Monday, February 15, 2021



Juan Cole's Informed Comment: "America's Transition Away from Democracy and the World's Wave of De-Democratization."

Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – The twentieth century was in the eyes of some observers an uneven but steady march to democracy.

Those who study transitions from authoritarian governments to democracy have defined a successful transition as characterized by two elections in a row, where all parties agree on the rules of the game, and the losers go home.


I just want to point out that by the rules of the professors of democratic transition, the United States is no longer a successful democracy.  


That was what the Capitol insurrection of January 6 was about. It was Trump’s attempt to avoid going home. Only because the insurrection was defeated did Trump leave the White House. He had intended to stay. If the insurrectionists had succeeded in hanging Mike Pence and killing or kidnapping Nancy Pelosi, Trump would have stayed in the White House on the pretense that Biden’s win had not been certified by Congress.

It was an attempted coup.

From 1900 to 2000, absolute monarchies fell one after another to become constitutional monarchies or republics.  ...   The late Samuel Huntington theorized a “Third Wave” of democratization from the 1970s till the end of the 20th century, which saw 60 countries transition away from some form of authoritarianism.  ...  What political scientists did try to study was what accounted for why some countries begin a transition to parliamentary democracy and succeed in consolidating it, and why some fail.

Adam Przeworski at New York University found that successful transitions were highly associated with per capita income. The wealthier people were in a society, the more likely it was that they could make the transition succeed once it began.  ...  But note that the theory also does not guarantee that wealthy countries will remain democratic. Democracy is constructed, over and over again, every day, and if citizens don’t bother to keep constructing it, it ends.


By 2018, Freedom House had recorded 13 consecutive years of democratic decline. This contrasts to the period 1988 to 2005, where there were lots of transitions to democracy.


The United States has now joined this de-democratization wave. Professor Huntington would be upset and also astounded.

The US is wealthy per capita, so it should have a high chance of continuing to transit to more democracy, not less.

So why is the place falling apart? Well, I called the system capitalist democracy, and that is increasingly a contradiction. American capitalism is unhealthily dominated by monopolies and is marching toward a world of billionaires on the one hand and of workers barely making it on the other. Economic insecurity has increased, which is associated with heightened racism as ethnic groups feel they are competing for a shrinking pie.

So what are we talking about here? First of all, I'm not sure that Trump would have been able to remain President had his followers murdered Pence, Pelosi, Schumer, etc. I think the lack of decorum exhibited by those murders would have offended even Mitch McConnell. Various military, and police forces (FBI, CIA) might have hustled Trump off to prison. On the other hand, callousness and apathy might have made them stand down and let Trump become a dictator. Lot's of city police forces are jam-packed with shithead authoritarian, racist goons who have no problem with working for corrupt, racist dictators. Being a cop under a fascist regime would make their lives infinitely more enjoyable.

That aside, Cole is arguing about a very real thing: The decline in the limited democratic elements in our political cultures around the world and the rise of authoritarianism. The word "democracy" in most Canadians' minds probably means elected representatives and accountability to the electorate. Parliamentary systems proposing, debating and passing legislation. Legal limits on the powers of politicians. For a brief period universal suffrage regardless of income, sex or race was enjoyed. As a result, elites felt compelled to do things FOR the majority rather than take them for granted.

As I've written in numerous posts over the years, strong unions, a genuine commitment to economic growth, and a decent social safety net made the populace more confident and assertive. The response of elites was to begin dismantling this system in the 1980s with the philosophy of neo-liberalism. Increasingly, the concrete results of democratic government, which is the enacting of policies and programs demanded by the majority began to wither. Once the general public became acclimatized to the futility of demanding things from their governments elites came to see even the forms of democratic systems to be a needless annoyance. 

In the USA this was represented by the increase in electoral fraud committed by the Republican Party and by the brazen lawlessness of the Cheney-Bush regime. (Cheney arrogantly asserting executive privilege against demands for information from the legislature while simultaneously claiming his role as President of the Senate also makes him immune from investigations of the executive branch.)

In Canada, the government of stephen harper assaulted all aspects of parliamentary oversight, sabotaging committees, blocking investigations of war crimes, denying crucial information to Parliament, using state resources to directly benefit the Conservative Party, etc., etc., ... up to and including massive election fraud to steal a majority in the 2011 federal election that had itself been called because of harper's demonstrated contempt of Parliament. (Upon winning this fraudulent majority, harper's government went on to deliver and pass gigantic omnibus bills that, among other things, unilaterally abrogated Treaty obligations with the First Nations.)

This is how "democracies" fall. Canada was never a democracy. But it was a fairly robust pseudo-democracy. What is it like to live without democracy? It's something like what we enjoy now. Rapacious elites use their power to plunder us and their political hirelings ignore our protests and alternative proposals. Apathy caused by ignorance or (on the part of leftist "super-radicals") delusion allow these things to happen. "Who cares about some boring parliamentary committee not being able to do its job because the government won't appoint its own members to it?" "Who cares that Elections Canada covered up the crimes of the 2011 federal election?" 

Obviously, some people are still invested in the competitions between the parties. The Conservatives are prepared to advertise themselves as pro-war, anti-welfare, and as defenders of "traditional values." The Liberals will campaign as being more inclusive of different cultures and more willing to preserve this or that remnant of the welfare state. For these two groups the culture wars in Canada are highly important and gratifying. But none of this is a central concern to the oligarchy. You might have a red-meat eating heterosexual, evangelical Calgary oil company executive who votes Conservative or a vegan, homosexual, atheist banker in Toronto who votes Liberal, but when both of these guys want the state to bail them out and buy their oil pipeline, both parties will jump to attention. (More and more, the difference between the NDP and the Liberals .... especially at the provincial level ... makes it irrelevant to speak of them really.)

For a genuine look at what the absence of democracy looks like, cast your eyes southwards to the United States of America. There the oligarchy increasingly dispenses with even the pretence of attending to the needs of the majority. Over ten million people have lost their health insurance during a pandemic? Tough shit. Lost your job in the hospitality industry? The Democrats gave you a $1,200 cheque last May and increased unemployment benefits (if you qualify and if your state's computer system can process your claim). Plus, you obviously don't have to pay your rent since you can't work. Relax. All those months without an income you can rest assured that your rent owing will increase until the nerve-wracking extensions on eviction moratoriums are negotiated at the last minute. Meanwhile, the Republican Party's stance was to offer even less. Meanwhile the billionaire class saw its wealth skyrocket.

Somehow or other, large groups of US-Americans still see participation in this sham as something to get excited about. Democratic partisans swoon over a rambling, racist, war-monger and a psychopathic, authoritarian. Republican nutbars hypocritically shriek over the bullshit claims of their corrupt, repulsive, incompetent, insane, incestuous, racist, lying hero that the election was stolen from him and they storm the Capital.

In the wake of the Trumpista's attack, lots of words are being thrown around about the damage to US democracy. But the fact that the USA does not have democracy renders those claims null and void. The US national political environment has become so debased that besides the Republican partisans who simultaneously supported the riots while blaming Antifa for them, and a small number of Democratic partisans, a significant portion of the US population just doesn't care.

I'm trying to figure out a way to say some important, detailed topics in as concise a way as possible. But the job is too much for my unpaid efforts. Suffice to say that Canadians, US-Americans, British, European, etc., ... we have allowed our elites to run roughshod over us, to violate principles of our pseudo-democracies without consequence, thinking that because they are pseudo-democracies, they are unimportant, rather than something to be built upon.

Our leaders and our corporate media lies to us. This makes it difficult to argue with right-wing nutbars whose distrust of official narratives leads them into crazed conspiracy theories. When both official, parliamentary methods of accountability, as well as extra-parliamentary methods, are both ignored, we will find ourselves even more lost in lives of impoverished, uncertain employment amidst ecological collapse.

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