This is a question that has found its way in headlines and news articles since it was used in the political science book “The Spirit of Democracy” by Larry Diamond in 2008, it is again making headlines. This time it is even more disturbing as it isn’t referencing what is happening on the other side of the world in continents like Asia and Africa, but right here in North America!
Is the USA, which is the most powerful democracy and nation, going through the effects of a democratic recession? If it is, how worried should we be? Will we do anything about the causes and the effects?
The USA, a country built and created on the backs of the founding fathers and immigrants, who sewed the thread of freedom and justice in their beloved red, white and blue flag, are now having their constitutional rights attacked by their own president. Who would have ever thought that the American flag would ever have a gapping tear like this? How could the American pillars of democracy be rattled?
“The term “democratic recession” was coined by Larry Diamond, a Stanford University political scientist, in his new book “The Spirit of Democracy.” And the numbers tell the story. At the end of last year, Freedom House, which tracks democratic trends and elections around the globe, noted that 2007 was by far the worst year for freedom in the world since the end of the cold war. Almost four times as many states — 38 — declined in their freedom scores as improved — 10.
What explains this? A big part of this reversal is being driven by the rise of petro-authoritarianism. I’ve long argued that the price of oil and the pace of freedom operate in an inverse correlation — which I call: “The First Law of Petro-Politics.” As the price of oil goes up, the pace of freedom goes down. As the price of oil goes down, the pace of freedom goes up.
“There are 23 countries in the world that derive at least 60 percent of their exports from oil and gas and not a single one is a real democracy,” explains Diamond. “Russia, Venezuela, Iran and Nigeria are the poster children” for this trend, where leaders grab the oil tap to ensconce themselves in power.
But while oil is critical in blunting the democratic wave, it is not the only factor. The decline of U.S. influence and moral authority has also taken a toll. The Bush democracy-building effort in Iraq has been so botched, both by us and Iraqis, that America’s ability and willingness to promote democracy elsewhere has been damaged. The torture scandals of Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo Bay also have not helped. “There has been an enormous squandering of American soft power, and hard power, in recent years,” said Diamond, who worked in Iraq as a democracy specialist.” The New York Times, The Democratic Recession, by Thomas L. Friedman, May 2008
It seems to be an opinion that it starts with the power of fuel. Not just to heat our homes and run our vehicles, but to control and influence nations.
“ It is, indeed, the same crossroad that corporate America faced in the late 1990s with respect to Enron. In that case, energy traders were encouraged to maximize profits within a regulatory scheme that had been guided by energy lobbyists. Some companies exploited the system by keeping power plants offline when electricity demand was highest. Prices thus shot through the roof, making traders rich but also breaking working class citizens.
The traders may have been playing by the rules but they failed to consider their greater obligation — to observe the Golden Rule and to respect all stakeholders. Ethicists will say that once someone crosses a line, it then becomes easier to justify similar behaviors. And in Enron’s situation, it also manipulated financials and lied to investors. Now, the dead company is the symbol for corporate malfeasance and unchecked power.” Forbes, Enron, Ethics And The Slow Death of American Democracy, by Ken Silverstein, April 2019
As the power of corporations continued to go unchecked, the power of the people in democratic countries decline. The gap between the mega wealth and everyone else gets bigger! With that enters the authoritarian leaders! When the big guys are not allowing any of their profits to trickle down to the people working for them, the idea of a hard day’s work, so that the little person can get ahead, dies a painful death. Addiction, crime and mental health issues worsen. People start to become frustrated and want someone to blame. They want someone to tell them what to do…they are open to suggestions. In walks social media and Donald Trump and out comes the “Trump Supporters”.
“A lot of them are nice folks, they just have this disposition to authoritarianism” he explained. “There were actually relatively few I didn’t like. They’re just not very good with complexity. Confusion can make them feel less in control and therefore more threatened. And that’s a dangerous thing”. The Independent, Democracy Undergoing ‘Alarming’ Decline Around the World, by Adam Forrest Feb 2019
We sit in disbelief and horror as we watch on the news the ethnic cleansing in some dictatorships and third world countries. Yet, the same paranoid thinking is happening in the western world as well. Shouldn’t we know better by now?
With the unbalance of wealth and power, the rattling of justice and freedom, the spreading of hate and paranoia, our western liberal democracy is taking a bit of a beating.
The cries to keep democracy intact are heard at this moment in Hong Kong. Are we listening?
Here in Canada, in the last election, we heard tantalizing promises of electoral upgrades, transparency, and ethics. The first two were all but forgotten.
People are losing their voices to influence how they want their country governed and they certainly have lost any faith in politicians.
The power of the corporations, mega rich and lobbyists on politicians and the electoral system must be diminished greatly.
How we vote, why we vote, and for whom we vote must be redefined. The USA have not changed the way they vote in over 200 years. It may be time.
Like a well- built structure, it always needs maintenance and inspections, to stand the test of time. Slight renovations are always needed and must be considered, but why a certain storm might or has led to damage is also very important.
“If people can’t discuss their fears about immigration, if they can’t discuss the values they fear some newcomers might have, if they can’t discuss how much is too much – then these things get vocalised by people like Trump,” she added. “We have to understand this a fundamental aspect of society. It’s not intrinsically evil, but just another way of being human that we’ve often pretended doesn’t exist. A true democracy must ultimately attend to the needs of all its citizens.” The Independent, Democracy Undergoing ‘alarming’ Decline around the world, by Adam Forrest, February 2019
The blue prints of a more modern electoral system need to be presented and both sides need to voice their concerns to help keep the structure of democracy sound.