July 19, 2021 (from www.rationaloptimist.wordpress.com)
I believe in democracy. That might sound platitudinous, but it’s actually a carefully developed philosophical stance, grounded in a utilitarian concept of the greatest good for the greatest number.
America led the way in 1776, with our democratic manifesto. Eventually the idea caught on in many other countries, and for good reason. As Francis Fukuyama explained, it serves a fundamental thirst for recognition of one’s human dignity (which he gave the Greek word thymos).
But America’s own democracy is now in trouble. Almost half our citizens in a movement in effect seeing democracy as an impediment to goals they value more. (Mainly preservation of white Christian cultural domination.)
Thus the battle over voting rights. Republican rhetoric about ballot integrity is simply dishonest. We have no ballot integrity problem. It’s a smokescreen for their real aim, to win by any means necessary. They don’t expect to win fair elections. The larger the vote, the lower their chances, so they want to prevent as many citizens as possible from voting. Especially targeting minorities who overwhelmingly vote against them.
Such voter suppression is nasty enough. But even scarier is the push, in many states, to shift authority over vote counting to Republican-controlled political bodies.
We’ve seen this movie too many times across the world. This is how dictatorships hold onto power. It doesn’t actually matter how people vote, if you control the count. You just make up the results.
Iranian President Ahmadinejad was almost certainly trounced for re-election in 2009, but the regime simply said otherwise, then brutally crushed widespread protests. In Congo’s 2018 presidential election, Fayulu apparently got three times more votes than Tshisekedi, yet Tshisekedi was declared the winner. And in Belarus, reviled dictator Lukashenko surely lost to his challenger, but here again announced the opposite result, and unleashed ultra-violence when the citizenry erupted in protest.*
Can it happen here? January 6 was an effort to overturn the 2020 election result. That violent attempt failed, but now Republicans are laying the groundwork for doing it under color of law. What if Trump loses Georgia in 2024 but the vote counting authority, set up by the Republican-controlled state legislature and staffed with its operatives, simply announces different numbers? If you doubt they could be that dishonest — where have you been for five years?
Yet almost half the country supports this gang. Fervently. That’s the scariest thing of all.
I was thrilled visiting Russia in the ’90s. A democratic Russia! The triumph of my ideals. It seemed democracy was busting out all over. Since then, it’s gone the other way. Autocrats learned to adapt to today’s world — with a lot of help from foolish voters. While finagling elections does help too, unfortunately many people are suckers for political snake oil.
Take Italy. Its electorate is divided among a bunch of parties — one more crackpot than another. Old-fashioned sober serious parties can no longer compete.
India used to be heralded as the world’s biggest democracy. Now Narendra Modi is consolidating the classic authoritarian model, giving democracy the death of a thousand cuts. Press freedom is almost entirely extinguished. A new “Unlawful Activities Prevention Act” empowers the regime to jail anyone it doesn’t like, no specific charges even needed. The law is being utilized with gusto. A recent victim was an 84-year-old Jesuit priest and human rights advocate, Stan Swamy, with no criminal record. Denied bail, and medical care, he died in his cell.
Worse yet, this Hindu nationalist regime seems bent on making non-citizens of India’s hundred million Muslims. An insane folly if there ever was one.
India’s voters might have stepped back from the brink in the last national election. Instead they gave Modi a stonking majority.
So this is the problem of democracy: voters. I still believe a nation is better off with democracy than dictatorship. I do not believe in Plato’s idea of a philosopher king knowing best. But I increasingly worry whether enough people have the mature wisdom to vote sensibly.
Religion is part of the problem, scrambling minds into pathways of irrationalism. India is again a prime exemplar: Hindus actually thinking it’s a good idea to enflame intercommunal conflict. Such irrationalism also characterizes America’s quasi-religious Trump cult. As long as religion continues to mess up so many minds, I question whether humanity is ready for democracy.
* It’s a tribute to the power of the democratic idea that even dictators feel they need to have elections — even if phony ones.