04 July 2015

Can We Continue Our Long Run Of Democracy?

The United States of America is certainly not the oldest country on the face of the Earth.  But, it is one the the very oldest democratic regimes.

We weren't the first country to replace absolute or constitutional monarchy with a republic, but most of the other early democracies no longer exist, or were interrupted.  And, while our electoral tradition are borrowed from Britain, at the time we gained independence, the King was still considerably more than a figurehead.  The only modern regime that has something close to the division of power between a monarch and elected representatives to that of 18th century Britain is the constitutional monarchy established by the King of Jordan.

The democracy of the Greek city-states fell to Rome.  Rome's experiment as the largest democracy that history had ever known was followed by an extended period of despotism and then by the fall of the Roman empire itself.  Democratically ruled city-states and the Venetian Republic in what are now Italy and Germany, all fell in turn.

The French Revolution came quick on the heels of the American Revolution, but was replaced by Napoleon's Empire, and after democracy was restored (we are in the Fifth Republic by French reckoning) later by the Nazi's in Vichy France.  Iceland has had democratic assembly for a very long time, but was a colony until 1941.  Switzerland's democratic cantons had predominant devolved into hereditary oligarchies when the French briefly imposed their own brand of democracy subordinate to that of France in 1798 before the current federal and democratic Swiss regime was established in 1803.

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As a result, we are in uncharted territory.  There are more than a hundred historical precedents for democracies collapsing.  Only a handful have lasted as long as 239 continuous years, and all of the others ended badly.

There is real reason for concern.

Congress struggles to carry on even the ordinary business of government, like passing appropriations bills without forcing government shutdowns and promptly considering nominations to government offices where the U.S. Senate has advice and consent power.

The courts are often called into to intervene when state legislatures fail to enact redistricting plans for Congressional elections, or when Congress fails to enact fixes to well known flaws with laws it has enacted.

Deadlock is the norm; reasoned policy making is the exception.

Our kludge of an election process almost always elects legislators who are less politically centrist than the constituencies that they represent.

Political debate has reached a point where shared boundaries of acceptable conduct and proposals have fallen away, particularly on the right wing of American politics.

Far too many members of the Republican establishment think that calling for secession from the United States, armed insurrection against the enforcement of validly enacted laws, defaulting on the national debt, authorizing the summary execution of homosexuals, government endorsed torture, establishing Christianity as a state religion, and state nullification of federal law are within the range of policy options that are entitled to serious consideration.

Our future does not look bright when a political party that controls both houses of Congress denies the existence of global warming, insists that the world is only 6,000 years old and that the evolution doesn't exist, is opposed to birth control, urges its state politicians to deny millions of Americans health care that can be provided to them at no state expenses.

We should fear a political party that is built on a foundation of animosity towards blacks, Hispanics, immigrants, atheists, Muslims, homosexuals, women, and the poor. We should be worried that something like 90% of military officers in the United States are supporters of that political party.

Of course, the problem is not just the politicians.  They draw their power from the millions of Americans, especially in the South and Great Plains, who are seething with hate and deny the very legitimacy of our system of government.

Ultimately, our system of democratic government will be at grave risk of surviving for decades, as our union was in the years leading up to the Civil War, if the aspects of their ideologies that threaten the existence of our republic cannot be widely discredited before it is too late.

There is reason to hope.

In a sea change, this summer, urged on by Northern Republicans for whom it is an embarrassment, and by big business, the Republicans have finally recognized that the Confederate symbolism that they adopted in a fight against the Civil Rights movement which was on the wrong side of history must be disavowed because it is as symbol of white supremacy, of traitors to our country, and of hate.

Republicans millennials are not nearly as bigoted as their parents and grandparents before them.

Big business interest in the Republican party which have an economic interest in the rule of law and widespread domestic tolerance, have some capacity to reign in its radical firebrands who welcome illegal and violent means, and embrace hate.

But, our nation's very survival depends upon winning cultural and political battles whose outcome is by no means certain.  If we don't continue to strive mightily in this never ending and often times tiresome fight, we will lose the freedoms that we hold so dear.

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