Democracy in America was Fantastic!!

America’s great experiment in democracy is in a death spiral. The political traditions which have been adhered to by almost all of our major contemporary politicians have recently been cast aside by the President and most Republican Congressional representatives. As a result, Democratic politicians who continue to play by the old rules are likely to have little influence over America’s future.

The death spiral began during Newt Gingrich’s tenure as Speaker of the House and the Supreme Court’s interference in the 2000 Presidential election.  It accelerated when Republicans put party loyalty ahead of country when they tried to prevent President Obama from ending the Great Recession and when Republicans proclaimed that compromise with a Democratic White House was an abandonment of their principles.

The death spiral accelerated when Senator McConnell abandoned Senatorial traditions and prevented President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Merritt Garland, from having a Senate confirmation hearing.

The death spiral is now in its final phase as President Trump and (nearly all) Congressional Republicans have blatantly ignored the mandates of US Constitution and objective facts while the President’s failure to protect America from Russia’s on-going efforts to interfere in our electoral process is treasonous.

In addition, we are seeing cracks in the Judiciary branch as Appellate, Federal and (at least 4) Supreme Court Justices appear to be ready to overturn (ignore) longstanding legal precedents.

In his book The People vs. Democracy,  Mounk, Yascha, stated “As anybody who has studied Turkey, Russia, or Venezuela knows all too well, the rise of illiberal strongmen can often be a prelude to autocratic rule: once the media has been muzzled and independent institutions have been abolished, it is easy for illiberal rulers to make the transition from populism to dictatorship.” 

Trump has followed the playbook of many contemporary authoritarian rulers (e.g. Turkey, Hungary, Russia, Venezuela, Philippines): get elected on a populace/nativist political platform, then co-opt Federal institutions and the Judiciary, marginalize the press, vilify your political opponents as the reincarnation of evil, reduce voting opportunities for your political opponents, promote societal divisions and, finally, expand the power of the chief executive to ensure he remains in control for the foreseeable future.

Some will say that America’s democracy has seen worse political machinations. I believe that today’s situation is more dire because of the Internet and “big data.”

It is now possible to harvest vast amounts of personally identifiable information from almost every internet connected device. The quantity and quality of this data far exceeds the public’s understanding. For example, Cambridge Analytica, (a software company that helped to elect Trump) has acknowledged “we have somewhere close to four or five thousand data points on every adult in the United States.” Google and Facebook have substantially more data. Those who control the data can now target information to an individual and ensure that the individual sees the information at the precise moment when the individual is most likely to act upon the information in a manner benefiting the sender.  Internet companies have demonstrated that they can use the data to alter human behavior, emotions, and voting patterns.

As a result of unbridled political power, the absence of checks and balances, the trashing of institutional norms, and the tools which derive from “big data,” America’s great experiment in democracy as we have known it has ended.

The Democratic Party needs to understand that there has been a fundamental shift in how our political institutions function, and this is a permanent change.  Again, from The People vs. Democracy, “.. political scientists have consistently found, the survival of stable democracies has always depended on the willingness of major political figures to play by the basic rules of the game.” Clearly, since Newt Gingrich’s tenure as House Majority Leader, the Republican Party has shown they are not going to play by the old rules of America’s democracy now or in the future. Thus, there is no going back to the “old ways” as long as one party (or individual) is able to ignore the old “norms” of behavior and twist the system to meet their immediate needs. 

The Democratic Party must also acknowledge that the last several decades of history have demonstrated that most Federal Republican representatives will not be interested in finding “common ground,” they are the party of “my way or no way.” Thus, proclamations of “working across the aisle” is a delusion.

If the Democrats are incapable of playing by the new rules, they are destined to become an afterthought in our political system. While I abhor these changes, I recognize that politics is not an academic exercise and this is how politics is now “played” in America.

If the Democratic Party hopes to move our society toward a liberal, multicultural and tolerant society, they must be willing to do what it takes to wrest control of both the Executive and Legislative branches of government. 

If they fail to do so, the only alternatives are: 

  1. incremental Trumpian authoritarianism
  2. intractable political deadlock or
  3. to agreeably divide the country into two countries, the Blue USA and the Red USA.

Hayward Zwerling

6/1/2019