Thursday, August 03, 2017

The End Of Democracy

Across the globe, democracy is in trouble. Paul Mason catalogues the places where authoritarians are waging war on democratically elected governments:

A rough inventory of July’s contribution to the global collapse of democracy would include Turkey’s show trial of leading journalists from Cumhuriyet, a major newspaper; Vladimir Putin’s ban on the virtual private networks used by democracy activists to evade censorship; Apple’s decision to pull the selfsame technology from its Chinese app store.

Then there is Hungary’s government-funded poster campaign depicting opposition parties and NGOs as puppets of Jewish billionaire George Soros; Poland’s evisceration of judicial independence and the presidential veto that stopped it. Plus Venezuela’s constituent assembly poll, boycotted by more than half the population amid incipient civil war.

And,of course, south of the border, The Great Orange Id is doing his best to destroy the norms and institutions which buttress American democracy. Most troubling is the yawn these assaults have elicited from ordinary folks:

Let’s be brutal: democracy is dying. And the most startling thing is how few ordinary people are worried about it. Instead we compartmentalise the problem. Americans worried about the present situation typically worry about Trump – not the pliability of the most fetishised constitution in the world to kleptocratic rule. EU politicians express polite diplomatic displeasure, as Erdoğan’s AK party machine attempts to degrade their own democracies. As in the early 1930s, the death of democracy always seems to be happening somewhere else.

The problem is it sets new norms of behaviour. It is no accident that the “enemies of the people” meme is doing the rounds: Orbán uses it against the billionaire George Soros, Trump uses it against the liberal press, China used it to jail the poet Liu Xiaobo and keep him in prison until his death.

Today's autocrats, Mason writes, have become skilled in the art of what he calls "micromanaged non-dissent:"

Erdoğan not only sacked tens of thousands of dissenting academics, and jailed some, but removed their social security rights, revoked their rights to teach, and in some cases to travel. Trump is engaged in a similar micromanagerial attack on so called “sanctuary cities”. About 300 US local governments have pledged – entirely legally – not to collaborate with the federal immigration agency ICE. Last week the US attorney general Jeff Sessions threatened federal grants to these cities’ local justice systems, a move Trump hailed using yet another fashionable technique – the unverified claim.

Trump told a rally of supporters in Ohio that the federal government was in fact “liberating” American cities from immigrant crime gangs. They “take a young, beautiful girl, 16, 15 and others and they slice them and dice them with a knife because they want them to go through excruciating pain before they die”, he said. At school – and I mean primary school – we were taught to greet such claims about racial minorities with the question: “Really? When and where did this happen?” Trump cited no evidence – though the US press managed to find examples in which gang members had indeed hacked each other.

The autocrats know what they're doing. And they're relying on our apathy to succeed.

Image: Bloomberg


Lorne said...

A sobering post whose implications are frightening, Owen. Clearly, it's time for people to start looking at the entire forest, not just particular trees.

Owen Gray said...

The trend is global, Lorne. It's not just happening in our own back yard. Which begs the question, "Why?"

Anonymous said...

The ancient Greeks knew a thing or two about democracy, Owen. And they observed that democracy eventually led to oligarchy and then autocracy. A couple of years ago, reputable political scientists demonstrated empirically that the US was already an oligarchy. Policies favoured by wealthy elites were likely to be implemented, while those favoured by the majority of Americans had little chance of passing unless they coincided with what elites wanted.
Under Trump, the slide into autocracy is well underway, with Trump ignoring norms of governance, calling for the arrest of political opponents, obstructing justice and using his political position for personal financial gain. The danger signs are there: authoritarian rhetoric encouraging police brutality, lots of generals in civilian posts, disdain for judges, the identification of immigrants and the media as threats to the nation. Yale historian Timothy Snyder, who studies authoritarian governments, says "it's pretty much inevitable" that Trump will try to stage a coup likely within the next year. Things are not looking good.

ron wilton said...

Why? Because too many politicians are seen as indifferent to the concerns of the general population and are just 'in'it' for themselves.

Out here in BC we have just suffered through a holy hell of crony capitalism engineered by a few wealthy individuals who financed weak-kneed political wannabees into positions light years above their abilities and were able to exponentially increase their wealth light years beyond their ability to spend it at the generational expense of the people.

They were able to achieve their ambitions because of a complicit main stream media and an inert police force while the chronically uninformed 'rest of Canada' seemed blissfully unaware of how bad the situation had become.

I suppose Alberta, Ontario et alia were too preoccupied with their own versions of a despoiled democracy to see and learn from the calamity that struck BC long before global warming decided to finish us off.

the salamander said...

.. the infrastructure for these events is always under construction. That process is managed by political parties & factions. Trump shows that even his toxic policies can run down the political highway and he and the GOP control tolls, road signs and police. And media. What's the first task of a revolution? Take over the media.

We in Canada should recognize how Stephen Harper et al seized on Omar Khadr alongside the USA. He then used media and propaganda & spent 10 years on that infrastructure.. look at the payoff today. A country polarized by a wartime event, fabricated into propaganda.

That kind of stuff serves politics well. Demonize First Nations .. no prob. Brand ordinary citizens as environmental activists - no prob. So now we see the CP war room feeding Andrew Scheer his lines. The same process in the USA with evangelicals bonding to Donald Trump. And we see the Bannons or Millers or Kushners who are living their dreams as Ideological Parasites helping build infrastructure.. while infecting media. TS

Owen Gray said...

Thanks for the link, Cap. Not very encouraging -- but I'm afraid quite true.

Owen Gray said...

As you point out, salamander, the whole process has become parasitic. These folks feed on the carrion of the people and the institutions they have destroyed.

The Mound of Sound said...

This didn't start with Trump. America's transformation into an oligarchy preceded Trump by a decade, possibly two.

Its roots can be traced to some troubling phenomena. First was the rise of the corporate media cartel, especially after 9/11, and the horrible symbiosis of media and political power.The other main cause was the era of first political and then regulatory capture ensured by the crushing defeat of efforts at campaign finance reform. With that, special interests were able to displace the public interest in matters legislative and regulatory. America's Congress became flagrantly "bought and paid for." Then, especially during Bush/Cheney, regulated industries came to control their regulators by stacking boards and tribunals with industry minions. Sort of like Canada's National Energy Board or when Captain Listeria, Harper, allowed the meat processing industry to become self-policing.

Lesser but still important indicia include the militarization of civilian police, the rise of the Surveillance State, data mining and the use of information to manipulate elections (AggregateIQ, Cambridge Analytica, Brexit, Trump's "upset" victory) dispensing with the "informed consent" of the electorate.

The Gilens and Page report, finally published by Princeton in 2014, provided a scathing indictment of the subversion of democracy in the United States.

We seem to be heading for an era of neo-feudalism. Like the lords and kings of centuries ago, the rich are no longer investing their wealth as they once did. Now wealth is being accumulated, the essential step to building a genuine ruling class where privilege is not earned but handed down from generation to generation.

Thomas Jefferson understood our predicament when he opined, "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants." What a revolutionary notion.

Owen Gray said...

One wonders how long ordinary citizens will slumber, Mound. The longer they sleep, the harder it will be to rebel.

Owen Gray said...

We tend to look no farther than our own back yards, Ron. But, as Mason's column makes clear, what's happening is occurring around the world.

Steve said...

Its the destruction of faith that has revealed to the world the globe. The globe has lines of power drawon all over it in script and ink more powerful than the A- Bomb in a car. You cant render a village radioactive and save it. Ok maybe some genetic radiation consuming Bamboo
can be deployed for a few hundred season and we can start over.

There is a lot of reason to despair. The youth our future refuse to reproduce and at least 20% of them would rather be dead. Its a Nihilism crises and we need our communicators to start telling the truth about the potential of humanity, and its not dictated by anyone living or dead.

In relative terms everyone should see this is the golden age times 1000!!!!

Owen Gray said...

It's always a matter of perspective, Steve. But I have a hunch that historians will not call this a Golden Age.