One Year Later, Same Song

A few days ago, I shared some observations from abroad about the importance of democratic norms. As JoAnn recently reminded me, almost exactly a year ago–early in January, before Trump was inaugurated–I had used an essay by Fareed Zakaria to offer similar cautions.

Zakaria warned about the prospect of what he called “illiberal democracy”–countries where people voted for leadership, but ignored the erosion of civil liberties and the rule of law. Those regimes allowed the marginalization and oppression of minorities. They failed to protect freedom of the press. In other words, they were “democratic” only in the sense that they retained the franchise.

In my opinion, the “money quote” from Zakaria was this one:

What stunned me as this process unfolded was that laws and rules did little to stop this descent. Many countries had adopted fine constitutions, put in place elaborate checks and balances, and followed best practices from the advanced world. But in the end, liberal democracy was eroded anyway. It turns out that what sustains democracy is not simply legal safeguards and rules, but norms and practices — democratic behavior. This culture of liberal democracy is waning in the United States today.

In the year since I commented on Zakaria’s observation, I have had many opportunities–too many–to report on the waning of those norms in the United States.

In the wake of the publication of Fire and Fury, amid all the consternation about Trump’s obvious mental incapacities, a friend made a point we too often miss: the problem isn’t Donald Trump, pathetic and ignorant and corrupt as he is. The problem isn’t even the American electorate– after all, as pundits routinely remind us, candidates other than Trump got 11 million more votes than he did. Clinton garnered three million more, and the rest were scattered among third and fourth-party candidates. He wasn’t exactly “the people’s” choice.

So what is our problem? I submit it is the behavior of the Republican majorities in the House and Senate. Not just McConnell and Ryan–although McConnell, especially, gets my vote for “most evil man in America”– but their obedient armies. Today’s Republican Senators and Representatives (and probably several Democrats, although they’ve had no opportunity to exhibit their version of bad behavior) have willingly abandoned those essential small-d democratic norms; they have traded them for partisan advantage.

Today’s Congressional Republicans consistently and routinely elevate party over country.

Yes, Donald Trump is an embarrassment and a danger. Yes, the Electoral College is an anachronism that has outlived any utility it ever had. Yes, the millions who did cast ballots based upon fear, ignorance and racial resentment share culpability. But the real “villains” of this sad story are the Republicans serving in what is supposed to be a co-equal branch of government who have abandoned even the pretense of statesmanship.

If those Republicans survive the midterms, American democracy (at least, as we’ve known it) won’t.

 

24 thoughts on “One Year Later, Same Song

  1. ” It turns out that what sustains democracy is not simply legal safeguards and rules, but norms and practices — democratic behavior. This culture of liberal democracy is waning in the United States today.”

    The above copied and pasted portion of that Zakaria quote struck me as bringing the problem home and into our neighborhoods…and probably workplaces. I take “liberal democracy” to mean acceptance of others to maintain their beliefs; it has become others denying beliefs of those who differ from their own. I have said before that my Democratic candidate yard signs have always been in my front yard during campaign months but, not until 2016 did my neighbors post presidential signs. At that time the area sprouted a forest of “Trump for President” signs everywhere. Formerly friendly neighbors began edging away and since winning they manage to ignore me. This is their right under democracy but what is it accomplishing? I still accept them as neighbors, formerly friendly neighbors, but they sure as hell are poor winners. “…norms and practices — democratic behavior…” in action; bringing it down to “where the cheese binds” at the level where we should most be trying to understand one another to work out problems. We never talked “politics” per se; before Trump we did talk about problems regarding crime, our crumbling infrastructure, streets never cleared or treated during heavy winter storms, street repair areas blocked off for months but no sign of work being done, etc. These problems continue and have escalated but for some reason I have become the neighborhood leper who should be ringing a bell, chanting “unclean” as I walk through the neighborhood with my walker.

    Problems have become political because the Congressional Republicans have convinced their supporters that all issues ARE political; blocking resolution of all issues keeping the party name at the forefront. Their outward support of all Trump says and does, contrary to what a few have said otherwise, is leading us backward in the area of civil and human rights but forward into an era of nuclear war. Liberal or conservative democracy; we are losing all “norms and practices of democratic behavior” as other nations move ahead of us struggling to provide democracy for their citizens.

    I am currently reading three books; “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump”, “Echoes From Auschwitz” and to escape the terror, “The People vs Alex Cross” by James Patterson. I read these as I await delivery of my copy of “Fire and Fury”. Being deaf; I must rely on closed captioning which leaves much to be desired, especially being more fully informed of what is actually going on with our government. I am now throwing my hands into the air wondering about the sanity of the general public and those reported in the Democratic party pushing for Oprah Winfrey’s presidential nomination. I love Oprah; she is a phenomenal woman talent-wise, intelligent and uses much of her millions to aid those in need. But please; has this country lost it’s grasp on reality with nothing and no one in the media but Trump for comparison of presidential candidats and only the Republican members of Congress allowed to vote and decide on all issues?

    “If those Republicans survive the midterms, American democracy (at least, as we’ve known it) won’t.”

  2. At least in Indiana one can see the quality and intent of the candidates seeking to unseat Joe Donnelly. Todd Rokita is happy and comfortable supporting the worst of Trump’s agenda; he is in fact the poster child for voter disenfranchisement based on his actions as Indiana Secretary of State. I used to think Luke Messer was a reasonable and thoughtful guy based on his appearances on IWIR. Since his election he has rapidly descended into the abyss of the Tea Party and is basing his campaign on racial fear and hatred. Mike Braun is running on Trump’s record. It doesn’t look promising for Indiana or for Donnelly; remember Donnelly was running against Murdock last time and he repeatedly shot himself in the foot. And after Hoosiers elect another Republican you can count on their continuing destruction of democratic institutions and support of party over public.

  3. JoAnn,

    “But please; has this country lost it’s grasp on reality with nothing and no one in the media but Trump for comparison of presidential candidats and only the Republican members of Congress allowed to vote and decide on all issues?”

    Answer: YES

  4. it is NOT the ‘same song’… please read this:

    “https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/us-to-loosen-nuclear-weapons-constraints-and-develop-more-usable-warheads/ar-BBIbyLL”
    Now tell me it isn’t time to either drag them kicking and screaming from the WH and the HILL or … !!!

  5. The majority of Americans dislike DONALD TRUMP, however, they dislike a real SOCIAL DEMOCRACY even more. That’s our REALITY and the Democratic Party isn’t about to face that problem. They’ve become a party of FOOLS.

  6. JoAnn is not alone in her observations of neighbors and family members. The discarding of norms and practices by Republicans throughout the government has allowed, even encouraged, the discarding of norms and practices by the general population in our everyday lives. Tolerance is on the wane… everywhere. Racism and bigotry are openly expressed in ugly and violent ways to the obvious indifference of our so-called leaders. Entire groups of people are singled out for new kinds of oppression: expulsion, exclusion, and exploitation.

    What is most tragic about this divisiveness is the lose of any sense of unity, of belonging, that has served our country so well. Once our boats all rose together; in these times they are sinking separately, but surely they are sinking.

  7. The Democrats have adopted Neville Chamberlain’s policy toward Adolph Hitler of PEACE AT ANY PRICE. We better start facing up to it.

    We need to remember Bill Clinton started the ball rolling downhill with his strategy of TRIANGULATION. What more would you expect from a serial draft dodger?

  8. What went wrong with my generation? 50 years ago, we marched for civil rights. We marched against an unjust and stupid war. As the song said, it was the dawning of the Age of Aquarius. We would have harmony and understanding, sympathy and trust. Now it is my generation that is at the heart of all that has gone wrong in America. Starting in the age of Reagan, we became greedy rascals. Today, we cling to power; deny our racism; and seek to cut ourselves off from the rest of the world. We went from being strong and brave to being weak and fearful. We will go down in history as America’s worst generation. We gave the world Donald John Trump.

  9. Thank you Manuel for picking up on this very small piece that appeared in the news yesterday that you cited. As if we didn’t already have enough to be concerned about the clowns that are running this country have given us even more to worry about. I saw it too and wondered when I saw the title if this was an upgrade of our nuclear weapons but when I read it quickly realized that those who are debating this requirement have something else altogether in mind.

    Hasn’t anyone told Trump and his minions what the nuclear firebreak is where we want to maintain a clear delineation between where conventional weapons would be used in a conflict and where the use of nuclear weapons would be authorized and that the threshold for their use would be very high and contain no ambiguities? The idea being that you don’t want to make nuclear weapons too easy to use and readily considered as weapons of choice in a crisis for the use of military force might be necessary. That idea has existed for decades both for common sense reasons but also to keep potential adversaries from doing the same thing and having still another nuclear arms race on our hands.

    This adds even more credence to Sheila’s commentary which is right on the money as usual in describing the true threat to our democracy lying on Capitol Hill and among those apparently that aspire to work there. So we not only have knuckleheads trying to create the illiberal democracy that Fareed Zakaria wrote about a year ago (Thank you JoAnn!) and who are succeeding, but we also have others who want to upend strategic norms that have existed for decades and very likely would put this country a greater risk. They seem, apparently, oblivious to what such an action will do in regard to the scope of the nuclear arsenals of the major nuclear powers and to the strategic balance it exists in the world today. That strategic balance is already becoming more precarious given the overreaches and breaches of arms control treaties by the Russians that largely go unnoticed by the American people. Perhaps this is being orchestrated by the former hedge fund manager that works on the National Security Council staff that put forth a proposal to redeploy American troops in Eastern Europe in such a fashion aimed at pleasing Vladimir Putin. While his idea was dropped, thankfully, what other totally goofy things are these people that sit at this level in the decision-making process of this country’s national security policy have up their sleeves as well?

    We have a President that demonstrated yesterday on live television that he is incapable of making a coherent decision without minders, in this instance Republican senators and congressmen, pointing the way for him. This adds even more credence to Sheila’s spot-on assumption as to who the real enemies of our democracy in our national security and quite frankly our sanity are-the Republican led Congress. There needs to be a concerted effort to get these fools out of there before they do even more damage than they already have done and also further damage our collective psyches with what seems to be a never ending parade of heartless and ill conceived moves that are all detrimental to the welfare of the American people and its position in the world.

  10. Peggy,

    “What went wrong with my generation. 50 years ago, we marched for civil rights.”

    We didn’t understand the deep state of racist, oligarchy power. While we were marching, they were planning to destroy the democracy. By 1970, their plans were now operative as Vernon has so well pointed out in his book.

    It took the Nazis a little over 10 years to destroy the Weimar Republic. It was new.

    On the other hand, our democracy is over 200 years old. Thus, It has taken 50 years of continual deception through a strategy of 2 steps forward and 1 backward, for American democracy to come to a halt.

  11. There are many words that describe the place that threatens our great experiment in liberal democracy but to me the simplist most comprehensive one is “extremist”. We can now understand the dynamics that we have seen in other countries and probably didn’t try too hard to understand because they were not us. Extremism seems to breed in lands of powerful influential leaders who attract followers by removing all nuance and creating a black and white vision. There are them and us and we are always right and they are always wrong and not only that they are blatantly evil in every possible way and threaten everything sacred to us. A world of Rush Limbaughs.

    I imagine that President Obama attracted lightening so much because he was the opposite, inclusive to a fault, intellectual, accepting of many views not one.

    The real danger of extremists is that it’s nearly impossible to overcome with anything else and once that arms race launches it typically ends badly for everyone but extremist leaders who flourish.

    Is there any way for us to just leave it behind or are we the new Israel/Palestine defined by terror, tension, unresolveable goals and pure hatred?

    We won’t know for several years.

  12. Pete,

    “Is there any way for us to just leave it behind or are we the new Israel/Palestine defined by terror, tension, unresolvable goals and pure hatred?”

    “We won’t know for several years.”

    Why so long? Isn’t the proof already out there?

  13. “But the real “villains” of this sad story are the Republicans serving in what is supposed to be a co-equal branch of government who have abandoned even the pretense of statesmanship.”

    Let me hone in on the term “pretense of statesmanship”; “pretense” is what is going on in the Trump White House with the ousting of Steve Bannon. He has spouted off against Trump, worked against him in the Alabama Senatorial election, tried to “walk back” his statements now available to the literate world who are or will be reading “Fire and Fury” and now is “stepping down” from his leadership position at Brietbart. I said he would become more dangerous out of the White House than from inside; and so he was due to no governmental restraints. He is now free of all media restraints and will become even more dangerous; watch as he supports Moore in Alabama and will most likely move on to support Trump’s pardoned former Sheriff Joe in Arizona. He now has a free hand and all the money in the world to move White Nationalist Republican candidates ahead. I do not believe this bogus “Hatfield vs. McCoy” feud between Trump and Bannon any more than I believe the Republican Congress will support DACA or work to stop the wall.

    Looking at a side view of Trump at that meeting yesterday; it looks to me as if Trump and Bannon have the same barber…or they are doing each other’s hair. Whatever their public situation; don’t be fooled into believing Bannon is out of the Trump insiders or that Trump is out of Bannon’s back pocket.

    “One Year Later, Same Song”…second verse!

  14. The history of democratic norm decay begins in earnest with the Lewis Powell memo of 1971. I urge you to Google it and read it thoroughly. What it really defines, along with the moronic economic theories of Milton Friedman, is the fulfillment of Karl Marx’s thesis that capitalism will destroy itself from within. It’s always been about the money in politics. Now, the money is doing the talking while the 90+ million voters bury their heads and slurp Bud Light while not voting.

    Yes, we gave the world Donald Trump, but our collective lack of participative democracy has allowed the creatures of the night like Ryan and McConnell to erode the norms and give us the same kind of fascism that defeated the Weimar Republic.

    Well, done non-participants. You have created the possibility for a dreadful outcome for American democracy.

  15. Sheila’s nomination for worst villain in this present day pickle is McConnell. It just so happens that my daughter and I were discussing the worst of the worst recently and came up with the same nomination for worst villain. Ryan and Tea Party greedhogs follow. However, we felt, McConnell & Greedy Crew Republicans seemed to be more restrained prior to the Trump era than since, and opined that Trump has opened the door for their worst instincts to flourish in broad daylight. Prior to Trump, for instance, Republicans did not say that they were cutting taxes for the superrich as paybacks to their donor class; now they do. It appears that pretense is unnecessary when you have unlimited resources from government-hating libertarians such as the Kochs and Mercers; you buy unlimited propaganda resources and, aided by Fox News and talented liars who write script, cruise to victory on slogans (e.g., Make America Great Again).

    So what to do? Take Fareed’s and Sheila’s observations on democratic norms to heart and pound away the attributes of democratic idealism while calling a spade a spade with those who would reduce us to ATMs in the service of our libertarian masters of the marketplace. Now is no time to falter in our resolve, what with November looming, because our democracy is truly at stake and nothing is more important than its preservation and expansion.

  16. Gerald,

    “However, we felt, McConnell & Greedy Crew Republicans seemed to be more restrained prior to the Trump era than since, and opined that Trump has opened the door for their worst instincts to flourish in broad daylight.”

    You’re right. Trump is their hero. McConnell and the rest were just slow cooking. Trump just raised the temperature. That’s the only difference.

  17. Gerald, the primaries are just a few months away. That is where the battle begins. To wait until November is just limiting the choices to those selected by the party faithful, often the same ones who have orchestrated the mess we are in now. We need to identify, encourage and support qualified candidates who are not beholden to the donor class.
    Register to vote and encourage/assist others to do the same. Support no excuse absentee balloting, early voting sites, extended voting hours or best of all, vote by mail. We need to do it now.

  18. I also read articles concerning the Loose Nukes.
    Arms control advocates have voiced alarm at the new proposal to make smaller, more “usable” nuclear weapons, arguing it makes a nuclear war more likely.

    Oddly, enough there are people that see the Russians, North Koreans and China as the “bad guys” of the earth at various times threatening World Peace. Let me correct that impression: The USA’s military deployed in one way or another to 149 countries in 2017, roughly 75% of countries on the globe. The US military is conducting counterterror activities in 76 countries. The US federal price tag for the post-9/11 wars is about $5.6 trillion dollars. http://watson.brown.edu/costsofwar/

    Zakaria is quoted above: >>> What stunned me as this process unfolded was that laws and rules did little to stop this descent. Many countries had adopted fine constitutions, put in place elaborate checks and balances, and followed best practices from the advanced world. But in the end, liberal democracy was eroded anyway. It turns out that what sustains democracy is not simply legal safeguards and rules, but norms and practices — democratic behavior. <<<

    At one time in Civics Class we were taught to have a war, it was necessary for Congress to declare a war. It was a feature that was designed to avoid the Imperial Presidency a check and a balance. When is the last time we had a check or a balance on the Military Industrial Complex?? When is the last time anyone elected to Congress questioned this grossly inflated and aggressive military??? Well, I guess we have had plenty of "Checks" but no balance.

  19. With the recent abandonment of seats by GOP Congressmen, i.e., Senators Issa, Hatch, and others, it appears even Republicans are losing faith in, or fight for, their Grand Old Party. What are the views of others here regarding an apparent “rats-deserting-a-sinking-ship” analogy? How do these changes shift the conversation? Or do they?

    Further, as a writer and scriptwriter, I am a creative sort. I can count on one hand my college science courses. But doesn’t a theory exist that posits, the further an organism/group/society expands from its original nucleus, the thinner its edges become until those edges are no longer sustainable and they break off? Could this theory of the survivability of fringe elements, whatever their makeup, be the core reaction here?

    As my college history professor, Dr. Bowers, once put forth, Society is a pendulum, forever swinging from one extreme side only to balance itself by swinging back to its opposite extreme. Very seldom does the pendulum halt as that would signal complete stagnation and total inertia.

    Or, as the late George Harrison expressed so elegantly, “All Things Must Pass”.

  20. Peggy Hannon: “What went wrong with my generation?” Start with Dr. Spock’s “Baby and Child Care” (go back more than fifty years) and then recall the hundreds of Me First Books, which all the fake peacniks were reading (peacniks and marches for peace were euphemisms for people who marched not against the war but against their serving in the military). Me First books served to ease their conscience. I recall being astonished in bookstores at the size of those How-to sections, 90% devoted to indoctrinating individuals on how best to be selfish individuals. And, for good measure or just in case there were a critic or two, the Me First books stooped to the world’s most blatant example of circular reasoning–justifying that selfishness by inflating the value of the individual. How to be popular: be selfish. How to get rich: be selfish. How to be happier: be selfish. How to get a girl: be selfish. How to catch more fish: be selfish. How to cook delicious pasta: be selfish. How to be a better parent: be selfish. How to avoid having some sergeant wake you up at four in the morning: be selfish. I saw this coming more than fifty years ago on my first visit to a big bookstore. I wrote about it the first time in 1968 for a graduate paper in psychology at Oregon State. The reaction of the professor included depositing warnings to employers in my records that I was mean-spirited, lacked a healthy sense of self, and would be dangerous when dealing with patients whose sense of self needed encouragement. That professor was the author of half-a-dozen of those How-to books.
    And before my notice of the Me First books, we had the coup d’etat …the assassination of John Kennedy, ironically, the inventor of the Peace Corp.

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