Is Democracy Worth Saving?


Is Democracy Worth Saving?


Well before Donald Trump became the presumptive President of the United States, well before he announced his candidacy, The Man in the High Castle premiered on Amazon Prime Video. It’s a show based on a sci-fi novel by Philip K. Dick that imagines an alternate 1960s, one in which the Axis powers win World War II and import fascism to the U.S.

After listening to this excellent interview with the show’s creators on Imaginary Worlds, I started watching the series. But what’s scary isn’t the Nazis. What’s scary is the central question: how far would we go to defend democracy?

If you take the bleak view of Dick and the show runners, the answer – not very.

But that’s just a fictional TV show…yeah?

Not according to research done by Yascha Mounk and Roberto Foa, which suggests that worldwide support for democracy is on the decline, especially among younger generations.

democracy in decline

As distressing as I find this research, I cannot say I’m surprised. From a U.S.-centric perspective, my life has been marked by increasing political partisanship. I was not old enough to understand the Clinton presidency, I watched the Supreme Court determine the 2000 election and put a popular-vote loser into office. I voted for Obama, only to see congressional republicans obstruct his agenda at every turn. And now…Trump.

As much as I appreciate living in a democracy, I’d be lying if I said I’m always thrilled with the outcome.

In a search for viable alternatives, I’ve come across Technocracy—an oligarchic system in which highly—knowledgeable technical experts direct government functions. On paper, it sounds great – the best and the brightest on a particular subject creating policy around it.

In reality, it’s just another form of dictatorship. After all, who’s picking the experts? Are they true experts? Or is the expert charged with solving the climate crisis a climate change denier? What if the person in charge of medical science is a eugenicist?

In a world where left and right can’t agree on basic facts, I don’t have much hope for (or faith in) a technocratic system. I don’t have much faith in any system where one person, or one small group, makes every decision, unchallenged. Sure, the system could be more efficient if politicians voted their conscious and brought about real change, rather than worrying about the next election and playing to their base. But who’s to say the change they’d pursue is good change? Or at least, good for me. Or at most, good for everyone?

Unfortunately for U.S. democracy, we see the world through blue or red lenses. We’ve spent years calcifying our distaste for the other side and it’s brought our politics to a standstill. It’s destroyed our faith.

But that push/pull is why democracy is important. When one side gets to enact their full agenda, unopposed, it never turns out well. Hitler and Stalin were mortal enemies – the former on the far-right and the latter on the far-left. Their political philosophies were diametrically opposed, but the policies they enacted were disturbingly similar and equally horrifying.

Democracy is not perfect. Far from it. Even Winston Churchill, as his nation fought to defend democracy, recognized that. He called it, “the worst form of government, except all the others that have been tried.”

Today, democracy is under siege again. And if you think it’s a system worth saving, we need to pause our partisan, left-right politics. As painful as it is to say, debates over climate change, minimum wage, and healthcare need to take a backseat. Instead, we need to work across the aisle to defend our rights to having those debates at all.

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