Saturday, July 30, 2016

Peak Democracy

Is democracy in decline? Has the American experiment reached a dead end?

"Peak oil" is the theory that all the easy to get oil has been found and production will now steadily decline. Peak Democracy is the heading an editor at Eurozine gave to an overview of recent books and articles having to do with the general topic of recent elections of authoritarian governments in Europe, coups and Brexit type revolts of the working class. Writers and reporters are wondering whether democracy is in decline.

In America we don't need a list of articles. The "leaked DNC emails" demonstrate, like Republican efforts to suppress the vote do, that neither party has any regard for democracy, but that fact has been obvious for a long time.

The New Mexico Democratic Party doesn't even try to register new voters or to attract more people to get involved in party politics. The small pool of people who vote are enough democracy for them. New Mexico's elected Democrats always strictly avoid doing anything that might mobilize people. They never use the public podium and the access to the media they've been handed to those ends.

They want you to vote for them so they can "fight" for you, as they put it, without ever saying specifically what that means, and then proceed to offer and endorse no bills that would improve the economic lot of their working constituents; it amounts to turning your power over to them and letting them do what they want, which is to go along with policies that enrich the ruling class. When New Mexico Democrats Martin Heinrich, Michelle Grisham, Tom Udall and Ben Lujan endorsed Hillary Clinton months before they even knew who else would be running for president they were demonstrating that they've forgotten they're supposed to even pretend that they're in a democracy.

Hillary Clinton the other night in her "historic" acceptance speech gave the nation just over an hour of blather such as that when one person breaks through a ceiling, everyone benefits. Most women getting out of high school are wondering if they'll break through the ceiling of finding a job that pays enough to live on, even if they're one of the dwindling number who can go to college after which they'd face an average debt of around $30k. Clinton uttered no remark that hinted she has any intention of changing that situation or that she has any desire to halt the ongoing slide in our living standards, address the rapidly increasing wealth and income gaps or otherwise alter the status quo.

It's this status quo, after all, that was created by herself and other so called "New Democrats" like her husband, Joe Biden, Al Gore, Martin Heinrich, Michelle Grisham, Tom Udall and Ben Lujan.

To alter the status quo, of course, would require getting millions of people involved in civic life in ways that would amass their power, the way the Labor Movement, the Civil Rights Movement, the Women's Movement and the Environmental Movements did in decades past when, working outside the political system, they amassed sufficient power to bring about the only significant changes that have ever occurred in this country. They accomplished this by both directly forcing the political system's hand and by forcing it indirectly by changing public attitudes.

Those movements, unfortunately, have enmeshed themselves with the Democratic Party and become part of the status quo. Nothing has changed under Obama. The ruling class has had its way with him and will with Clinton if she's elected.

As Lucy Parsons famously said, "Don't be deceived that the rich will permit you to vote away their wealth."

Despite recent attempts by Americans to reject the status quo -- Occupy, Black Lives Matter, the Sanders and Trump campaigns -- democracy in America is pretty unhealthy and it's not hard to see why.

I've been listening to the Librivox reading of Democracy In America, Alexis de Tocqueville's breathtakingly thorough study of American democracy that most students are assigned to read and few do

De Tocqueville traveled the length and breadth of this country talking to people, reading documents, laws, all kinds of county and state constitutions and observing how American democracy worked, how it struck an intricate balance between individual liberty and the common good. He brought the classic, "objective" -- uninterested is a better term -- viewpoint that only the outsider can bring. Democracy was working for two basic reasons, he said; because it was highly participatory and because Americans, at the time, were relatively equal in terms of wealth compared to Europe. He warned, however, that it was beginning to unravel and would eventually fail because power was becoming centralized. And he could not of course foresee the vast inequalities of wealth we have now.

The US union almost came undone a few years after his writing with the Civil War. Southerners and their sympathizers like to say that the war was about "states rights," but ironically, the southern states were less democratic than the northern ones, according to de Tocqueville.

I didn't read de Tocqueville when it was assigned either, but hearing it now it's remarkably apparent how democracy has been corrupted by both political parties. By Republicans with their furtherance of economic inequality and by Democrats with their furtherance of centralized federal power to achieve their ends, and with, now, their acquiescence to economic inequality, and both parties actively discourage participation by the general public in making the decisions they make. To promote either political party now, instead of looking for and promoting ways to get people to participate in democracy, both from inside and outside the political system, and to decentralize power, put it back in the hands of the people, is to only hasten democracy's further deterioration and its ultimate demise.

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