Posts Tagged ‘civics’

mitch-mcconnell-glum
Excellent article on Rachel Maddow’s site today, which effectively skewers any idea that the Republican Party somehow now have a mandate to govern. The arguments should be read widely in America today: very good commonsense thinking.

It’s going to be a hot topic in the coming days and weeks. Having taken control of the Senate, is there a new GOP mandate for it to pursue with its new-found control of both houses of Congress?

That’s a question Republicans and Democrats will be debating in coming days, as the GOP makes the case that its election victories add up not only to an electoral “wave”, but to a mandate – a genuine endorsement of conservative policies – while Democrats cast them as something less.

Part of the problem is that we’re dealing with terms that have no specific, generally accepted meaning. For example, was this a “wave” election? Maybe, but there is no actual definition of the word, and because it’s somewhat subjective, opinions vary.

A “mandate,” meanwhile, also seems to mean different things to different people. Traditionally, it’s supposed to be part of a democratic model: a candidate or a party presents an agenda to the public, the public then endorses the candidate or party, and the winners claim a popular mandate. That is, by prevailing in an election, the victors believe they’ve earned the popular support needed to pursue the policy measures they presented during the campaign.

As of this morning, Republicans are predictably claiming just such a mandate, and at the surface, it may seem as if they have a point. The GOP took control of the Senate, expanded their House majority, flipped some state legislative bodies, and fared surprisingly well in gubernatorial races. The result, they say, is an endorsement from the American people that affords them the right to pursue their top priorities.

It’s a nice argument, which just happens to be wrong.

The Republican right can't have it both ways. But they will try.

The Republican right can’t have it both ways. But they will try.

Right off the bat, perhaps the most glaring flaw with the Republican pitch is that the GOP seems to believe only Republicans are capable of claiming a mandate.

Two years ago, President Obama won big, Senate Democrats kept their majority for a fourth-consecutive cycle; and House Democratic candidates earned far more votes than their House Republican counterparts.

Did this mean Dems had a popular mandate for their agenda? GOP leaders replied, “Absolutely not.”

Indeed, the Republicans said the opposite, concluding that Obama and his agenda may have been endorsed by the nation, but it was the GOP’s job to kill the every Democratic priority anyway. They proceeded to be the most obstructionist Congress in history, rendering the nation effectively ungovernable.

Elections have consequences? Republicans have spent the last two years insisting otherwise. It’s laughable for GOP officials to now change their mind and declare, in effect, “Mandates only exist when we win.”

What’s more, the obvious question for those arguing that Republicans have a mandate this morning is simple: “A mandate to do what, exactly?”

Think about the policy platform Republicans emphasised over the course of the last several months. Let’s see there was … well, we can’t forget about … but they certainly pushed … there was a real debate about issues such as … Ebola-stricken terrorists crossing the border from Mexico?

Look, it’s not exactly a secret that the GOP’s priorities, such as they are, do not enjoy broad national support. The party did its best to obscure its unpopular ideas for fear of losing. Incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) even went so far as to tell reporters the other day, “This is not the time to lay out an agenda.”

Not to put too fine a point on this, but that, in a nutshell, effectively ends the “mandate” debate. A party, no matter how well it does in an election, cannot claim a mandate for a policy agenda that does not exist and was not presented to the people. Vaguely blathering on about smaller government, or using explicitly abusive negativity, (as we said yesterday), doth not a mandate make. What exactly do the Republican Party stand for as opposed to against?

Republicans ran an “agenda-free campaign.” Did it produce big wins? Yes. Unarguably. Did it create a mandate? Very obviously not.

scotlandGiven the tightening in the opinion polls in recent days, including two with the Yes vote ahead, (although one was a very small sample), there has been a sudden rash of fevered speculation about what would happen if Scotland votes “Yes” to independence on Thursday, UK time.

All the way along we have been predicting a narrow win – perhaps a very narrow win – for the No vote, even when polls were showing a huge lead for the Noes.

But we confess the current volatility in the Scots electorate is giving us some pause for thought.

It’s clear from looking around the edges of the debate that there is considerable momentum for the Yes side as people get nearer and nearer to the day. Their rallies have been rowdy, good natured and well attended. In contrast, “No” activities have seemed mean and mealy-mouthed. A strong air of hurt rejection characterises much of the No campaign, whether it be the ludicrous announcements of some retailers and banks that they will relocate to England if the Yes vote gets up (they won’t) to the ever more strident allegations from English politicians that an independent Scotland is heading for economic ruin and an uncertain currency future, and probably outside of the EC at that. So there, and yar boo sucks.

This angst is all playing right into the hands of the Yes campaigners, of course, who simply call this further evidence that the English think of the Scots as less intelligent, less capable and less important in the world scheme of things – which is exactly what the English do think, of course. Democracy is an interesting thing, sometimes. Sometimes the people can see quite clearly what politicians deep, core opinions are, and they use their vote accordingly.

Anyhow, this “making your mind up” thing just before the actual day is a growing feature of elections and votes of all kinds, evidenced worldwide, born of less ironed-on support for one party or another, or one position and another.

We’ve seen it a lot recently: the last minute swing to the Liberal-National Coalition that toppled the last Victorian state government in Australia, the small but significant decline in Lib Dem support prior to the last General Election in England, a swing to Obama in the last few days of the last presidential election, Kevin Rudd doing better than expected at the last Federal Election in Australia, especially in Queensland, the pushing of the FDP below 5% in the last German elections as their supporters fled to both right and left in the last 10 days … yes, the “last minute swing”, to someone or other, is now so common as to be almost predictable. Politicians know it – it’s why you rarely hear a pollie say nowadays “Yeah, I reckon we’re home and hosed, we’ve got this,” because they know that’s a sure-fire formula for last minute desertions or abstentions.

So, given the general ineptness of the No campaign, a Yes victory is possible. They have the all-important “Mo”. We also suspect that the polls are somewhat under-estimating the Yes vote, as it is the nature of people’s responses to pollsters that they tend to report supporting the status quo more enthusiastically than they report supporting radical change. Radical change nevertheless sometimes occurs – witness the recent rise in support for the National Front in France, for example, which well outstripped its opinion poll performance.

What no-one appears to have discussed, however, is what will happen next week if the Noes win, but by a wafer thin margin. 50.5% to 49.5% for example.

Scotland will be seen to be split down the middle – and we’re also betting that the split will reflect historical strains in Scottish society that have never quite been resolved. We expect the Yes vote to do better amongst the University-educated, (Scotland has a fine tradition of intellectualism), amongst the poor and disenfranchised (for whom it is a useful way to express a generalised disgust with those that govern them, and Westminster in particular), and the “old Scots” – those that self-identify as members of the great Highland nations, that were never entirely subdued by the English.

Roman Catholics will also, we predict, heavily favour “Yes” over Protestants, the young will be more enthusiastic than the old, and so on.

Does it matter? Yes, it does. A Scotland that is still part of the Union, but where that Union is patently obviously deeply unpopular with large swathes of the population, is a Scotland where government’s legitimacy will be essentially harmed. The No vote needed to win big to put this to bed, and they’re not going to.

A notable feature of the debate in the last couple of years has been the idea that “Westminster” is somehow inherently flawed – unwieldy, or corrupt, or unresponsive, or all three. To combat that malaise, which is very real, a substantial effort to create yet more effective devolution of power will become a core priority in the wake of a narrow No win, but it would delivered to a country that will be exhausted with concepts of constitutional change.

Whilst many believe that the British peoples would do well to become a federated nation with much greater powers devolved to the English regions, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, the general public’s appetite is likely to be a long way behind that idea and focused on other more pressing issues like jobs, and economic health generally. Not to mention the fact that another uncertain Middle Eastern war apparently looms.

So Scotland might well be left with just the slightest taste of “freedom” on its lips, but essentially nothing substantial changed at all. That’s not going to be good for the basic compact between Government and the governed that lies at the heart of good civic compliance.There is nothing inherently and enduringly stable about British society than any other – remember the poll tax riots?

And in simple terms, all that means is that all the talk of this being a “once and for all” decision – an oft-repeated construction which suits both sides right now – might be, and probably is, a little hasty. If the No vote only wins by a poofteenth and a bit, we don’t expect this issue to go away.

What would we do, if we were resident in Scotland today? (One of the peculiarities of this vote is that you get a vote if you live there, wherever you’re from, but not if you were born there and now live elsewhere. Who dreamed up that little nonsense?)

Well, we have always been deeply wary of the way the British civil service works to mangle and strangle necessary change.

 

"But I love you." "Look, it's not you, it's me."

“But I love you.” “Look, it’s not you, it’s me.”

 

Westminster often moves turgidly slowly to enhance public freedoms, and to emancipate those whose position is hemmed in by lack of opportunity or rights. Far from being a notable and consistent reforming body, steadily pursuing the path to enlightenment, Westminster actually behaves erratically, sometimes going through great bursts of action (say, the establishment of the National Health Service, the de-criminalisation of homosexuality, the freeing of the colonies, the abolition of the death penalty – or in purely economic terms, Margaret Thatcher’s rolling back of trade union power, and her selling council houses and public assets) interspersed with periods of rigidity and retreat (how ridiculously long it took to emancipate women, a century of mistakes in Ireland, the failure to reform British industry pre-Thatcher along European enterprise lines being the most obvious recent example, the fact that the landscape is still blighted by urban decay in so many old Victorian cities, and perhaps lagging so far behind Europe in creating new “Green” industries to replace old ones).

At the Wellthisiswhatithink desk, we believe, as an article of political faith, that Government that is nearer the people it governs is usually better Government. Faster, more quick to make necessary change, better informed to resist foolish change.

That’s why we are, on balance, convinced of the Yes camp’s arguments. We don’t think an independent Scotland inside the EU would really be all that different to the Scotland that is inside Britain now, and we are reasonably certain the EU would (after some huffing and puffing) admit an independent Scotland, just as we believe they will admit an independent Catalonia eventually. Independence would be a boost to Scottish morale, and give the Scots the absolute right to chart an innovative and successful course, without constantly looking over the shoulder to see what someone in Birmingham, Kidwelly or Ballymena thinks. And if they don’t work it out, well, the residents of Lyme Regis, Pembrook or Derry won’t be paying for their errors, will they? That seems just fine to us.

Re-writing boundaries is a continual project: there’s no reason to believe that where we stand now is where we always will stand. We need to roll with the punches, and move on, as friends. What we need to be very aware of is that will be most urgently required not if Scotland votes for independence, but if it very narrowly doesn’t.

This very important article in Vox, based on Russian research, reveals an apparently staggering level of support for ISIS in Europe, and in France in particular, where one in six people report supporting the extreme terrorist Sunni group that has been slaughtering Christians, Shias, Sunnis who don’t agree with them, and anyone else who gets in their way.

And the level of support rises as respondents get younger.

 

Very, very worrying.

Very, very worrying.

 

We somewhat doubt the veracity of the research and wonder if people are confabulating “ISIS”, “Gaza” and “Hamas” in their minds. In any event, it’s a sad and sorry finding even if it’s only partly accurate, and the radicalisation of Islamic youth is one of the most distressing and tragically predictable outcomes of the growth of so-called “identity politics”, which is now playing out throughout the West, and increasingly in a new black-white divide in America, as well.

But despite this survey it would be wrong to see this phenomenon as something unique to young followers of Islam. Indeed, as one of the sources quoted in the article remarked:

The rise of identity politics has helped create a more fragmented, tribal society, and made sectarian hatred more acceptable generally. At the same time, the emergence of “anti-politics,” the growing contempt for mainstream politics and politicians noticeable throughout Europe, has laid the groundwork for a melding of radicalism and bigotry. Many perceive a world out of control and driven by malign forces; conspiracy theories, once confined to the fringes of politics, have become mainstream.

It is so. This isn’t a religious thing. It’s all about contemptuous disenchantment and disempowerment.

That said, the fact that we actually find most interesting in the graph above is the much LOWER figure – virtually negligible, in fact, in polling terms – in Germany.

In our analysis, this can be explained by three simple factors.

Whilst there is racial tension within Germany – particularly where the Turkish immigrant population is concerned, it is less of a problem than elsewhere.

Even with the persistent (if small) growth in Neo-Nazi skinhead violence, the vast majority of Germans utterly reject the balkanisation of politics based on race. Given their recent history, and the efforts the State makes to prevent racial abuse or anything that smacks of it, this is laudable and not at all surprising.

Another differentiator, of course, is that much of the Islamo-fascism currently being exhibited in the world is explicitly anti-Israeli and by extention anti-Jewish, and expressing sentiments that could possibly be interpreted or misinterpreted as anti-Jewish in Germany is still well-nigh impossible, again for very obvious reasons.

The third reason, and this is very significant, is that the German economy is significantly wealthier and more successful than the British, or the French. There is plenty of education and work to be had, and both are the perfect balm for the vast majority of young people, of all racial backgrounds, who might otherwise be led into more extreme conclusions about society.

Recent riots in France were painted as "Islamic" by commentators, in fact, as the placard being carried by one demonstrator, it was more accurately an explosion of frustrated youth violence, like previous riots in the UK and elsewhere.

Recent riots in France were painted as “Islamic” by commentators, but in fact, as the placard being carried by one demonstrator says, it was more accurately an explosion of frustrated youth violence, like previous riots in the UK and elsewhere.

Unemployment – especially youth unemployment – is the perfectly fertilised and endlessly productive seed bed for extremism of all kinds, whether you look at 1789 France or France last year, 1917 Russia, 1933 Germany, 1970s Northern Ireland, the “Arab Spring” of 2011, or America, France and Britain today.

And where that unemployment falls most onerously on any particular racial or religious groupings, particularly a grouping that considers itself as a minority, then you have a recipe for immediate and predictable disaster.

But even when that miserable judgement is made, it is the generalised “anti politics” trend that concerns us most – even more than any passing fad for Islamic extremism that threatens us today.

The simple fact is that when people perceive their leaders as corrupt, when people perceive them as petty, when people perceive them as habitual liars, (with plenty of evidence), when people perceive them as lacking in required levels of intelligence or leadership skills, then they do not blame the individuals as much as they blame the system. And variously, they turn (and they can turn very quickly) to revolutionary creeds – Marxism, Fascism, religious extremism: whatever is around and easily grasped as a panacea, really.

Anti-democrats don't start out carrying a sign saying "crush democracy". They know it frightens the horses. And they can be alluring - Stalin was quite a hunk as a youngster.

Anti-democrats don’t start out carrying a sign saying “crush democracy”. They know it frightens the horses. And they can be superficially attractive – Josef Stalin was quite a hunk as a youngster, for example.

This is precisely why we have frequently labelled America a ‘pre-Fascist” state* – not because we believe there are organised groups of people seeking to subvert the American constitution and replace it with some Hitler-style figure – there are such groups, but they are still largely fringe dwellers, and there are also big money groups that wield far too much malign financial power over the political system, such as the Koch brothers, but their influence is still basically visible and trackable – rather, it is because the fracturing of America into potentially warring tribes is so very palpably obvious when viewed from a distance, matched (equally obviously) by an increasingly careless disregard for civil rights and privacy from the authorities.

A frightening realisation that often comes later in life is that democracy, in all its expressions, contains within it the seeds of its own destruction. The very thing that makes democracy so worth preserving – freedom of opinion and the resulting freedom of speech – is the very weapon that can tear it down.

History teaches us, again and again, that there is a tipping point when a majority of people despair of the system and when they do they are prepared to consider a replacement – any replacement. Or it can be a highly motivated minority, with good organisational skills.

Shorn of the wonderful, soaring rhetoric of its core principles by the behaviour of its key players – our political leaders, and the media – democracy simply seems increasingly and hopelessly out of touch and irrelevant. All it needs is a half-credible populist to repeat the people’s complaints alluringly, and the complaints are worldwide, and they are devastatingly simple and enticing:

“I don’t trust them”, “They’re all just in it for themselves”, “They don’t know what to do”, “They’re just taking the piss out of the rest of us, and we’re paying”, “They don’t care about us.” “What can I do? They won’t listen to me.”

At one and the same time, powerful cabals in business and the military foolishly consider they can take advantage of such unrest to position themselves to take over as “a strong voice”, to run things (skimming off the top, of course) while the hubbub of dissent dies down, until – inevitably – they realise they have seized a tiger by the tail, and they can’t control it. “Temporary” restrictions on freedom become permanent, and apply to these fellow travellers as much as they do to the rest of us. They imagine themselves isolated from the crackdown by their money, except – as they invariably discover – they are not.

Anti-politics. It is louder in the West than we can remember at any time since we started paying attention in the 1960s.

“They don’t care about little people.” “Just a bunch of snouts in a trough.” “They’re all stupid.”  “There’s no real difference between them, anyway. It’s all a game.” “I just don’t trust ’em. Any of ’em.”

Indeed, as we write these phrases, it is all we can do to stop from nodding in agreement. They are so seductive.

A son of the aristocracy, Churchill never lost his early passion for democracy that was often found in those days in the ranks of the independently wealthy.

A son of the aristocracy, Churchill never lost his early passion for democracy that was often found in those days in the ranks of the independently wealthy.

Except if we are seduced by them, we will hate what comes after. As Winston Churchill supposedly famously remarked:

“Democracy is the worst form of government, it’s just better than all the others.”

Actually, and somewhat ironically, the most famous defender of modern democracy might not have actually generated those words, although in his lifetime he did say a lot about democracy, especially when its survival was threatened with the horrors of German and Austro-Hungarian Nazism, Italian and Spanish Fascism (amongst others), and Soviet-style “marxism”.

Churchill did say something like this in the House of Commons on  11 Novem­ber 1947) but it appears he was quot­ing an unknown pre­de­ces­sor. From Churchill by Him­self, page 574:

Many forms of Gov­ern­ment have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pre­tends that democ­racy is per­fect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democ­racy is the worst form of Gov­ern­ment except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.

So, although these are Churchill’s words, it is an amusing historical footnote that he clearly did not orig­i­nate the famous remark about democracy. We wonder who did. Anyhow, here are some orig­i­nal things that the great man did say about democracy over 70 years in public life:

If I had to sum up the imme­di­ate future of demo­c­ra­tic pol­i­tics in a sin­gle word I should say “insurance.” That is the future — insurance against dan­gers from abroad, insur­ance against dangers scarcely less grave and much more near and con­stant which threaten us here at home in our own island.
Free Trade Hall, Man­ches­ter, 23 May 1909

At the bot­tom of all the trib­utes paid to democ­racy is the lit­tle man, walk­ing into the lit­tle booth, with a lit­tle pen­cil, mak­ing a lit­tle cross on a lit­tle bit of paper—no amount of rhetoric or volu­mi­nous dis­cus­sion can pos­si­bly dimin­ish the over­whelm­ing impor­tance of that point.
House of Com­mons, 31 Octo­ber 1944

How is that word “democ­racy” to be inter­preted? My idea of it is that the plain, hum­ble, com­mon man, just the ordi­nary man who keeps a wife and fam­ily, who goes off to fight for his coun­try when it is in trou­ble, goes to the poll at the appro­pri­ate time, and puts his cross on the bal­lot paper show­ing the can­di­date he wishes to be elected to Parliament—that he is the foun­da­tion of democ­racy. And it is also essen­tial to this foun­da­tion that this man or woman should do this with­out fear, and with­out any form of intim­i­da­tion or vic­tim­iza­tion. He marks his bal­lot paper in strict secrecy, and then elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives and together decide what gov­ern­ment, or even in times of stress, what form of gov­ern­ment they wish to have in their coun­try. If that is democ­racy, I salute it. I espouse it. I would work for it.”
House of Com­mons, 8 Decem­ber 1944

Stirring stuff. And how unlike any modern politicians that come to mind, except, perhaps, the trio of dead American heroes, JFK, RFK, and MLK. Little wonder that they seized the imagination so thoroughly, and are still revered to this day, even though their feet of clay have been comprehensively documented. They talked about the principles of Government, not just the outcomes.

Democracy is more than a system, it is a concept.

Democracy is more than a system, it is a concept that breeds a system.

In today’s world, once again – and urgently, in our view – we need to make the argument for democracy itself. Not for nothing do the appalling leadership of extremist Islam, epitomised at its most horrible by ISIS, reject the very concept of democracy at the very same time as so-many of their co-religionists seek to acquire and embrace it. ISIS and others of their ilk know they are engaged in a death struggle for their narrow view of the universe against the very principles that democracy uniquely espouses: the principle of protection under the law whoever you are, whatever your creed, sex or colour, true justice that is separated from the government and which can hold the government itself to account, freedom to express oneself fearlessly, genuinely participatory government, the rights of women and minorities to be treated as equals, and much, much more.

For our own internal stability, and in defence of those who dream of democratic freedom everywhere, we need to make our passion for democracy loud and clear, recapturing why we believe it to be superior to the alternatives.

Even if we don’t care about personal freedom, let us carol from the rooftops that it has been shown to be more economically successful – and more sustainably – than any other system.

Even Communist China, containing fully one-third of the world’s
population, enjoying its hugely successful democracy in chinaexperiment in State-directed capitalism, is increasingly recognising that it cannot endlessly stifle the opinions and behaviour of the governed.

They have recognised that they can release a gale of innovation and improvement by asking the opinion of their own people (a truly alien view for the whole of Chinese history thus far) and thus they are taking faltering steps to introduce more freedom into their system without triggering a cataclysm of change.

As just one measurement, the level of openly critical comment in China today is measured in vast multiples compared to even ten years ago, as is the nationwide passion to tackle corruption, which has been endemic in China since time immemorial.

How ironic that the People’s Republic of China – until recently a vile and periodically vicious autocracy – is cautiously embracing a belief set that we seem essentially content to see wither on the vine. Certainly when measured by the public behaviour of our elite.

If nothing else, our leaders and opinion formers should be arguing for the success of liberal democracy as an economic vehicle – not, please note, arguing in favour of unfettered capitalism – as the proven way forward for humankind.

The evidence is that democracy spreads wealth better than any other system, to the widest possible number of people, even while it grapples with the excesses of the runaway freight train of capitalism. Democracy actually restrains the worst features of capital’s behaviour – environmental vandalism, for example. (And if you want to see the results of capitalism that is not fettered by democracy, both in terms of economic failure, cronyism, violence, and environmental vandalism, just have a look at Russia today.)

But more than mere words, more than argument, we need to make democracy work for the governed.

As a beginning, we need to act with utter ruthlessness when evidence of corruption or rorting the system is uncovered.

Sad Statue of LibertyWe need to be deeply suspicious of centralising power, and passionate and enthusiastic about devolving power to the lowest practical level concomitant with effective decision-making.

(For this reason, we are tentatively in favour of Scotland voting for its independence next month, despite acknowledging that it might not appear to be a sound decision economically, at least in the short term. Not that we think it will.)

We must watch our security services and police like hawks, ensuring that the work they do is effective, but that their understanding of the proper limits on their powers is thorough and genuine.

We must defend and encourage media diversity, because a plehtora of opinions expressed openly is the best possible way to generate the ideas we need to successfully navigate our new century and beyond. Anything that compresses media ownership into fewer and fewer hands, blithely covered up with promises of editorial independence that everyone knows are false – is actively dangerous. NewsCorp, and those like unto it, are bad for the health of democracy. “State-owned” news outlets – unless protected by the most rigorous legislation – are a contradiction in terms, wherever they are.

We must encourage bi-partisanship, not because we want our democracy reduced merely to fudge and lazy compromise, but because the public needs to see – to witness – people of good faith working together on their behalf or the social compact with the governed will collapse.

It follows that the role of Opposition is to oppose what it truly believes to be wrong, rather than simply “everything”, and that Government should habitually respect and consider the opinions of those who disagree with it. The impasse between Obama and the Congress in recent years was an economic annoyance, to be sure. But it was a political catastrophe.

Where disagreement is genuine, then the debate should be conducted with civility. Even when one considers another person foolish in the extreme, misguided, or lacking perception, the skill is to make that point in such a manner that they will at least consider you may be wiser or in possesion of a better idea, and also so you may carry public opinion with you. And so that the public can see your good intentions, and not just your muscular antagonism.

We “dumb down” our debates at great cost and at our peril.

If something is “dumb”, the people know they can do without it. When politicans dumb down their discourse, when they are relentlessly trite or scathingly negative, encouraged, aided and abetted by a media that has an increasingly – vanishingly – small attention span, they are not playing some clever stratagem.

In risking a backlash against democracy itself, they are lining themselves up to be thrown in a prison, or worse, by the tidal wave that replaces what they blindly thought was inexorable and irreplaceable. They are beating ploughshares into pikes, and putting them into the hands of those who – when they aren’t even offered complex, thoughtful or educated opinion to consider – can see no reason why they shouldn’t adopt simpler ideas expressed in slogans.

working mensAs democracy swept across Europe in the mid-late 19th century and into the 20th century, it was buttressed by wise souls who ensured that every village, every town, had facilities for the dis-semination of ideas and knowledge, for the edification of the working poor, (such as with the Working Men’s Institutes of Britain), so that they would become participatory members of a new compact.

The privileged who led these conscious efforts to uprate the skills and learnings of the poor were driven by belief, not by an empirical calculation that they were providing a safety valve for the expectations of the people. They believed that a government of all cannot exist if the all is disenfranchised through ignorance or lack of opportunity. So they set about creating the knowledge that would let people fully participate.

Yet today the efforts of those great communicators have been hijacked. Today they are largely directed into providing an endless diet of sport, or reality TV, or mind-numbing time-consuming soap opera and unedifying “popular” drama. Modern media resembles nothing more than an electronically-delivered diet of “bread and circuses” – a tactic for mind control, remember, employed by the Roman dictatorship very successfully for 400 years. “Don’t worry about how we are governing, or who for – here’s a load of bread and a free ticket to watch the gladiators. Come back tomorrow for more of the same.”

And today, devoid of any understanding of why democracy matters, the governed have essentially lost interest, and satiate themselves instead on a diet of moronic “entertainment”.

Ask yourself: where are the civics classes in our schools and universities? Where are our unions, who taught people not just how but why they should defend their rights? Where are the rhetoricians, stirring our minds with ideas and concepts? (Answer, making a “Ted Talk” to their fellow intellectual and financial elite.) Why have our political parties shrunk to be miniscule mockeries of their former selves, with memberships so ludicrously small as to make them nothing more than stripped-down bureaucracies, homes for duelling apparatchicks?

Un-engaged and uncomprehending, the people are ripe to be captured by that simplest and most terrifying of ideas.

“It’s all their fault. Let’s go get ’em.”

Who “they” are varies from theatre to theatre, of course. Alarmist? Look at that graph at the top of the page again.

Democracy is not the natural form of government for humanity. Violence is. Democracy has been hard won with the stout arms and often the lives of millions, for over 2,000 years.

Democracy will not persist if it is dysfunctional. Democracy will not persist if it is not protected. Democracy will not persist if we lose the argument.

Think about it. Discuss.

 

*For history buffs, there is a famous quotation, “When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.”

  • Many variants of this exist, but the earliest known incident of such a comment appears to be a partial quote from James Waterman Wise, Jr., reported in a 1936 issue of The Christian Century that in a recent address here before the liberal John Reed club said that Hearst and Coughlin were the two chief exponents of fascism in America. If fascism comes, he added, it will not be identified with any “shirt” movement, nor with an “insignia,” but it will probably be wrapped up in the American flag and heralded as a plea for liberty and preservation of the constitution.
  • Another early quote is that of Halford E. Luccock, in Keeping Life Out of Confusion (1938): When and if fascism comes to America it will not be labeled “made in Germany”; it will not be marked with a swastika; it will not even be called fascism; it will be called, of course, “Americanism.”
  • Harrison Evans Salisbury in 1971 remarked: “Sinclair Lewis aptly predicted in It Can’t Happen Here that if fascism came to America it would come wrapped in the flag and whistling ‘The Star Spangled Banner.'”