacancy before the election of his successor, he was allowed to do so (though not always on the first try). The Senate’s refusal to even consider an Obama nominee violated a 150-year-old norm.

Since the authors barely have anything to say about the fact that their Messiah, Barack Obama, was president while the nation became increasingly polarized, we will consider them as propagandists.


trigger warning said...

My compliments. Excellent post.

art.the.nerd said...

Wow. I do not recall such anger and passion from you. Calm down, breathe deeply, and be grateful that Hillary is NOT our president.

James said...

Good post.

Sam L. said...

Not Democracy, though the slope is being greased, but Democrats certainly are.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Outstanding post, Stuart.

“All good Hegelian Marxists have understood perfectly well what Hegel meant-- and it was not about the triumph of liberal democracy.”

Ah, yes... the “police state.” With the soon-to-be released Nunes Memo, we will see how deep the rot goes (and where it emanated from: the Obama executive branch). The abuse of the surveillance state will turn a lot of heads, if the media covers it.

For all their crooning, it’s clear that Leftists don’t care about democracy. Democracy is just another tool. They simply want what they want because they are smarter and more virtuous than you. Just ask them. They are right simply because they are right. And if you don’t agree with their dripping sentimentalism, you’re a MEAN person. You’re bad. You don’t “care” like they do.

It is sanctimonious emotional domination shrouded in faux sophistication, brought on by a vacant intellect, The world of today’s self-congratulatory “smart set” is completely divorced from physical reality. These beasts — these emotional totalitarians — possess neither the creativity nor industry to actually make anything worth owning, which is why their political benefactors must flood the economy with targeted subsidies so the freeloaders may smugly subsist.

This is how we get modern art, opaque literature/oratory, horrid music, ugky fashion, worthless degrees, dehumanizing movies, and “inevitable” candidates who end up losing when subjected to the marketplace.

They tear down what other men have built — a vandalization of another’s vision and hard work. It’s rooted in deep conceit and self-loathing. It is the hallmark of barbarism.

They are destroyers.