Friday, February 3, 2017

In No One We Trust; Our New Flawed Democracy

The Intelligence Unit of the Economist provides global analytical research intended to help corporate and governmental leaders make informed decisions. Of late, they have become concerned with the degradation in democratic values around the world. Their 2016 Democracy Index – in an article entitled The Revenge of the Deplorables, created well before Donald Trump assumed the presidency – presents some sobering statistics on how democracies are faring the our modern world. Here are some of its key findings.
“According to the 2016 Democracy Index almost one-half of the world’s countries can be considered to be democracies of some sort, but the number of ‘full democracies’ has declined from 20 in 2015 to 19 in 2016. The US has been downgraded from a ‘full democracy’ to a ‘flawed democracy’ because of a further erosion of trust in government and elected officials there. [See the above chart]
“The ‘democratic recession’ worsened in 2016, when no region experienced an improvement in its average score and almost twice as many countries (72) recorded a decline in their total score as recorded an improvement (38). Eastern Europe experienced the most severe regression…
“Popular trust in government, elected representatives and political parties have fallen to extremely low levels in the US… This has been a long-term trend and one that preceded the election of Mr. Trump as US president in November 2016. By tapping a deep strain of political disaffection with the functioning of democracy, Mr. Trump became a beneficiary of the low esteem in which US voters hold their government, elected representatives, and political parties, but he was not responsible for a problem that has had a long gestation.
To understand the thrust of the above analysis, the January 25th provides this summary: “A cumulative score below 8.0 drops a country out of the ‘full democracy’ ranks and into those of ‘flawed democracies,’ where the US now keeps company with countries that include Italy, Botswana, Sri Lanka, and Mexico.
“Dragging the country's score down was its rating in the ‘functioning of government’ (7.14) and ‘political participation’ (7.22) categories… The EIU cites multiple ‘long-standing reasons’ for the decline in the country's government function ranking, including ‘ideological entrenchment of congressional representatives’ leading to ‘bitter partisanship.’
“‘The upshot is a stronger emphasis on ideological purity and less appetite for compromise, which reinforces a lack of confidence in Congress among voters. Nevertheless, respect for the constitution and democratic values are deeply entrenched as a result of centuries of democratic practice. For urgent and crucial decisions majorities can normally be obtained, but solutions to long-term problems often fall victim to deadlock.’”
The rise of “strongmen” – many elected under a constitutionally-defined process in purported democracies – and the wild “economic miracle” success (with a few bumps along the way) of non-democratic China (the PRC) have created a new model of the “ideal form of government” in the minds of billions around the world. The U.S. has become dysfunctional, its congress deadlocked, its federal deficit astronomical, its voting laws manipulated and increasingly exclusionary, income inequality polarized as never before, and its economic future muddled as its middle class rapidly contracts downward.
Once held high in the eyes of aspirants in the developed world, the perception of America has dwindled into that of a corrupt bully that has supported (and seems to be on the verge of resurrecting) torture against its enemies. We can add to that a new government that raises white Christian traditionalists to become our new shot callers, banning Muslims, Mexicans, generally people of color and poor people from all over the world. Our new strongman pledges to make us… what else… strong (great?) again by retreating into the past – the America of the era before the Soviet Union fell (the 1950s through the 1080s) and undoing what technology and an over-connected world have done since.
We have never been so fractured, at each other’s throats and mistrusting in our government at any time since our Civil War. We are no longer a shining light of democracy to the rest of the world, which nevertheless seems to be following in our populist footsteps. Almost no one in our country seems to care about middle ground or compromise; gray seems to have been purged from our body politic. It’s black or white. We’re not even trying to reach across the aisle. Democracy is no longer cherished.
If we don’t care about trying to make our democracy work, to try and find that traditional horse-traded compromise in the middle, if we insist on only black or white but never gray (aka “my way or the highway”), who exactly in this great land really believes that we can hold together and survive as the greatest economic and political power on earth? And if we genuinely no longer want to be together anymore, exactly how do we implement the break-up? Sorry Democrats, Republicans and Trumpists, but there really is a middle ground if we were just willing to find it. And if we don’t…
I’m Peter Dekom, and we better love it, cherish it, fight to make it work or lose the United States of America for good.

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