“In every region of the world, democracy is under attack from populist leaders and groups who reject pluralism and demand unchecked power to advance the vested interests of their supporters, usually at the expense of minorities and other perceived enemies. “ – House of Liberty.
Threats to democracy have always been myriad and often complex. Today, as in the past, these threats include authoritarians who encourage and help radicalize extremists who share the goals of authoritarians.
There is a history of authoritarian leaders such as the Indian Narendra Modi and his Hindu nationalism, and the Filipino Rodrigo Duterte, both democratically elected and very popular.
People like strong men, who use machismo and belligerent rhetoric. A recent report described the admiration of many female voters for Modi.
Countries like the Bahamas, which enjoy the benefits of democracy, should never take for granted how easily and quickly these benefits can be eroded, as we see around the world.
Freedom House further warned: “Incumbent leaders and ruling parties are corrupting governance and spreading undemocratic practices in the region that stretches from Central Europe to Central Asia.
“These actions are opportunistic, but are often hidden in an ideological agenda. And as they become increasingly common, they are fueling deteriorating conditions that will have global implications for the cause of human freedom.
Given the enormous, perhaps innate, fragility of democracy, viable institutions and practices, democratically engaged political leaders and responsible citizens are essential to the resilience and survival of democracy.
“Remember that democracy never lasts long. Soon he wastes himself, exhausts himself and assassinates himself. There has never been a democracy that has not committed suicide,” suggested US President John Adams.
Adams, like other democratic theorists and politicians, deeply appreciated the inherent weakness of democracy and the need for countervailing measures and forces to arrest its potential decline and suicidal instincts.
More pessimistic than many other philosophers and practitioners of democracy, Adams, America’s second president, offers a helpful warning about the threats to democracy. What would Adams and the other American founders think of the current moment in America?
Right-wing extremist forces, including media personalities and politicians, have entered the mainstream for several decades. Donald Trump’s election was something of a pinnacle, with his re-election quite possible.
The upcoming Congressional election cycle in November will bring more hardliners to Congress, with the Republican Party likely to have majorities in both houses. More Republicans in Congress will have to appease their base and Trump even more obsequiously.
What are we seeing in America? How cancerous is his politics and at what stage?
Those in the Bahamas who perpetually and often blindly rush to fetishize American democracy would do well to reflect on and appreciate the genesis and history of our system of government.
Experiments with democracy over the centuries and in different places have yielded a myriad of results, with some parliamentary democracies proving resilient, but not without the need for reform, deepening and modernization.
Our deliberately designed challenge system exemplifies Benjamin Disraeli’s adage: “No government can long be secure without a formidable opposition.”
Political power easily corrupts humans and institutions in all forms of government. Democracy survives or weakens, fades or rises again, depending on those who uphold its fundamental values of rights and freedoms, moderation of power, tolerance of difference, rule of law and other principles.
Democracy requires shared citizenship. The understanding or absence of this citizenship among citizens and leaders is therefore decisive for democratic health. What constitutes shared citizenship in the Bahamas, the United States, and other countries in the second decade of the 21st century?
Suppose a shared citizenship fractures or can no longer be agreed upon in a regime? What happens when we no longer share common values? Or even a basic agreement on constitutional precepts such as handing over power to the winner of an election?
The lack of basic civic education among many Bahamians and the general ignorance of our democratic heritage and constitution by a new generation of politicians over the past two decades is cause for serious concern. It’s chilling! It’s scary !
When one does not grasp or appreciate the basic norms, rules, conventions, history, practices and principles, one’s unfettered selfishness and the temptations of power are breeding grounds for the abuse of power and seemingly abasement. endless standards in all branches of government. .
Ongoing threats to democratic well-being are ubiquitous today, including in countries with long democratic legacies, such as India and the United States of America, as well as in Brazil, all among the largest democracies in the world.
Writing recently on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation website, Stan Grant, Vice-Chancellor of Australian/Indigenousness at Charles Sturt University and former ABC International Affairs Analyst, offers:
“The 21st century will be defined by the struggle between democracy and autocracy. Faith in progress is not enough. The story does not unfold in a straight line. Tyranny is always on the lookout for justice and freedom.
“Power corrupts democracy. Power is to politics what atoms are to matter. The laws of politics are like the laws of physics. As the eminent Australian historian Christopher Clark, who has written extensively on Germany and the First World War, has said: “As gravity warps light, so power warps time”. “
One of the serious threats to democracies has always been extremist ideologies, which generally use violence to achieve certain goals. Around the world, extremists are on the march, often with the obvious nod and glaring wink, or other support from mainstream politicians, media and activists.
The 2011 massacre of 77 young people in Norway and the 2019 attacks on Muslims at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, were extremist attacks, which researchers like JM Berger have tracked in order to understand the underlying motivations of these individuals .
Berger continues to chronicle the “rising tide of extremist movements [that] threaten to destabilize civil societies around the world”.
His definition of extremism, as noted by Elizabeth Neumann, a former U.S. Department of Homeland Security official, is “any time any group believes an outside group poses a threat to you or the success or group survival.
“And they think hostile action is necessary. Hostile action can be bullying, it can be bullying, it can be hate crimes. It could be terrorism. It could be war. There is the whole spectrum.
The young man who brutally killed ten African Americans last week in Buffalo, New York, is an ethnonationalist determined to save white culture from what he sees as the existentialist threat from non-whites.
There are many layers of tragedy, including that of those killed and the brutal pain felt by their families and loved ones. There is another tragedy: the killings are not going to stop in America, especially given its gun culture and failure to enact more sensible gun laws.
Just as there were massacres of Jews, Asians and African Americans, we will continue to be horrified for decades. Let’s not forget the 2015 mass shooting of nine African Americans at the Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.
The killings of these white supremacists are a bloody part of the violent determination to preserve so-called purity and white privilege in America amid demographic shifts. Such “purity” is based on a masterful false myth about the founding and history of America.
Marine Le Pen and her far-right party in France continued to improve their electoral prospects in the country’s recent presidential elections. In both countries, the battle cry of white privilege against immigrants, Muslims and non-whites is now commonplace.
How far will the supremacists go in America? For a white supremacist worldview that inflicted genocide on Indigenous peoples and supported and waged a brutal war against slavery, the manipulation and overthrow of democratic institutions and traditions to salvage its economic, political and social privilege is almost a child’s play.
Those like Senate Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who believed he could appease and outwit an authoritarian like Trump, and manipulate and circumvent Democratic norms in judicial appointments, could live to see the consequences, intended and unintended, of his cowardly actions.
Do John Adams’ words reverberate in 21st century American history? “[Democracy] soon wastes itself, exhausts itself and assassinates itself. There has never been a democracy that has not committed suicide.
Is American democracy killing itself at the hands of its own leaders as it continues to be plagued by extraordinary inequalities? Stan Grant laments, “Gross inequality is a cancer that is eating away at American democracy. In the world’s richest country, life expectancy has fallen amid what has been called an epidemic of gun violence, suicide, drug abuse, poverty and despair.
America should not be naive. Just like other authoritarians around the world, Donald Trump does nothing but uphold the US Constitution and democratic standards.
Given another shot at the presidency, he will go on to belligerently lead a white supremacist and Christian nationalist movement capable of more than a failed insurgency to secure and hold on to power. The idea that some things can’t happen in America is dangerous.
Karl Hess, somewhat of an anarchist and libertarian, was Barry Goldwater’s speechwriter for his 1964 Republican presidential nomination acceptance speech. Hess placed these infamous words in Goldwater’s remarks: “I remind you that the extremism in the defense of freedom is not a vice!”
Some 60 years later, how could Donald Trump and supremacists use similar language to defend their narrow conception of freedom? Stan Grant once again: “We are democracy: the demos, the people. As we bow to tyranny, so do our institutions.