Monday, October 3, 2016

Democracy or “Other”?

Vigorous debate. Thorough examination and discussion of the issues. Elections where people actually decide the kind of government they want, how they want issues to be dealt with and how they prioritize what they believe government should do. Dick Cheney saw a flaw in this system. He believed, passionately, in the concept of a “unitary executive,” an individual whom the electorate would elect who could act quickly, decisively – without question or debate – to challenge rapidly-shifting foes with war and terrorism on their minds.
Cheney noted that Congress had tied the President’s hands after the out-of-control Vietnam War. He believed that the ancient Roman model – where a prominent member of the Senate would be chosen to be a temporary dictator (Caesar) to deal with crises – was the correct path in a world with so many threats to America and her allies. That these “Caesars” almost never gave up their power to return to the Roman Senate was simply ignored.
Cheney needed a threat such that Congress would vote to repeal those Vietnam-era restrictions and re-empower the President. Weapons of Mass Destruction. Saddam Hussein. Well, you know the rest. Most of the Patriot Act that implemented his goals was drafted long before the purported WMD threat. And its 313 pages were proposed on a Friday as an emergency measure and passed on Monday. Cheney just needed an excuse to have Congress vote against itself.
But today, there are so many questioning whether democracy is remotely able to deal with these seeming existential threats to all of us. Donald Trump stands for policies that discriminate against Muslims, would allow torture, allow reinstatement of police “stop and frisk” practices and generally put greater power in the hands of the military, the police and the president. And lots of people think these powers are necessary, inconvenient though hardly perfect, but necessary for our survival.
Others point out that the American economic miracle – that post-WWII acceleration within a nation virtually unscathed by the ravages of war – that led us to our current status as the biggest economy on earth is slipping... along with our global prestige. After the fall of the USSR in 1991, the need for nations to align with the United States for a nuclear “umbrella” seemed to vaporize. Countries increasingly elected to go their own way.
As America’s economy sputtered, as her infrastructure crumbled and her public school educational standards plummeted, the People’s Republic of China accelerated, taking a billion people out of poverty and began an economic course that promised to eclipse American economic power. Globally, people began to question whether democracy was still a viable model in the modern, threat-filled world. Disturbingly, the attraction of rising Millennials to democracy was waning fast.
As Leslie Nguyen-Okwu, writing in the September 23rd, notes: “According to research duo Roberto Stefan Foa and Yascha Mounk, only about 30 percent of American millennials believe living in a democracy is ‘essential,’ down from 72 percent of those born before World War II. What’s more, 24 percent of American millennials find democracy to be ‘bad’ or ‘very bad’ for the country, compared to 13 percent of millennials in Germany, Sweden, Spain, the Netherlands, Romania, Poland and the United Kingdom. That’s according to nearly 30,000 respondents under the age of 36 — all mined from the World Values Survey, which asks people worldwide about their values and beliefs.
“Millennials in these countries are beginning to question their once-precious freedoms, with a widening generational gap to boot. As the trend of “serious democratic disconnect” continues, long-standing democracies may be tested. Even so, the results reveal only a minority of millennials are fed up with democracy. Longer-term studies will be needed to determine whether democracy’s millennial malaise will fester or dissipate, says Foa, a political science professor at the University of Melbourne and principal investigator of the World Values Survey.
Young people not embracing democracy? One more big question. Simply, is this the era of the “strongman”? Putin? Erdogan? Assad? Jinping? Jong-un? Democratic leaders are slipping? Britain’s Cameron was forced out when Brexit passed, and Germany’s Merkel seems destined to follow his path as her open immigration plans are meeting with increasing resistance. Are we heading towards a planet where extremely sophisticated artificial intelligence will ultimately make all those nasty political decisions? Meanwhile…
Is Donald Trump Dick Cheney’s prophecy realized? Is he America’s “strongman”? Is his decision-making going to let some democratic safeguards slide as we face the onslaught of terrorism from within and without? It does seem to many Americans that liberalism and personal freedom are going to have to take a back seat to old-world white traditional values… the real meaning of “make America great again”… no secret to any of us. Are we really moving away from that democratic model? Can’t we find a balance? Is that really what we want? I guess we will find out in about a month and a half.
I’m Peter Dekom, and will the moves to codify intolerance, to side-step democratic safeguards under the mantra of “national security,” sooner or later, erode what I had always assumed the United States stood for?

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