[Discussion] So... How's that democracy working out for you?

Is democracy a system capable of dealing with the challenges of the future, and if not, what alternatives exist?

This is a thought I've been struggling with over the last few years. Like many of you, I was raised and educated with the fundamental belief that democracy was the ideal form of governance. For many reasons, I've become less convinced of this recently. With large sections of the population unconcerned with climate change, actively supporting policies that expand the wealth gap, committed to bigoted and hateful ideas, fetishizing guns and the military, and scoring education and science, I find it harder and harder to argue that anti-vaxxers and white supremacists should have as much influence over our country as anyone else, yet that is the foundational argument of democracy. It's hard to look at this country's management of health care, poverty, race relations, education, government surveillance, and even something as specific as our response to this pandemic, and argue that we live in a functional and ideal state.

I recognize the danger in marginalizing any part of the population. Hell, I know that even within the bubble of this community, there are several who probably believe this country would be better off without my voice or participation. But where do we go from here, and can we realistically believe that our democratic system possesses the tools needed to deal with the issues looming before us?

With gerrymandering in the state that it's in, Congress doesn't have to give a f*ck what the American people think, because they'll almost certainly get re-elected anyway. They have like a 13% approval rate as an institution, but almost none of them will lose their jobs.

Between that and Citizens United, I'd argue that we are no longer in a functioning democracy.

Democracy works. I look at my country (Canada) and see proof of that.

American democracy may have its issues, but democracy as a whole? I don't think so.

So for context this is an external view of the US political process ... you have been warned

North America has effectively distilled the core values of capitalism until you have been left with money equals representation through the media and therefore votes. The path to funding a campaign relies on corporate interest and therefore any candidate has a conflict of interest before they touch office.

I (if I could vote) would support a candidate that simply looked to regulate the funding model which is the root of the problem.

mudbunny wrote:

Democracy works. I look at my country (Canada) and see proof of that.

American democracy may have its issues, but democracy as a whole? I don't think so.

So if we take that as a given, how does a functional democracy avoid the problems faced by a non-functional democracy? How do you:

- Preserve the rights of expression and the voting franchise without allowing authoritarian and white supremacist factions to gain significant power?

- Move forward to address systemic issues such as climate change, prison reform, etc., even when a substantial portion of your population opposes it?

- Prevent the election of a nationalist leader?

trichy wrote:

- Preserve the rights of expression and the voting franchise without allowing authoritarian and white supremacist factions to gain significant power?

Our Elections commission is independant from the government. They run elections, they count ballots, they set the requirements for ID required, they set the ridings when they need to be changed. The (political) government is very much hands off. I suspect mainly because of a fear of "if we do it now, we can't complain if they do it later."

- Move forward to address systemic issues such as climate change, prison reform, etc., even when a substantial portion of your population opposes it?

Having more than 2 parties helps. It is a flip answer, but a 2-party system means everything is on a 1-dimensional axis. Adding a third party forces the other parties to adjust their position or lose voters. Having an effective 3rd party can force the Overton window to shift. In the US, it has shifted right. Up here in Canada, it shifts to the left.

- Prevent the election of a nationalist leader?

Have more than 2 political parties.

A lot of it comes down to the culture of the country. The culture of Canada is such that we accept that our taxes are higher to pay for our National Health Care, our welfare, and all the other things that comes with being Canadian. We (or the great majority of us) know that caring what happens to others is a good thing. That "f*ck you, I got mine" (which seems to be the feeling of a large, large number of USAnians) is a very self-destructive position to hold for a nation.

Now, I am not saying that Canada is perfect. The way we have treated (and continue to treat) our First Nations people is absolutely abhorrent. We have a decently sized group of people who oppose abortion and non-heterosexual rights. However, there are enough of us who want those things to remain part of Canadian Culture that any political party pushing those ideas **will** lose in an election.

trichy wrote:
mudbunny wrote:

Democracy works. I look at my country (Canada) and see proof of that.

American democracy may have its issues, but democracy as a whole? I don't think so.

So if we take that as a given, how does a functional democracy avoid the problems faced by a non-functional democracy? How do you:

- Preserve the rights of expression and the voting franchise without allowing authoritarian and white supremacist factions to gain significant power?

- Move forward to address systemic issues such as climate change, prison reform, etc., even when a substantial portion of your population opposes it?

- Prevent the election of a nationalist leader?

Don't fight a civil war to keep your colonial empire part of your country, but instead extract resources from--and create exploitative markets to dump your industrial products in--your colonies before jettisoning them when it makes more sense to abandon direct political control and instead interact with them through globalized corporations?

even then you might wind up with Brexit...

no, I don't think comparing other democracies to America is helpful, because America's problems are the problems of the world mapped onto one country, which isn't true of other democracies. If the Union lost the Civil War and like, annexed Canada into the Laurentian States of America, maybe.

Talk about a powerhouse--the American industrial north with the St. Lawrence instead of the Mississippi as its most important river system? Damn. It would suck for the American South, though. Which is what it all comes down to--American democracy has its problems, but American democracy is also directly making life better for its major colonized population. Which leads to:

With large sections of the population unconcerned with climate change, actively supporting policies that expand the wealth gap, committed to bigoted and hateful ideas, fetishizing guns and the military, and scoring education and science, I find it harder and harder to argue that anti-vaxxers and white supremacists should have as much influence over our country as anyone else, yet that is the foundational argument of democracy.

There's a catch-22 to this sort of thinking: if you had the power to take away their influence, they wouldn't have enough influence to be this dangerous in the first place.

sort of a 'traitors never prosper, because if it prosper, who dare call it treason?' situation.

mudbunny wrote:

The (political) government is very much hands off. I suspect mainly because of a fear of "if we do it now, we can't complain if they do it later."

See, us Americans don't have that fear. We do it all the time.

(This, admittedly, is part of the problem.)

Why do you think that the American political system is a democracy? A democracy is control of an organization or group by the majority of its members. Y’all don’t have that. See: the last presidential election for the most recent high profile example.

The US political system is now a DINO. Because there are elections, people believe they live in a democracy. Your elections, though, demonstrably don’t represent the will of the people. The policies that get enacted frequently don’t represent the will of the people. American politics has so twisted itself into knots in order to maintain power that it has knotted itself into something other than a democracy.

Hold on, I've a dead horse around here somewhere... Ah here it is. Proportional representation.

Have to agree Chumpy. As with the UK were all you need is 33-35% of the votes to win a huge majority, it's fairly clear first-past-the-post systems don't not reflect the people's desire. The. And of course over time some of the population grow to resent that system and when they get a chance to kick it in the teeth, they do. Hence you get Brexit and Trump.

This is why an awful lot of people will still vote for both outcomes again. But that's another thread

And as mudbunny say, independent electoral system. Probably should be constitutionally backed.

Let's not forget greed. When there are enough people in power that can subvert the processes for greed then a lot falls a part. Happens in almost every failed govt over time.

So is the problem systemic, or cultural? If it's a systemic issue, that argues that there might be a way to adjust our government to allow for democracy to function the way it's supposed to. But if it is cultural, if the national attitude of independence over community is so deeply ingrained that any attempt to reform the system is doomed to failure, what then?

We're experimenting with ranked choice voting. You need >50% of the votes to win, not just a plurality, but if no one gets 50% in the first round, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and the votes they had go to the voter's next highest ranked candidate (if they don't have a next choice their vote doesnt get applied to the next round); this goes on until someone has an actual majority. It makes third party candidates much more viable, has helped cut down on in-fighting, and eliminated vote spoiling. Republicans, of course, hate it, as they've relied on vote spoiling to get their wins for the past few decades.

trichy wrote:

So is the problem systemic, or cultural? If it's a systemic issue, that argues that there might be a way to adjust our government to allow for democracy to function the way it's supposed to. But if it is cultural, if the national attitude of independence over community is so deeply ingrained that any attempt to reform the system is doomed to failure, what then?

Yes and no to both. This country has multiple cultural identities clashing with and balancing against one another all of the time, and the one you're concerned with has worked its way into some of our government systems. That's not inherently bad if we maintain systems that are flexible enough that the right balance of independence/community can be continually sought.

trichy wrote:

So is the problem systemic, or cultural? If it's a systemic issue, that argues that there might be a way to adjust our government to allow for democracy to function the way it's supposed to. But if it is cultural, if the national attitude of independence over community is so deeply ingrained that any attempt to reform the system is doomed to failure, what then?

Keep Latinos from becoming White.

The America you see is the result of how every time America starts to look like a majority minority country, the definition of 'white people' changes. They did it with European Catholics, and the Republicans were going to do it again with Latino Catholics.

Jeb! was to be the next Reagan.

then they screwed it all up and started saying the soft parts loud when Trump came along.

so while Trump represents an existential threat to democracy, he also represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to keep the Republican brand so toxic that Demographics can actually become Destiny because Trump has set the goalposts in racist cement.

edit: while this post was squarely on-topic, it also might best be held back until June 1st!

so instead:

Axon wrote:

And as mudbunny say, independent electoral system. Probably should be constitutionally backed.

If you had enough support for a constitutional amendment like that, you almost certainly have the political power already to take substantive steps to address all the issues the OP is talking about.

The people trichy is talking about aren't fools. They're not going to be chumped into some facially neutral institutional reform that will swing power away from them.

heck, they're waaaaay better at that kind of stuff than we are. You're not going to fool them into turning back stuff they first figured out how to take advantage of, or even invented. And there's no way they're going to go that far out of commitment to abstract principles of the spirit of democracy.

(oh, and quick point: Canada is also FPTP from what I can tell)

I'm obviously watching this thread, no worries there.

This topic is actually interesting because there's opportunity for it to go beyond the narrow scope of the USA, and isn't about current elections as it is theory chat during a time of political upheaval. The compare and contrast of the subtlety of democratic progress is important for helping people understand how these develop via how divergent individual timelines play out.

So as long as this stays on topic, no concerns here provided the ol' backbiting and interpersonal conflicts song & dance don't resume right away.

The United States is far from the only country dealing with this. White nationalism is probably one of the biggest rising threats on the planet, and democracies seem tailor made to allow these groups the voice and freedom they need to grow their ranks, and influence and insert themselves into national politics. They actually use some of the fundamental tenets of democracy, such as freedom of speech and assembly, to suppress any attempts to counter their message.

I remember taking a class in college in which our professor talked about the Supreme Court ruling allowing Westboro Baptist Church to protest at soldier's funerals. He said that the fundamental basis of our Bill of Rights was that it had to apply to everyone, including racist crapstains such as Fred Phelps, otherwise it could be restricted any time the governing party decided to abuse it. We talked about those being aberrations, small extremist groups that represented a tiny minority of the population.

However, there definitely seems to be a point (which we passed sometime in the last few decades) in which these extremist philosophies have become embraced by a mainstream political party. The same thing has happened in other countries throughout Europe and Asia. It definitely feels like once you pass a certain point, the very mechanisms designed to protect the population become the exact tools that are used to suppress any concrete oppositions.

trichy wrote:

The United States is far from the only country dealing with this.

Oh, of course not. What I said was that the American situation is different from all the countries people are talking about. Those countries left behind their colonies politically. America did not--America is both the colony and the colonizer. America is a political union of both the part of the colonial empire that was industrialized and the part that was exploited for raw materials.

So America is trying to solve a much different problem than any of them, which presents both unique challenges and unique possibilities.

White nationalism is probably one of the biggest rising threats on the planet, and democracies seem tailor made to allow these groups the voice and freedom they need to grow their ranks, and influence and insert themselves into national politics. They actually use some of the fundamental tenets of democracy, such as freedom of speech and assembly, to suppress any attempts to counter their message.

I remember taking a class in college in which our professor talked about the Supreme Court ruling allowing Westboro Baptist Church to protest at soldier's funerals. He said that the fundamental basis of our Bill of Rights was that it had to apply to everyone, including racist crapstains such as Fred Phelps, otherwise it could be restricted any time the governing party decided to abuse it. We talked about those being aberrations, small extremist groups that represented a tiny minority of the population.

However, there definitely seems to be a point (which we passed sometime in the last few decades) in which these extremist philosophies have become embraced by a mainstream political party. The same thing has happened in other countries throughout Europe and Asia. It definitely feels like once you pass a certain point, the very mechanisms designed to protect the population become the exact tools that are used to suppress any concrete oppositions.

Sure, but at this point, if you had enough political power to change those mechanisms, you already have sufficient political power to deal with all the problems you talked about in your OP.

In other words, this conversation is kinda...an abstract thought experiment? It's about "what would we do if we had the power to change the constitution" when if we even had the power to change just the regular laws things would be so much better.

So America faces unique challenges AND opportunities. Like, I don't know how much of this is about individualism vs. community. It's about *who* you consider a part of your 'community'. Britain is going through Brexit because of, like, a dishonest bus and irrational racist fears about Polish cab drivers.

That, though, is also a unique opportunity for America. America is much closer than any of these counties to becoming a majority minority country. That's why I said the most important thing is to keep Latinos from becoming White.

If you want the power to push through these big changes to stuff like the Bill of Rights, my question is how do you get there?

You get there through acquiring political power. What I'm saying is that by the time you've got the political power to push through those big changes, you'll already have the political power to push through a lot of intermediate changes that will also undermine the power of those extremist groups.

Well, in the case of the US it was never meant to be a democracy but rather a republic. This worked great a hundred years ago but not so well now. America is way overdue for a Constitutional Convention and a complete overhaul of the document.

The state versus federal power structure should work well in theory. The states get to be essentially 50 different little laboratories and the best ideas then get adopted at the federal level. Also, it's much easier to influence your local governor or mayor than it is to try and influence the president. But in a fast moving global economy, I could see a lot of benefits from giving the federal government more control. At the very least, we should have a more unified healthcare system and probably a more unified justice system with all police having a standardized training program.

One of the biggest problems I see in modern America is we are both one of the most diverse AND most divided democracies. We need a shared cultural sense of what it means to be American that goes far beyond race and religion, and I honestly don't know how we get there. As a former peacekeeper stationed in Bosnia in the late 90's, I have a very pessimistic view about the nature of tribalism.

The line I hate is "We're a Representative Republic, not a democracy."

WizKid wrote:

The line I hate is "We're a Representative Republic, not a democracy."

But it's also true.

Of course it doesn't mean we should put up with things like still having the blatantly racist Electoral College or massively expanding the House of Representatives to account for the fact that the population of the country has more than tripled since we last added a House seat a century ago. The Constitution envisioned Representatives representing upwards of 30,000 people. Now that number's approaching 800,000.

Canada is a FPTP electoral system.

However, we also have 3 (main) parties that straddle the range of political philosophies. From the Conservative Party of Canada (who appear to be doing their darndest to become GOP North), the Liberal Party of Canada (there is no position they can't find the center of) and the New Democratic Party (left wing). We also have a smattering of less popular parties such as the Green Party (Environmental policies are prime), the Bloc Quebecois (only in Quebec, and aimed at fighting for the rights of Quebecers) and a bunch of fringe parties as well.

All of those parties all mixed together means that on (almost) any position you take, you have a number of different options to choose from. As a result, it is hard for political parties to take a screechingly hard turn right (or left) unless it is clear that a good portion of the public wants it that way.

In addition, our Supreme Court has no problems laying the smacketh down upon our political parties if they try to pass something anti-constitutional.

Canada also has a history of our institutions (Supreme Court, Elections Canada) being apolitical. It would be very hard for judges to get nominated to federal or the Supreme Court with the types of shenanigans you regularly see in the US.

We also have **very** strict regulations on who (people, not companies, unions or PACs) can donate to political parties, and how much (not much, I think the limit is $2000).

Two thoughts.

1. This reminds me of when I first read about communism when I was young. It seems like a good system. It is just when it is put into practice that it seems to show the faults.

2. US democracy would be a lot better if people accepted the idea that it can change. When we see that a two party system is problematic we change it. When we see that the executive has way to much power we fix it.

America has become wedded to the idea that their system is perfect and not change can be allowed.

I don't think the people who are the resistant to change are the people who think the system is problematic.

I also don't think the people causing the problems the OP is talking about have any respect for traditions or systems or any kind of norms. I think they would not hesitate to change things as quickly and as completely as they can get away with.

farley3k wrote:

Two thoughts.

1. This reminds me of when I first read about communism when I was young. It seems like a good system. It is just when it is put into practice that it seems to show the faults.

2. US democracy would be a lot better if people accepted the idea that it can change. When we see that a two party system is problematic we change it. When we see that the executive has way to much power we fix it.

America has become wedded to the idea that their system is perfect and not change can be allowed.

At least part of the system would work as it is, but two powerful people are preventing it: Trump and McConnell. Congress doesn't have to worry about what the people think, so they can pretty much give us the middle finger and do whatever they want.

Our system was designed before political parties were really a thing, and it's designed to prevent any one branch or any one person from having too much power. But if you have the same party in control of two branches of government, and that party is sufficiently corrupt, everything breaks.

Arguably, the Republicans have taken over all three. It is quite likely that the Republic is already lost.

Like I said in the Predictions thread, a couple of days after Trump was elected: the American people decided to take the American Experiment out behind the woodshed, and shoot it in the head.

I agree that trump and mcconnell are issues but this is not a particularly new problem. It wasn't like American democracy was working wonderfully for say blacks in the south in the 50s, or women, or minorities.

And in my lifetime (almost 50 years) we have had 8 years of Obama, 8 of Clinton, 4 of Carter - so not quite half and during those times changes were not made.

I just think it is a bit easy to blame the current scumm for the state of the pool. It has been growing scummy for years.

Great thread! I'll keep a close eye, but keep my comments at a minimum. I don't follow US politics close enough to offer and educated comment.

the first few posts mentioned the unintended consequences of a two-party system.
I remembered this episode of Freakonomics which I liked.
https://freakonomics.com/podcast/pol...

LouZiffer wrote:
trichy wrote:

So is the problem systemic, or cultural? If it's a systemic issue, that argues that there might be a way to adjust our government to allow for democracy to function the way it's supposed to. But if it is cultural, if the national attitude of independence over community is so deeply ingrained that any attempt to reform the system is doomed to failure, what then?

Yes and no to both. This country has multiple cultural identities clashing with and balancing against one another all of the time, and the one you're concerned with has worked its way into some of our government systems. That's not inherently bad if we maintain systems that are flexible enough that the right balance of independence/community can be continually sought.

This.

Every country has it "problems". Trying to force an entire country to pick between two parties is banana's. For a country of over 300 millions, it cannot have good outcomes. As we can see.

cheeze_pavilion wrote:
Axon wrote:

And as mudbunny say, independent electoral system. Probably should be constitutionally backed.

If you had enough support for a constitutional amendment like that, you almost certainly have the political power already to take substantive steps to address all the issues the OP is talking about.

The people trichy is talking about aren't fools. They're not going to be chumped into some facially neutral institutional reform that will swing power away from them.

heck, they're waaaaay better at that kind of stuff than we are. You're not going to fool them into turning back stuff they first figured out how to take advantage of, or even invented. And there's no way they're going to go that far out of commitment to abstract principles of the spirit of democracy.

(oh, and quick point: Canada is also FPTP from what I can tell)

100% agree. Right now it would seem unviable. I was assuming I had some magic wand in this scenario

jdzappa wrote:

One of the biggest problems I see in modern America is we are both one of the most diverse AND most divided democracies. We need a shared cultural sense of what it means to be American that goes far beyond race and religion, and I honestly don't know how we get there. As a former peacekeeper stationed in Bosnia in the late 90's, I have a very pessimistic view about the nature of tribalism.

America is diverse but I not uniquely so. Belguim is made up of two completely different cultures that don't even share a language. America is certainly a diverse but I contend that's it's problems are not the diverse nature of the country but how those diverse cultures get represented in government state and federal. People are divided because vast swathes of the country feel that they are not represented by anyone in government.

And yes, you are bang on about tribalism. But look at those former Yugoslavian countries now. Throw Northern Ireland into that mix. I'm not suggesting things are perfect by a long shot but if you give those tribes a responsibility on how to form the future for their people, by and large the leaders choose non-destructive paths.

Take it away from them and they won't play the game, they'll just flip the table. You can apply this the world over regardless of any cultural, ethnic or religious differences.

Also, I've a very good friend of mine who was a Commandant in KFOR. I've heard the stories. Nasty stuff.