November 25, 2020

Is Democracy Backsliding?

Today, of course, marks the terminus of voting for the U.S. 2020 electoral season. By this evening, some 140-150 million Americans will have voted; about 60 percent of eligible voters. Experts predict it will be a record.

That sounds like a win for democracy. And certainly it is better than when large groups of the population were prohibited or greatly discouraged from voting. In the United States today, any citizen over 18 who is not a felon can, with few exceptions, choose whom they want to represent them: from the local school board to the President of the world’s most powerful country.

And yet all is not well. And I am not primarily talking about the Electoral College, though that makes my vote for President considerable less weighty than if I lived in Pennsylvania or Florida. I’m thinking of other things.

Freedom House, the Washington-based bipartisan think tank, has, since 1973, it has published “Freedom in the World,” an annual country-by-country report that has been called the “Michelin Guide to democracy’s development.”

The latest edition recorded the fourteenth straight year of deteriorating freedom around the world; sixty-four countries have lost liberties in the past year, while only thirty-seven registered improvements.  Its assessment of the United States is also disturbing. In 2009, the U.S. had a score of ninety-four, out of a hundred, which ranked it near the top, just behind Germany, Switzerland, and Estonia. In the decade since, it has slipped eight points; it now ranks behind Greece, Slovakia, and Mauritius.

Looking at the United States, Freedom House analysts note the types of trends that they more customarily assign to fragile corners of the globe: “pressure on electoral integrity, judicial independence, and safeguards against corruption. Fierce rhetorical attacks on the press, the rule of law, and other pillars of democracy coming from American leaders, including the president himself.”

It is, of course, tempting to lay all this at the feet of Trump. But this trend is worldwide. And, interestingly, some scholars and advocates tend to identify a point of origin well before the election of 2016. According to Protect Democracy, a legal-watchdog group dedicated to combatting the rise of authoritarianism in America, “the growth and spread of democracies that defined the 20th Century peaked in the early days of the 21st; since 2005, the state of democracies around the world has receded.”

A picture is worth a thousand words:

Sander Klous on Twitter: "Interesting? Worrying? Dictatorship versus democracy. (De)centralization of #Trust in a #SmartSociety @nartwielaard… "What’s going on? Well, for the U.S. at least the reality is that the votes of the average citizen do not shape actual public policy, as we can see from this analysis, from The Atlantic:

Across a range of issues, public policy does not reflect the preferences of the majority of Americans. If it did, the country would look radically different: Marijuana would be legal and campaign contributions more tightly regulated; paid parental leave would be the law of the land and public colleges free; the minimum wage would be higher and gun control much stricter; abortions would be more accessible in the early stages of pregnancy and illegal in the third trimester.

The subversion of the people’s preferences in our supposedly democratic system was explored in a 2014 study by the political scientists Martin Gilens of Princeton and Benjamin I. Page of Northwestern. Four broad theories have long sought to answer a fundamental question about our government: Who rules? One theory, the one we teach our children in civics classes, holds that the views of average people are decisive. Another theory suggests that mass-based interest groups such as the AARP have the power. A third theory predicts that business groups such as the Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America and the National Beer Wholesalers Association carry the day. A fourth theory holds that policy reflects the views of the economic elite.

Gilens and Page tested those theories by tracking how well the preferences of various groups predicted the way that Congress and the executive branch would act on 1,779 policy issues over a span of two decades. The results were shocking. Economic elites and narrow interest groups were very influential: They succeeded in getting their favored policies adopted about half of the time, and in stopping legislation to which they were opposed nearly all of the time. Mass-based interest groups, meanwhile, had little effect on public policy. As for the views of ordinary citizens, they had virtually no independent effect at all. “When the preferences of economic elites and the stands of organized interest groups are controlled for, the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy,” Gilens and Page wrote.

That is sobering. And the authors did get a lot of pushback on this study. But their point, that the vote of the average American has a minuscule effect on public policy, needs to be added to other factors that affect the way democracy works in western countries.:

  • Globalization, automation and immigration have created serious economic disruptions for large swaths of society.
  • This economic disruption has not affected the various classes within society equally. The wealthy, educated and connected grow more wealthy and powerful, while blue collar families grow less so.
  • The long era during which average Americans grew more wealthy has come to a sputtering stop. At the age of 30, more than nine in 10 Americans born in 1940 were earning more than their parents had at the same stage of their lives. But according to eye-popping research led by the economist Raj Chetty,  among those Americans born in the early 1980s, only half earn more than their parents did at a similar age.
  • Lobbying has fundamentally warped how public policy is formed, and it does so in favor of large corporations. For every dollar spent on lobbying by labor unions and public-interest groups, large corporations and their associations now spend $34. Of the 100 organizations that spend the most on lobbying, 95 consistently represent business.
  • The insane amount of money needed for modern campaigns forces candidates and elected officials to spend time with and seek funds from the elites and special interests. A model schedule for freshman members of Congress prepared a few years ago by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee instructs them to spend about four hours every day cold-calling donors for cash.
  • Gerrymandering has combined with increasing geographic self-sorting to create many congressmen who simply have no motivation to cooperate in a decent and democratic way with the opposite party. This is mirrored in the electorate, who increasingly consume news only from media companies that align with their viewpoints.

We are tempted to look at Donald Trump as a unique threat to democracy in the United States. Of course, many of the things he says and does (like refusing to agree before the election to a peaceful transition of power) do threaten democracy.

But Trump is more the result than the cause of Democracy’s backsliding. 

And unless we get that, we are just setting ourselves up for another so-called strong man, who might actually be effectual and strategic.

Donald Trump won the presidency for many reasons, not just one.  But a deep feeling of powerlessness and voicelessness among voters was especially important.  Those who voted for Trump in the Republican primaries, more than those who supported his competition, said that they “don’t have any say about what the government does,” that “public officials don’t care much what people like me think,” and that “most politicians care only about the interests of the rich and powerful.”

In other words, the emotion Trump tapped into was resentment. Resentment against the elites, the wealthy and well-connected, against the powerful. And this emotion has not disappeared.

Of course, Trump had no intention of giving power back to the people. He filled his cabinet with the elites and gave tax breaks to the wealthy. At the halfway mark of President Donald Trump’s first term, his administration had hired a lobbyist for every 14 political appointments made, welcoming a total of 281 lobbyists on board. The number of lobbyists who have served in government jobs is four times more than the Obama administration had six years into office.

No, the swamp did not get drained. But the fact that so many voters fervently hoped it would will not be lost on future candidates.

It will not be lost on the next strongman, who combines populist rhetoric with a cunning  and persuasion and discipline that Trump could never match. This is the great danger of a backslidden democracy.

Comments

  1. Susan Dumbrell says

    My vision, as shown on TV, as I see the US election from the safety of my lounge room and a stable government, for the USA tomorrow and in the coming weeks or days is grim.
    Regardless of which candidate wins the Presidency there will be so many wanting an alternative to the elected candidate.

    I have bought in my supply of chocolate and a nice bottle of wine and will sit in front of my TV tomorrow and pray for sanity to win or at least for a semblance of order to prevail.

    I am afraid of any candidate who wins and is inaugurated on 20th Jan and will then have his hand on the ‘red button’ or whatever it is now called, and can then dictate world politics and shall I say, ‘world peace’?

    A man full of every day lies and gross handling of the Covid19 crisis and lack of moral fortitude does not deserve to have such power over the entire world. The position of US president does have such power and needs to use it carefully not by whim and his latest fancy or twitter.

    How can he sleep at night? Oh sorry he doesn’t, he tweets during the night non stop.

    Susan

    Susan

    • Christiane says

      Please pray for us, Susan.

      • Susan Dumbrell says

        I do, continuously.

        May tomorrow give us hope.
        May the good Lord watch over all of us.
        Keep us under His sheltering wings and keep us from the evil one..

        Susan

    • Burro (Mule) says

      Thank you for your prayers, Susan.

    • Clay Crouch says

      Yes, Susan, it is grim. Your prayers are much appreciated.

    • Susan, every POTUS during his/her time in office has control of the nuclear football. A military aide-de-camp follows him at all times with this briefcase within reach, and from this remote control the President can order the launch of nuclear missiles based solely on coded authentication that he is actually President, no other reason required or permitted to be asked for by those he calls to be authenticate his identity.

  2. At this point the U.S. seems to me more like an oligarchy dominated by the rich and powerful, with some democratic institutions and processes that serve mostly as window dressing that allows the oligarchs to point and say, “See, a great democracy!” And in the last few years under Trump the power of the oligarchs has increased tremendously; under the thin guise of “Drain the Swamp!” — a guise that many of my fellow Americans have swallowed hook, line, and sinker — a battle between oligarchs has taken place, a kind of tug of war, the net effect of which has been even more concentration of power and influence in their collective hands.

  3. The POTUS has predicted violence in the streets as a result of the SCOTUS provisional decision to allow the count mail-in ballots received in PA after Election Day. This will surely be taken by his most fanatical supporters to mean that there SHOULD BE VIOLENCE in response to the purported injustice of that decision. If there is violence today or in the next few days due to the count of these mail-in ballots leading to the defeat of Donald Trump in the election, it is certain that his words will have been a major contributor and cause of it.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      What a fine justification for all those FEMA Emergency Presidential Powers and Martial Law by Executive Order!

      “The only thing that matters this November will be LAW AND ORDER!”
      — Eagle’s regular Bible-quoting Trump-fanatic Troll (who is genuinely SCARY)

    • Trump should be Locked up-why is what he is doing not criminal?. What other American President has ever stoked violence as he has and no Senators, Congresspeople. etc speak out publicly. I am in hope that lots of R’s have unemployment in their immediate political futures.

      Call it Karma or reaping or sowing, but the time is now for them to return to private life IMO.

      • Christiane says

        Our Republican senators dropped the ball by not putting common sense breaks on Trump’s crazy. IF some of the are defeated by democrats, I can imagine that their dereliction of duty to the country is a big part of that result.

        We thrive as a two-party system ONLY if the elected members of Congress support the US Constitution’s framework of ‘checks and balances’ and also support the ‘separation of powers’.

        When the Republican senators walked away from their duty as Americans to their country and its Constitution, they contributed to the ‘chaos’ that ensued . . . . may they today be held accountable by those who sent them to work for their constituents but only with the understanding that they were devoted to their country and its rule of law.

        We shall see. Two paths ahead which diverge greatly. This is a strange time. I have to think that there is still enough of the old ones among us voting to remember the past and enough of the youngest voters to have hope for their future in a healthy environment, and also a core of voters who ‘just say no’ to proxy tyranny-by-bully. We are strong=built here. We are not at heart a people who torment innocent little children in camps, no. If we have become that, we will no longer be a strong people.

  4. Adam Tauno Williams says

    > Of the 100 organizations that spend the most on lobbying…

    Of course. Union membership down to 12% of employees. Participation in / Affiliation with nearly all types of groups has cratered.

    We’ve forgotten how Democracy works. And the psychological impulse of our culture works against us; it is like the person who says “I’m lonely, so I’ll just stay home”.

    If people do not ‘join’ then there is no money. If people do not ‘join’ there is no mandate. There are only two sources of power: money and feet. We want someone else to “do it”, so someone else does.

    To the American’s whining about the swamp the appropriate response is: “booo f_____ whoo, shut up and get off your enabling a__.”. If their response is the lazy arrogant self-involved self-righteous “oh, I don’t do politics”, then just walk away, they aren’t worth the breath.

    One the other hand: this election cycle likely represents the highest participation in history. We’ve seen the largest civil demonstrations IN AMERICAN HISTORY. The gatherings we have seen dwarf those of the 1960s. And the spectrum of participation has been wide. Tides change, if they didn’t they wouldn’t be tides. Those like David Brooks bemoaning an the civic sloth need to check the numbers.

    • +10000

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      “Highest voter participation in history” does not matter if the SCOTUS Fix Is In.

      All those Third World dictatorships have voter participation of OVER 100%.
      All OVER 100% for Fearless Leader.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says

        Of course it still matters.

        High participation means people are engaged; that will not simply evaporate after the election. Humans don’t work that way.

    • If DT has done one thing, it is to get people like me, generally “meh” about politics, emotionally engaged — at least for this election.

      • Tom Parker says

        He has done this for many people, and hopefully to his and other Republican candidates detriment. I am hoping for a Blue Tsunami tonight!

  5. The main function of democracy is peaceful transfer of power.

    As Susan says, in the case of US and this particular election, it doesn’t look good whichever way the vote goes. Witness the boarded-up shops. It’s ironic (and disconcerting) that each side assumes it’s the other side’s supporters that will be the source of violence.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      > The main function of democracy is peaceful transfer of power.

      No, this notion has led to exactly this problem.

      That is not the purpose of democracy.

      The purpose of democracy is to roughly actualize a consensus of the citizens.

      Democracy is not about elections; elections are merely one feature of democracy. Democracy happens 365 days a year. Viewing democracy as about transferring power is reducing democracy to a means of regulating oligarchy. If that is what democracy is: i say “burn it down”.

      > Witness the boarded-up shops.

      This isn’t new. We haven’t seen it for awhile. Political unrest, and violent unrest, is as American as Apple Pie [Whiskey Rebellion?] What about the too-many-to-list racial massacres of the 1910s & 1920s. Wall street was bombed in 1920. The Milwaukee Police Department was bombed in 1917. The 16th St. church bombing of 1963. And those are just the major ones.

      It certainly isn’t great, yet maybe this heralds a return of Democracy.

      • I agree with your comment entirely, except it’s cherry pie. “Violence is as American as cherry pie.” — H. Rap Brown

        • Adam Tauno Williams says

          I like nearly all kinds of pie. If I had my choice it would usually be bourbon pecan. In all cases best with very strong coffee.

          • Christiane says

            PLUS A THOUSAND !

            Adam, you might like my family’s Christmas rum cake. Also great with strong coffee.

      • I did say the “main” function of democracy.

        If it doesn’t even do that, there’s no way all the other things you add are going to happen.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says

          > “main” function of democracy

          Point.

          > If it doesn’t even do that, ..

          Still think it works the other way around. Without vital political parties, controlled from their center not their fringes, elections don’t work well. The political party is the central apparatus of democracy, not the government.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Witness the boarded-up shops.

      And that the latest empty-shelves shortages are Guns and Ammunition.
      Like toilet paper six months ago, the gun stores can’t keep any in stock for more than a few minutes.
      And like toilet paper six months ago, hope you have an Insider Connection….

      • Adam Tauno Williams says

        > empty-shelves shortages are Guns and Ammunition

        I do wonder how much of this is people who already have an ammo cache buying **MORE**.

        I know people with barrels of guns and ammunition buried in their yards. No doubt more holes are getting dug as we speak.

        I suspect there is a compulsive anxiety related behavior at work.

      • Wonder why they need guns and ammunition for this moment in time? I hope they realize their actions will have current and future consequences.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says

          > Wonder why they need guns and ammunition for this moment in time?

          It’s akin to anxiety eating.

          • It’s just consumerism. The amount of money a person is willing to pay for something equals it actual utility plus the emotional enjoyment they get from making the purchase and owning the item. In the case of guns and ammo, if that object represents safety, control over your life, feeling powerful, masculinity, etc., someone will spend a huge amount of money for those emotional benefits even if the actual item they’re buying does them no good or even makes them *less* safe.

            • Andrew Zook says

              No wonder some of these people can’t get out of the economic hole… imagine what that money could actually go for and do… for their families, their communities, etc?
              Lord have mercy, we have some ……. people in this country.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            The feel that we are all one hiccup away from Mad Max: Fury Road.
            A secularized form of “Any Minute Now…” Armageddon without a Rapture.

            As described in this essay by SF writer Cory Doctorow:
            https://slate.com/technology/2020/10/cory-docotorow-sci-fi-intuition-pumps.html

            • Headless Unicorn Guy says

              In short, they NEED all those Guns and Ammunition for when their neighbors turn on them when everything goes Road Warrior overnight.

              Just like the Survivalists of the late Cold War:
              “When Push Comes to Shove, the most plentiful food source in the cities will be Human Flesh. Prepare to Do What Needs To Be Done to SURVIVE!!!!!”

  6. Tom Parker says

    Dissertations will be written about the rapid decline of Democracy under the 1 Term of Trump. Much will also be written of the almost complete complicity of Republican Senators, Congresspersons, Evangelicals, etc. Biden’s bus is ambushed and were is the condemnation from Republicans?

    I do not think an honest assessment of these last four years will yield many positives IMO.

    • Well my voice doesn’t count for much but I am a Republican and I found it disgusting, and the president’s response equally disgusting. I hate that sort of harassment and intimidation no matter what side it is coming from.

      • The thing is, the sort of intimidation and open flouting of democratic norms seems to be backfiring for the Republicans. I haven’t seen the Democratic base this onfire and turned out in my lifetime. Early voting and mail ins have broken all records. If in person voting matches that pace, and the polls reflect peoples’ choices, the Republicans are in deep doodoo.

        • The GOP’s antics have definitely backfired. I started voting in the mid 1970s and voted solidly Republican for over 30 years. The Obama years and the rise of the Tea Party revealed to me the racist, violent underbelly of the GOP. Supposedly good Christian people I knew hated Obama with such passion it extended beyond all reason. I heard him called a monkey, the ni**er-in-chief, and an illegal immigrant. The rise of Trump had me voting in the 2018 mid-term and this election straight ticket Dem. I had never in my life voted straight ticket for any party but the current iteration of the Republican Party is not something I can support, ever. Nor my children, nor my husband, nor a great many friends who had always considered themselves conservative.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          I remember reading recently that when a county in crisis doesn’t have a strong Conservative Party, what Conservative Party it has will react in “Elite Panic” and grab at any straw (or any means necessary) to keep what they have against the ravening hordes of Reavers.

          And that this was the reason so many countries went Fascist during the Great Depression – a weak Conservative movement making a Faustian Bargain with an incoming Strongman for their own survival and preserved position. After losing the respect of the people, all they have on their side is a Fanatical Base. (Or the up-and-coming Strongman provides the Base of Fanatics — HIS Fanatics — for them. For a price, of course.)

      • Adam Tauno Williams says

        If things go well I look forward to a fracturing of the Republican party, and a much healthier Conservative voice emerging. Hopefully purged of its White Supremacist affiliations.

      • Clay Crouch says

        Jon, I’m sure you are a fine person and I appreciate your disgust for the bus escapade and Trump’s response. But, as a former life long Republican (this year I registered as an Independent), I’m sick and tired of the evangelical right excusing and many times applauding the president’s wicked behavior. He has no business in the Peoples’ House. I hope your conversations here have at the least caused you to pause and examine what the last four years have done to our country. The thought of twelve more years of the same should scare the hell of you. Yes, twelve more years. Mike Pence, whom I consider to be even worse than Trump, is waiting in the wings with bated breath.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          To American Christians, Trump Is LOOOOORD.
          They worship Trump, they adore Trump, they praise Trump for his Glory.
          Trump Without End, AAAAAAAAA-MENNNNNN!

          And Pence?
          Devout CHRISTIAN Pence?
          Supreme Commander of Holy Gilead-in-Waiting?
          (Unfortunately, he has the wrong last name/family connection for the Succession.)

          • Pence has been knighted during his debate as ‘the Lord of the Flies’, but he shows his cards so openly that we know what may be to come under his ‘Commander-ship’ of Gilead.

            • Lord of the Fly. There was one. Good thing he didn’t eat it like Dracula’s Renfield ate the bugs in his asylum cell.

          • He may have the wrong last name/family connection for succession, but he will be successfully thrown under the Trump Train when the time comes.

        • Clay, I’m staying out of Democrat vs Republican debates today. As far as Pence goes I disagree that he would be worse and that he is next in line. My suspicion and fear is that it will be another Trump, most likely Ivanka

          • Pence is a political triangulation artist. And the Republican primary base has proven time and again that they have no interest in triangulators.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            Or Donald Junior and Ivanka go dagger/poison/Red Wedding on each other for Daddy’s Iron Throne.

            Maybe with Barron being ignored until one day (like Claudius) he finds he’s the last one left and gets put on the Throne by default.

        • The evangelical Right will pay a high price for aligning themselves with Trump and they deserve it.

          • Christiane says

            I’m afraid you are right, Tom. But our fundamentalist-evangelicals are also a part of the Body of Christ and it’s their witness that is needed for the whole Church . . . . . we are all wounded but there are times when our ‘witness’ of pointing to Christ helps others and there are times when we Christians ‘give scandal’ that drives people away from the Church . . . .

            like it or not, the whole Church is affected by the problems of one of its parts and as difficult as it is to imagine, we cannot ‘cut off’ or abandon people in trouble, we as ‘Church’ must find a way to try to understand what happened with fundamentalist-evangelicals so that we, in our own minds, can separate what is harmful in their outlook from them, as persons that we care about, and try to re-focus them on Christ. I don’t know the way to do this, but I know it is what must be done for the sake of the whole Church. We do not stone our own. But best how to bandage the wound?

            • Tom Parker says

              I do not see how these evangelicals can be a witness for Christ after their time fully supporting Trump. It would take massive repentance IMO for any one to take them seriously again.

              I do not see the practical way to restore them to their Pre-Trump evangelical position. Just my 2 cents worth.

              • Tom, I don’t know how to fix things. I just know that the Church, as ‘Church’, has to try.

  7. “The results were shocking. Economic elites and narrow interest groups were very influential: They succeeded in getting their favored policies adopted about half of the time, and in stopping legislation to which they were opposed nearly all of the time.”

    For anybody who actually pays attention, this is actually one of the least shocking things a study has ever discovered.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      > one of the least shocking thing

      Agree.

    • One question worth pondering.

      Daniel rightly identifies the global dimension to this. When you have unregulated global entities such as Facebook, to pick a name out of the air, whose data allows the manipulators to target the sense of resentment with laser precision for 50 million Americans, I contend you have a major problem.

  8. https://www.cnbc.com/2020/10/16/wall-street-donors-line-up-behind-biden-in-massive-third-quarter-fundraising-haul.html

    Biden/Democrats lead big time in donations from the mega rich, tech masters/feudal lords and Wall Street? Why?, China policy, globalism and public works slush funds. We are turning into a feudal society. Biden typical, old school political hack owned by Delaware banks, credit card and insurance companies. He is the new progressive. Biden extremely wealthy, four homes and been public employee 48 years?

    • OTOH, there is a strong component in the Democratic Party that has expressed interest in dealing with those problems (and been slandered as “socialists” for doing so). Where are the voices in the Republican Party who would do the same?

      • Adam Tauno Williams says

        > Where are the voices in the Republican Party who would do the same?

        They’ve defected to the Democratic Party. This cycle has hollowed out the Republican Party.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          The only Republicans left in the Party all have the Mark of the Trump on Forehead AND Right Hand.

      • Burro (Mule) says

        Slandered as “populists”, or “racists”

        There may be a considerable number of actual socialists and actual racists in that mix, but hey! don’t they get a say as well?

        What ken said is the unpalatable truth. We are tossing off King Stork and going back to King Log.

        Trump’s appeal to his base was not so much that he ‘would keep the duskies in their place’, no matter how badly the Evolved want to believe that about them, but that he represented, for the first time in like forever, government by a human rather than government by algorithm. If he had been a better human, the experiment may have worked out better

        • Burro (Mule) says

          Unfortunately, he didn’t want to ‘drain the swamp’ as much as he wanted to build his own swamp, and make it a place where all the crocodiles, bears, and serpents would feel right at home, but with him in charge.

          I think he always keenly felt the fact that he was never welcome in the real swamp.

        • Hey, if they quietly assent to the practical racist outworkings of this administration, then yes, they *are* practically speaking racist. They don’t get to have their populist cake and eat their “I’m not racist” cake too.

          • Burro (Mule) says

            Yeah, well, I think every white American has come to the conclusion that they’re racist, so the epiphet has lost considerable acidity. The scramble in the post-Trump era will be the same as it ever was: what noises will we have to make to keep the race Stasi off our cases and keep our jobs?

            • Clay Crouch says

              Though it might assuage some of your angst, you couldn’t be more wrong. The vast majority of white Americans truly believe there is not a racist bone in their body. ALL LIVES MATTER! SYSTEMIC RACISM IS A FALLACY!

    • Yeah but it’s the Republicans who are portraying Biden as a LiberalLeftistSocialist., If the Democrats are as successful in this election as they might be a war will immediately breakout for the future of the Democratic party between the old guard and the new folks. Biden is probably a one term guy because of his age and then who knows?

      On the other hand the Republicans are already a minority party (hence the efforts at voter suppression) and that will only get worse for them. Their slide towards the looney right is a testament to this. I suspect in 20 years the landscape will look quite different.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says

        > If the Democrats are as successful in this election as they might be a
        > war will immediately breakout for the future of the Democratic party

        Of course it will. There is are “new folks” to fight from within the party is encouraging. That’s how things work.

    • I don’t blame the politicians personally as much for this as I recognize that it is a systemic problem. The question is how to solve systemic problems when the only people authorized to address it are part of the system and depend on it for their livelihood?

      • Adam Tauno Williams says

        Ballot referendum and other state level actios.

        This is an area where our federalism gives us tools.

        Both Michigan and Wisconsin have succeeded in state level fights for election reform. We won’t see the fruits of those labors until 2024.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          If I remember right, a lot of the Federal safey-new programs FDR put into effect during the Great Depression were Federalized expansions of programs with a good track record at the state level. Like the state-level programs (superseded by the Federal ones) were experimental testbeds to debug the programs and find out which ones worked.

          And that LBJ’s Great Society expansions on the safety-net (which established the Welfare System) were developed and implemented pretty much from scratch WITHOUT existing state-level testbeds. “We’re the Best and the Brightest!”) And this is why the Great Society ended up seriously buggy from a lot of Unintended Consequences.

          Also, a LOT of FDR’s Federal make-work projects (such as the Tennessee Valley Authority, Conservation Corps renovating National Parks and repairing the Dust Bowl, Rural Electrification Program, Federal Highway Program) were building an oversized infrastructure that the country wouldn’t outgrow for over 30 years (and could have gone 50-60 without the WW2 mobilization surge). Like the New Deal was looking ahead to what would be needed in an expanded Future.

      • The two party system has led to our nation’s current problems.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says

          Disagree. Our system is – constitutionally – a majoritarian system. So you have a party-in-power and a coalition-of-opposition party.

          Those parties are what we the people make of them.

          We do within those parties what other nations do with their parliaments.

          We the people have made our nation’s current problems; we want someone else to do the work.

          • I beg to differ. I don’t know how else you explain two flawed 2016 Presidential candidates (Clinton and Trump) and this election’s poor choices of Biden and Trump other than… a broken 2-party system. This is the best the Reps and Dems can come up with–seriously crappy candidates?!?!

            • Adam Tauno Williams says

              > This is the best the Reps and Dems can come up with

              Yes. Cultivating candidates takes a generation.

              People didn’t put in the work. They expected someone else to do it – often expecting someone else to do it while deriding and ridiculing those people; because they were to important and/or busy and/or pure to participate.

        • Christiane says

          Rick, the two party system only works IF the members of the parties honor the rule of law, the separation of powers, and the system of checks and balances as provided in the US Constitution.

          One of parties let down and refused to check an out-of-control self-serving tyrant. They had a chance, more than once, but I think the fear of being voted out by ‘the base’ after being denounced by the tyrant was enough to cow them into submission to the rule of the tyrant.

          Chaplain Mike was right about the system being composed of ‘those who depend on it for their livelihood’.
          The Republican senators knew what awaited them by how McCain was treated, so they were cowed, you bet.

          But will the tyrant again be nationally embraced and worshipped;
          or will the whole house of cards fall into the well of chaos that it created?

          ?

          What can not be forgiven: the SILENCE of many when little ones were taken away from their parents at the border and placed to suffer in conditions that were substandard . . . . . . that was a moral crime against humanity, and there will be consequences far beyond what is now being experienced.

          • Adam Tauno Williams says

            > … only works IF the members of the parties…

            And who are the members of the parties? ‘Literally’, exactly, whoever takes the time to show up.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        The question is how to solve systemic problems when the only people authorized to address it are part of the system and depend on it for their livelihood?

        Isn’t that the problem that forms the Dystopian background of Cyberpunk SF?

        The fact that the only ones with the position and power to pull their society and civilization out of its Dystopian Death Spiral are those who All Personally Benefit from The Way Things Are? (I think someone figured an actual Cyberpunk Dystopia would have a lifespan of maybe two-three generations max before Total Collapse; the System as-desctibed in most pop Cyberpunk is just too unstable and self-destructive to survive for long.)

  9. I think what we’re actually seeing is a growing divide in wealth and education, and the decline of democracy is just a symptom of that. That divide is growing, in large part, because the US (and most of the developed world) is transitioning from being an economy focused on the production of tangible goods into a knowledge economy supported by a service economy. And in that knowledge economy, what sort of schools and social services you had access to when growing up, as well as what sort of education your parents had, nearly always sets your economic destiny for life. It’s a vicious cycle that not only leaves people behind, but leaves people with no hope of ever catching up.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      > what sort of schools and social services you had access to when growing up

      That is a public policy choice.

  10. Some have argued all systems end up in oligarchy. China has proven it is possible to prosper in truly authoritarian/oligarchy. As Michael Z said, it is the divide due to a global supply chain and a knowledge economy has making it happen rapidly.

    • And apart from a general economic collapse, there’s no going back from that. Either we soften the blow with government aid and relief and restructuring programs (“SOCIALISM!”) or give up and let the corporations run us and the planet into the ground. Here, now, in America, we still have that choice.

  11. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    Notice that in the “Fuehrerprizip Chart”, it is GERMANY that is the least interested in Fuehrerprinzip. THAT should tell you something.

    And in the USA, the support for Fuehereprizip varies by generational cohort. I remember hearing about a study some 10 years ago that among Millenials, “Strong Leader” wins hands-down.

    And Russia at the top of the chart? Not surprising. As the Tsars put it, the two Pillars of Russian Society have always been “Autocracy and Serfdom”. (With the Russian Orthodox Church giving its blessing to the system in exchange for favor at the Autocrat’s Court.)

  12. Adam Tauno Williams says

    > The long era during which average Americans grew more wealthy has come to a sputtering stop.

    This may be inevitable. GDP growth > 1% is the historical anomaly, not the norm. There were some outlier technologies: steam power, municipal water & sewer, electricity, and the internal combustion engine. These all resulted in ***immense*** productivity gains – increases in real value.

    Nothing else rivals those things, nothing else likely ever will. These developers were exceptional, slowly we will move back towards a no-growth, maintenance oriented, world.

    See Robert Gordon’s “The death of innovation, the end of growth”

    • THIS – and the fact that we were the only Western industrial democracy left standing after WWII – is the unspoken secret of America’s economic successes. It is no coincidence that the stagnation started when domestic fossil fuel production could no longer supply our domestic demand. That was the early 1970s, for those keeping score at home…

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      I remember a book from my college library about Medieval technology. What I remember about the last chapter is one paragraph about how when a country bumps up against its limits and stagnates into a no-growth steady-state, most technology also stagnates into “death of innovation and end of growth” with two exceptions: Weapons and Toys/Entertainment. All the society’s Innovation and Advancement go into those two and they skyrocket up for a time.

      When I first mentioned this to this one SF fan who was into Constant Expoential Advancement (he was the first to lecture me on what’s now called “The Singularity” when the rate of ever-increasing technological progress becomes effectively infinite), he attacked me with PROOF of the opposite (the proto-Singularity) until I was beaten down by his Superior Intellect.

      It wasn’t until a couple days later that I realized ALL of his PROOFS of ever-increasing Technology refuting me were in the three categories of (1) Armaments (especially Weapons of Mass Destruction), (2) Entertainment and Amusement, and (3) COMPUTERS! COMPUTERS! COMPUTERS!

  13. Very sobering indeed.

  14. Thank you, Daniel. I’ve thought for a long time that we’ve been an oligarchy, probably to back before the Civil War, at least – maybe longer. I hope concerned people will be organizing at the state level to get back some sanity (thanks for that reminder, Finn.).

    My pastor called us all to prayer at 0900 today. Lord, have mercy.

    Fasten your seat belts; it’s going to be a bumpy night. No matter what the outcome, it will be a very uncertain next four years as well.

    Dana

  15. Steve Newell says

    The GOP no longer believes in Western Style Liberalism. They have rejected The Enlightenment for a Medieval mindset. They are willing to sacrifice our form of government for an illiberal democracy based on an American form of fascism.

  16. People of privilege become willing to fudge on democracy when they see that continuing it will end up empowering *those people.* In America, the Other as a threat has always been a cultural undercurrent. Sometimes stronger, sometimes mitigated and forced into the corners and shadows, but always there. With Trump, it is on full display, emboldened and empowered.

    That this is antithetical to the command of scripture to care for the “least of these” should be obvious to the church, but unfortunately it’s not. I’m reminded of the line from introduction to The Lord of the Rings: “some things that should not have been forgotten were lost.”

  17. QAnon supporter wins Congressional seat in Georgia election. A first. Welcome to the kingdom of the cult.

  18. Some, like me, choose not to vote for either of the evils. I choose to NOT give my consent to be governed by either Trump or Biden. I can’t in good faith vote Democrat due to their pro-abortion stance. Neither can I vote Republican due to their inconsistent pro-life stance (death penalty, refugee situation, etc.) Count me out.

    • a ‘double none’

      (I’m taking my vote and going home!)

      lotsa people feel like this

    • Dante reserved a special place outside hell for people who refused to take a stand for anything…

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Neither can I vote Republican due to their inconsistent pro-life stance (death penalty, refugee situation, etc.)

      Oh, but their Abortion/Death Penalty dichotomy IS consistent when you look at it this way:
      “WHO CAN WE PUNISH? PUNISH! PUNISH !PUNISH!”

      The only way to motivate they can think of is the razor-wire whip and the pistol pressed to the back of the head. Just like Christians imitating their God of Wrath — “SMITE! SMITE! SMITE!” (And since GOP stands for “God’s Only Party”…)

  19. Ben Franklin likened democracy to two wolves and one sheep deciding what that the next meal would be. The tendency to mob rule via popular vote needs to be tempered by a decided constitutional republic function via electoral college.