Monday, July 19, 2021

what Is Happening To Democracy?


I am hoping to start a series of blogs exploring data on the troubling trend across the globe, including in our own country, away from democracy and toward authoritarian governance.  This is my first installment.

I've gone to a couple of sources for balance:  The Economist Intelligence Unit, a subsidiary of the respected conservative publication, The Economist, and Pew Research, generally regarded as non-ideological. 

The Economist's data studies 167 countries and creates a complex index ranking/rating the governments on a scale from "fully democratic" to "authoritarian".  Their index says there are only 23 full democracies among the 167, 52 mostly democracies, 35 hybrids and 57 authoritarian governments. They make the general observation that the trend is away from democracy.  They list the top 5  democracies as Norway, Iceland, Sweden, New Zealand and Canada as of 2020.

Pew research studied 34 country's democracies in 2019 in terms of citizen attitudes toward their government.  52% overall were dissatisfied;  59% of U.S. citizens were dissatisfied with their democracy. 

The primary issue Pew research revealed was that citizens believed elected officials did not care about their needs. For example, 46% of U.S. citizens disagreed with the statement that "their country was run for the benefit for all".  In contrast, 56% of Canadians agreed with that statement.  Overall, the countries comprising Eastern Europe rated their satisfaction with that statement higher than citizens of Western Europe and the USA.

Pew research found that gender equality and a fair judiciary were the most important issues for citizens in the 34 democracies.  Freedom of the press also ranked high in citizen priorities, with the USA the highest rating on that quality at 80%.  USA citizens also rated freedom of religion among the highest with democracies at 86%.  I know this is a lot of data to digest, so I'll stop here and let readers digest and think about the meaning of this research as we stumble into a better understanding of our democracy in crisis and grope for solutions. 

In perusing various opinion writers on the dynamics of the international nature of this trend, the consensus seems to be that authoritarians, especially government leaders in office observe the results of authoritarian policies elsewhere and are emboldened by their implementation.  The research I've read on authoritarian personality profiling suggests this is a correct observation.

Sunday, July 4, 2021

Red v. Blue =Autocrats v. Democracy

 If you think the current divide in America is liberal v. conservative, red v. blue, tory v. whig, Democrat v.Republican, you are a typical un-engaged citizen of this country and are sadly ill informed.

This divide is a classical showdown between authoritarian rule and humankind's sporadic attempts at various forms of self-governing, called democracy.  Our particular form of democracy is called liberal, republican democracy.  This means, much of our governing is done by elected representatives, not direct self rule.  This form was chosen by our founders as a means of bridging the previous rule our people experienced prior to our Revolution by an unelected Monarch, without the huge risk of direct self governing.  Central to our form, as you know is the Rule of Law, not the rule of Monarchs, with some among our citizenry, not all, granted the right to elect their rulers.  Those chosen few with that electoral right were white, property owning men.  Women and persons owned by this elite class of citizens were excluded as were poor, propertyless men. This form of democracy was a grand compromise to accommodate a less abrupt transition from authoritarian Monarch rule and to accommodate a mostly agrarian economy dependent on cheap labor to till the soil and harvest the crops to feed and clothe the colonists and to most economically build export trade to maintain a transactional relationship  with the Motherland in England. Slave labor was not allowed in the Motherland but the Monarchs and trading company elites there were quite welcoming of the idea of the colonists owning other humans to facilitate creating the goods of trade needed in England. 

The Declaration of Independence we celebrate on the 4th of July was an act of incredible bravery by the signers, risking their very lives.  We must also acknowledge that this act from very human and flawed patriots was also an act of self interest, given their failure to renounce slavery, some of them also being slave owners.  This flaw in an historic act of courage was also a contradiction in their defiance of authoritarian rule by their Motherland, planting the seeds of authoritarianism in our own land with the owning of other human beings, the ultimate definition of authoritarianism.

That authoritarian seed has plagued our Republic since our founding 245 years ago.  It has been in our soil through many periods of great human rights progress since then.  It was there when our Constitution and Bill of Rights were adopted, excluding freedom for women and the laborers owned by many of the signers. It was there when the Confederacy was founded to support the continuation of slavery as well as the non-Confederate northerners profiting off the work done by people owned by fellow citizens.

The seed was there when the victors of the Civil War failed to punish the leaders of the Civil Insurrection and actually rewarded them for giving up their ownership, while limiting the agency of the the newly freed with a very weak Reconstruction policy. Reconstruction was quickly undermined by some previous slave owning states while restrictive covenants limited the freedom of Black American's residing in northern and western states.  A few authoritarians implemented those restrictions while authoritarianism supporters looked the other way.

It continued to haunt us as we looked the other way as a nation when some among us restricted the citizenship and participation of free former slaves and their offspring into the next two centuries. Authoritarianism reigned in America with the continued denial of complete citizenship of half our population, women until well into the twentieth century, as well as the indigenous Americans we had overwhelmed with our occupation of these lands.

The same seed of authoritarianism reared its ugly head during various periods in our emerging and improving democracy for only some of us with the treatment of Asian and southern European immigrants, some of whom where granted admission to our land to be exploited and segregated as were the ancestors of our freed slaves.

We tried to make amends with the Civil and Voting rights acts as well as the ERA which was never ratified and the seeds of authoritarianism revealed  itself as many among us looked away as rights granted therein were almost immediately undermined by Jim Crow and policies limited full civic and economic participation were implemented. Segregation was a clear adoption of authoritarian dominance.

America has much to be proud of with historic acts over this quarter century have been initiated to improve our imperfect democratic experiment and the good we have done as a nation to improve the lot of humankind here and abroad.  But we also have much to regret in our continued conflicts between Americans who want to improve our Union with expanded human rights and those who see this as a threat to  their economic and civic power and work to maintain their dominance over those they see as unworthy of full citizenship.  

The evidence of the current power of authoritarians includes Republican adoption of civic policies to restrict economic equity for non-white minorities soon to comprise a majority of our population.  This includes voting suppression and blockading of economic policies designed to advance full participation in our economic life.  These policies are evident in minority person's disadvantage in wages, personal net worth and economic mobility.  There simply is no denial of the relegation of some of us to second class citizenship as a deliberate act of domination and suppression. 

These American authoritarians and their enablers comprise maybe 30 percent of our population but their power to roadblock human rights progress here this very day is a major threat to human progress,  even to the point of mounting a second insurrection against the majority of us on January 6, 2021. They put our attempts at improving our democracy and Union at very real and alarming risk.  They must be restrained and restricted from exercising their desire to dominate our majority.  Our majority must rise up, speak out and act to disarm their insurrection. 

Liberals and significant Conservative leadership have joined forces to call out the seeds of creeping authoritarianism in our midst.  We are a majority and have the power to defend our very imperfect attempt at advancing human rights.  We will prevail if we employ all the moral, legal and civic tools a our disposal.  What remains to be proven is our resolve to use them.   

Join with your fellow supporters of American democracy on this 2021 celebration of the Fourth of July in committing to advancing the Rule of Law over the rule of despots and authoritarians among us.