Who screwed the democracy pooch?
It seems we have made a successful two year circuit of the Brexit, Trump, neo-fascist, pseudo-nationalist, cluster of disasters and found ourselves back where we started. Tremendous amounts of thought, research, writing and discussion have illuminated, dissected, denied, explored, and despaired with anxiety and self-doubt. The damn thing is what it is and we’re going to have to deal with it.
The shock of Brexit followed by the resounding shock of Trump and a range of similar disasters from Turkey to the Philippines appeared to be the result of a relatively less educated, rural, and small town demographic who had gained nothing in the neoliberal world or actually lost some ground, gaining control of major governments. We are dealing with those folks rejection of stuff they didn’t understand and their very traditional quest for some simple minded savior who would return them to the world they thought they understood. We actually knew this two years ago and nothing that has happened since has changed that reality. That is what happened, no more and no less.
This was, obviously, a mistake caused by people who had no business trying to select leadership to deal with a planet in very large paradigmatic change. The future of the planet is as an open economy based on very large urban regions with the very nature of daily life in massive transition to post industrial, robotic management. This will also produce our first post scarcity economics which damn few people have even an inkling of how to handle.
Post industrial nations are already 50% urban and will be 70–80% so in the next twenty to thirty years or in one more generation. No wonder an active group of rural and semi rural people barely averaging a secondary education reacted inappropriately to an incredibly difficult future that they didn’t even realize was there.
The reason that these people were able to grab the wheel and steer for the ditch in an effort to reverse direction was a major political system failure everywhere it happened. This is exactly why you don’t turn the controls over to the people in the back of the plane during an inflight emergency caused by automated navigation system problems. That’s just not a good idea even though those are good people who may know what to do in other situations and may even have specific technical skills that could be useful if all else fails. Put that way this was obviously a stupid move that needs to be prevented from happening again. First lesson learned.
We can identify the primary reasons this was even possible by simply saying all 21st century representative governments were designed on the 18th century Enlightenment model that evolved in England, the US and other Western European states. These were all loaded to give rural people an edge to balance out the old aristocratic court elites. The old aristocratic elites were nearly the only urban and educated people around then and they were the opposition to democratic style revolutionary change. Unfortunately things have changed drastically since the 18th century.
As a corollary anyone who claims to be a strict constructionist on an 18th century governmental foundation document is obviously bullshitting. There is no such thing as the whole damn thing is very nearly irrelevant so such a person is just fronting for someone making a power grab and counting on people being stupid. Oh, wait. It’s the same stupid people who aimed for the ditch earlier.
This is not a mystery and definitely not a surprise. Through the twentieth century this was an understood problem but as the political distribution of positions was only slowly being affected by growing education and urbanization, it was tolerable. Until it wasn’t. This is the base cause of a very major screwup.
People really didn’t realize how things had changed even though the educated urban population has known for decades that it was working uphill against the traditional rural and semi rural populations with details dependent on the country. I can’t even say for sure that the rural and small town populations understood how heavily things were weighted in their favor. They have only been told for decades that they are getting screwed.
The increasingly urban and more highly educated also became complacent because they were aware their votes were heavily discounted and also thinking the direction of the planet was obvious. It wasn’t obvious to the folks who carried the electoral weighting particularly as they had been played by nasty people who kept telling them they are going to be raped, butchered, plundered and forced to do nasty things that would embarrass them in church. This played out differently in different places.
There are bad people everywhere who understand that the people they could manipulate for the greatest effect were the weighted voters and they played to them for the purpose of gaining power in the short term. People who do that rarely think beyond getting power and becoming rich.
In Great Britain the Brexit thing was stupid and destructive but the mass manipulation of an easily manipulatable voting group was able to tip things into full scale disaster. We are watching that play out now as the people who know what this will mean are supposed to plan and carry out the equivalent of a slow national suicide.
In America one of the two official political parties slipped to the criminal side thirty plus years ago when they realized that “conservative” was both irrelevant and had become redundant as the Democratic Party had become the large business and free trade neoliberal party. With no policy left the Republicans went for reactionary racism and voter suppression. Thirty years of that and any dog that could stumble along and shout racist bullshit while letting them take as much money away from people as they could manage to carry was a dog they would bet on. They could even swallow a Russian asset or three as long as they got some of the take.
We know the result. No matter what you do it comes back to the problem of letting the wrong people carry too much weight in a national election during a complex era of massive social change. In times of minor change it wasn’t deadly. In times of major change that requires an educated and actively aware electorate maintaining antiquated weighting for the least educated and aware is a disaster. You risk destroying the people’s belief and trust in democracy. If you are going to have a semi-democratic government you need to make damn sure everyone’s vote is counted one for one. No weighting. Then the shifts in population from rural to urban and from relatively ignorant to educated are going to remain balanced with the majority more likely to be up to the choices that have to be made.
This rule applies everywhere you are trying to maintain an even vaguely ‘democratic’ system. Once you allow that pooch to be screwed people are not going to want to have anything to do with it unless they are evil manipulators out for their own win. You can now see these kind of people in charge where the democracy pooch was allowed to be humped with impunity.
The problem, as we all are seeing, is that these systems have no good way to call a foul and correct the vote. The folks in GB are trying but with barely functional bureaucrats who know its bad but don’t have the guts to fix it. America will probably collapse and break up just because there is no way to retroactively kill the electoral college system. Other countries have already gone to military control as better than letting the folks who have been freaked call the shots and risk destruction of the planet. In places without the tradition of military rule during times of major screw up that is a hard pill to swallow and may be worse than letting everything just break up.
However we get around to counter these very large errors or not the massive paradigmatic change is well underway. That is moving us into a totally different world of virtual reality and work only for the highly educated or highly skilled unless we fail to deal with climate change and the next generation dies. That’s what we should be dealing with and don’t ask the person who just got laid off because her job disappeared to automation, which is a good thing, how to handle the transition to a new world. She’ll just demand her old job back and get angry when you explain that is not possible.
Yes, it comes down to this democracy thing needing to be seriously rethought.