Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Is Democracy in Decline?

As has oft been noted, our democracy seems to be declining. It seems to have lost its lustre and to have ceased being the world's leading governmental role model.

Ever since a post Hegelian thinker declared that history had ended and that liberal democracy had won, the intelligentsia has actually bought the story. And now, with much teeth-gnashing and hand-wringing, it is noticing, as has often been remarked on this blog, that democracy is becoming a less appealing model. Underdeveloped nations in the world seem more likely to want to emulate Asian authoritarianism, via Singapore and China, than to emulate American or Western European democracy. 

Those who believe that history ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall see it all in terms of the movements of the World Spirit. They do not need to make democracy work. That happens all by itself. Evidently, they are wrong.

In truth, democracy does not seem to be working. Thus its influence is declining. Gerald Seib reports the story for the Wall Street Journal:

Frightening as that is, it also isn’t the only sign that the democratic model—long seen as the most promising force for world peace and prosperity—is in danger. By two other new measures, democracy is slipping as a global force. And by any measure, the performance of America’s own democracy is undermining its power as a model for others.

As it happens, those who favor democracy define it in idealistic terms, by how much it defends human rights, free speech and free elections. They do not talk about free enterprise economics… though, on that score, America is not doing very well either.

Seib continues:

The Freedom House, an independent organization that has monitored freedom globally for 77 years, last month released its annual democracy index, a measure of the health of democracy around the world. In doing so, it declared: “Democracy faced its most serious crisis in decades in 2017 as its basic tenets—including guarantees of free and fair elections, the rights of minorities, freedom of the press, and the rule of law—came under attack around the world.”

Freedom House found that 71 countries suffered “net declines” in political rights and civil liberties, while only 35 registered gains. “A quarter-century ago, at the end of the Cold War, it appeared that totalitarianism had at last been vanquished and liberal democracy had won the great ideological battle of the 20th century,” the report says. “Today, it is democracy that finds itself battered and weakened.”

It now rates the U.S. as a “flawed democracy” because of a polarized political system and a decline in trust in its institutions.

It’s good to have freedom of the press. And yet, the mainstream press has of late become little more than a propaganda organ for the anti-Trump resistance. Journalists command respect when they report the news and when they separate the news from opinion. If nearly every story they report is slanted to make Trump look bad and Obama look good… the press has compromised its own freedom and credibility in order to become an instrument of a leftist power grab. 

Seib believes that the American Congress has failed to find bipartisan compromise on major legislation.

Certainly the performance of America’s current, sclerotic version of democracy isn’t especially inspiring. The power of the American system is supposed to be its ability to bring people of differing views to compromises that allow action. Yet the two most significant legislative acts of the last decade—a new health-care plan under President Barack Obama and a big tax cut under President Trump—were passed and signed into law almost entirely on party-line votes. There was no compromising.

One might note that in the first case, President Obama refused to compromise with a political party he saw as the devil’s spawn. And, today’s Congressional Democrats seem to believe that they must Resist the fascists in the White House. They seem clearly to be living in a fictional world, not dealing with real world problems.

Seib concludes by pointing out that democracy is declining because Congress cannot pass legislation that the nation seems to want. Here he reveals a progressive bias:

At the moment, there are two burning issues on which public polling shows Americans have clear preferences: They want stronger background checks for gun purchasers (something the White House said Monday it also supports), and favor a path to legal status for the so-called “Dreamers,” immigrants brought here as children. Yet Congress has consistently failed in efforts to enact stronger background checks and is currently failing to devise a formula to deal with Dreamers.

When gun control legislation was passed in the early years of the Clinton administration, the American people rose up, threw out Congressional Democrats and handed Congress to the Republicans. Gun control legislation is not as popular as some people think.

For now, most Americans favor a solution to the problem of the Dreamers. Apparently, they prefer the rule of sentiment to the rule of law. And yet, we should also note that a recent poll showed that very large majorities of Americans favor securing the Southern border, ending chain migration and ending the visa lottery. Congressional Democrats will fight the good fight to keep the borders open... no matter what.

It seems slightly unfair and largely distorting to choose issues that comprise the Democratic agenda while erasing those issues where the vast majority of the people take positions that align with Trump administration policy. It's hard to imagine that Gerald Seib, one of the best news analysts out there, would make it appear that the Republican party and President Trump are, by themselves, undermining democracy. If so, and given his larger thesis, namely that the Russians are trying to undermine democracy, he seems to be intimating that the Trump administration is colluding with the Russians to bury democracy.

In truth, the Russian government is less concerned with ideological warfare than with promoting its national interest and imperial glory. When all is said and done, an America where one political party is investing its greatest energy in an effort to change the result of a fair election is not preparing to compete on the world stage against Russia or China. 


Jack Fisher said...

So someone discovered that Mr Smith Goes to Washington wasn't a documentary. I'm shocked, shocked to find that American politicians are acting like politicians have everywhere at all times acted: get elected/appointed, stay elected/appointed.

Myth 1. the Golden Age when Our Founders were of True Heart and Mind and gods walked among men, handing down the Constitution from Mt. Sinai.

Myth 2. those dirty commies in Russia and China, hive minded, striding in lock-goose-step to destroy Civilisation.

Anyone who thinks that the political systems of China, Russia nd anywhere else aren't riven with factions and infighting is delusional. The difference between our system (including public participation) and theirs is that our political bitchslapping is done in the open and almost never results in internal exile or death for the losers (Alexander Hamilton might disagree).

I suggest that most people in the world, including us, consider governance good when it delivers goods and services with a tolerable amount of taxation and limitation on liberties. The US does this in abundance, other systems not so well -- and they're starting from a far lower baseline. Not starving is a big deal for them. Comparing satisfaction levels of Chinese or Russians to that of Americans is meaningless.

Moreover, participation in our system and personal liberties have increased dramatically since the Revolution. While deplorable, it is a fact that the Constitution preserved slavery and protected the slave trade for 10 years after ratification, and enfranchisement of blacks wasn't complete until the 1960s. The problem was less so with women and Native As, but the extent of today's civil rights would have been intolerable to the Founders.

In 1861 the country was going to war over slavery; in 2018, the burning issue is whether to deport some schlub brought here as a baby. In an open society like ours, the First Amendment and social medial guarantee there's something to divide over; the degree of dissent/division isn't important because, as Patton says, Americans like a fight. Anyone who'd trade the America of 2018 for that of 1796 is either having a stroke or is, at best, naive.

Sam L. said...

This is why I will not vote for a Democrat.