Thursday, February 11, 2016

Majority rule and liberal democracy

Consider this: In the New Hampshire primary, Donald Trump cornered 35.3 percent of the Republican votes and 11.7% went to Ted Cruz.  Together, that is just short of a majority of the GOP votes in the primary.  In the Iowa caucus, Cruz won with 27.6% and Trump was second with 24.3%, which together is more than a simple majority.

A majority of the GOP votes thus far has been for the Trump/Cruz ticket!

I point to these two because of the sheer number of atrocious and bigoted statements from them regarding war, religions and ethnic minorities, and more.  But, the duo has half of the GOP voters thus far backing them!

Against this background, Professor Ian Buruma writes about an "unhinged democracy in America"--yes, while thinking about Alexis de Tocqueville.

Buruma writes:
De Tocqueville identified another source of restraint in the US system: the power of religion. Human greed, as well as the temptation of going to extremes, was tempered by the moderating influence of a shared Christian faith. Liberty, in the US, was inextricably entwined with religious belief.
The spectacle of American politics today would seem to cast doubt on de Tocqueville’s observation. Or, rather, the rhetoric of many Republicans aspiring to be President sounds like a perversion of what he saw in 1831. Religion and liberty are still mentioned in one breath, but often to promote extreme views. Religious minorities are denounced. Apocalyptic fears are stoked. Intolerance is promoted. All in the name of God.
Atrocious statements and demagoguery in the name of god!

Buruma continues:
What is steadily falling away is not democracy, but the restraints that de Tocqueville thought were essential to make liberal politics work. More and more, populist leaders regard their election by the majority of voters as a license to crush all political and cultural dissent.
De Tocqueville’s nightmare is not yet the reality in the US, but it is close to what we see in Russia, Turkey, Hungary, and perhaps Poland. Even Israel, which, despite its many obvious problems, has always had a robust democracy, is moving in this direction, with government ministers demanding proof of “state loyalty” from writers, artists, and journalists.
 Indeed.  Democracy is alive, but it is the "liberal democracy" that is under assault.  That absence of a focus on liberty/liberal has always been my problem with India's democracy too, increasingly so under the Narendra Modi-led federal government.

From across the continent, Stanford's Professor Josiah Ober writes:
Democracy and liberalism both contain much of value, but they’re not the same thing. They can be conjoined in a successful political order, but their marriage is not inevitable.
After reviewing the Athenian history of democracy, and after sorting out the role of liberalism, Ober concludes:
Both democracy and liberalism offer laudable features for a modern society. But we must not underestimate how hard it is to sustain collective self-governance by citizens while protecting and advancing liberal rights. That difficulty is manifest in the 21st-century US, as the country struggles with global and domestic terrorism, political polarisation, new and old forms of discrimination and group identity, and growing economic inequality. The prospects of both democracy and liberalism, at home and abroad, will be much improved if people understand the difference between them. 
It is democracy--people power and a majority backing--that has yielded the Trump/Cruz duo, who both threaten the "liberal" part of the liberal democracy.  It will be intellectually interesting, and emotionally taxing, to see what arises from this unhinged democracy.


Ramesh said...

I want to venture off into a different direction triggered by your post. Does it matter if Trump or Cruz is elected. Or Hillary. Or whoever. Your system of governance is such that virtually nothing can be done. It is designed for gridlock. Both parties have now learnt that gridlock is their easiest option. Making difficult compromises and enabling governance, which was the basis of American political system for a long time, has now flown out of the window.

Except in war mongering , there is little to fear from virtually any President. Of course, the gradual deterioration of liberty (and that is across the world, as the world becomes more complicated) is real and you are right to bemoan this fact.

Mike Hoth said...

I must agree with Ramesh. This nation was founded with the idea that changing the basis upon which it stands is very difficult, and "clever" politicians have made that much more the case with tricks like gerrymandering. No matter which candidate wins (and I'm honestly not a fan of any front-runners) they have gained a bully pulpit that doesn't function and a veto power. Nothing more, nothing less.

We're also seeing the dangerous results of the precedent we set years ago by creating an "us and them" mentality between Democrats and the GOP. When voters are likely to pick "their side" to win no matter what (I might vote against my party this year, though) somebody is eventually going to hunt down radical groups that will make noise. Donald Trump has figured this out, and he's picked loud, angry people who don't vote to target. Every awful thing he says boosts his numbers because those people DIDN'T vote, and Now they do. They'll vote for Donald Trump and no one else.

Sriram Khé said...

When you both re-read your comments, don't you also see that those are some depressing assessments of the American political scene? About how far we have strayed away from any ideal that we are supposed to be working towards? This is where we are now 240 years since 1776? Even more worrisome is this--if the US is the beacon for the rest of the world that is trying to figure out what democracy means, a Trump could give many of them quite some wonderful ideas?
I am yet again reminded of Ben Franklin's comment that we deserve the government that we get :(

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