I started this post on September 17, 2018. Actually I thought I'd published it back then. It talks about democracy and how we used to practice it and how Trump is subverting it. With Trump's efforts to use decree powers to build his Southern Border wall, this assault is now in the critical stage. He's declaring a National Emergency, where there is none.
When I debate with some Radical Right folks, they will tell me,
“The United States is a Republic not a Democracy”
Well John Locke dealt with that question more than 300 years ago. In a Federated Republic, which is what we are, democratic features are either part of the equation or the country is tyranny!
Those who demand individual liberty for themselves, to include a right to rape and steal, are not seeking liberty but tyranny.
Subverting Democracy One Organization at a Time
Our Democracy is being subverted at all levels. The motivations range from fear to greed, and from jealousy or ambition to simple perversity. We've had authoritarian "Socially dominant" leaders and People inclined to follow cult leaders and be true believers, for most of our country's history. Traditions and institutions that practiced democratic republican principles kept them in check for most of that history. But now those democratic traditions are thinning and it is getting harder to stave off authoritarian memes and inclinations. We risk facing the kind of misery that places like 1930s Spain Endured. Spain Started with Hope, and people turning to Republicanism. When that republicanism was subverted it began to To fight that off we need to be aware, not only of what is happening but why it is succeeding.
In my most recent post When we Practiced Democractic Republicanism, I laid out that we used to do to practice democracy at all levels. That sort of democratic practice has been shoved out of the way. Mostly because people are content to let others tell them to do and provide entertainment based on marketing surveys and the like. But a lot of this seems to have been on purpose. Like happened in 30's Spain, and in other places, there has been a long con program to manipulate people, driven by EMAD People:
“The Destruction of our Democracy by people who's primary interest is personal gain at the expense of others, is an intentional thing. The goal of Exploitive, Manipulative, Amoral and Dishonest managers and owners, is usually a continuance of their dominance and exploitation of the resources they control.”
There are authoritarians, who style themselves "libertarians" who despise democracy openly. Trump is one of them. They seem to be giving up on Democracy in their pursuit of "economic liberty" for their masters [and nobody else].
EMAD as a requirement of Modern Business
But there are also manipulative, amoral, people who have determined that they don't need to share the loot with the people they lure into their programs, social media institutions and medium. These people might be "democrats" in which party they support, but they make money from providing a service to people that they control better if they don't have to go through the messy process that is "democratic republican" forms. You don't make a billion dollars by practicing principles of common-wealth or democracy. That takes sharing the loot. The recent spate of "Me-too" allegations against producers, moguls and people in high ranking positions shows that the Dark Triad of evil traits is alive and well.
In my post "Syndicalism Lives" I described out Syndicalism started as a movement for the rights of labor with respect to privateering capitalists. Syndicalism was intended to help the labor movement get some representation for the people who work for a living, but then the same concept was hijacked by Fascists in Europe to disenfranchise and oppress labor. The fascists organized labor under authoritarian principles and thus carved out all the positive attributes of the Syndicalist movement.
The Practices of Democratic Republicanism
The Democratic principles behind the second amendment, volunteerism and Republican forms, were once things that were engrained in our society. In the days of our Grandparents and their forebears, they were habits.
The writer Yoni Applebaum writes in the Atlantic recently that:
“In the early years of the United States, Europeans made pilgrimages to the young republic to study its success. How could such a diverse and sprawling nation flourish under a system of government that originated in small, homogeneous city-states?” Yoni Applebaum: Losing the Democratic Habit
The Answer was that we practiced democracy habitually. In the Atlantic article, Yoni Applebaum asserts that the answer was:
“To almost every challenge in their lives, Americans applied a common solution. They voluntarily bound themselves together, adopting written rules, electing officers, and making decisions by majority vote.”
This was such a habit, that when an organization didn't follow these principles, people would get wary and upset.
Replicating Republican Principles to Children Games
He notes that this way of life started early.
“Children in their games are wont to submit to rules which they have themselves established, and to punish misdemeanors which they have themselves defined,” wrote Alexis de Tocqueville in Democracy in America. “The same spirit pervades every act of social life.” Atlantic
I remember those sorts of games when we were kids. I didn't realize that they were less common among my own children's generation.
Democracy Taught on the Playground
I've been saying that "without local democracy" there is no democracy in our Republic. Formal democracy at the local level may have been stronger in New England than in the South at the founding of our country. But it's replication locally nationwide in the form of volunteer associations kept it strong nationwide by exerting pressure on businesses and other groups to respect democratic values. Democracy wasn't only taught in civics class it was practiced on the playground and in back yards.
Well Constituted Republican Forms
If one is going to take an "originalist" approach to the Constitution, then one has to understand the principles that underlay it. The bedrock principles of our Democratic, Federated, Republic, include:
- Volunteerism and participatory associations.
- Separation of powers, Executive, Judicial and Legislative bodies.
- That all people have a right to say in all their governing bodies.
- Respect for Majoritarian, rules based and democratic processes.
- Republican principles of representation that bind people together bottom up.
- Checks and Balances that moderate tendencies to centralize power and resource control.
These are bedrock principles necessary to a well constituted Federated Republican Democracy.
From Obvious to Obscure
If I'd been writing about this, as late as 50 years ago, these principles would have seemed "tautologies." People would have been calling me "Mr Obviousman." That this is no longer obvious is a deliberate result. Yoni's article demonstrates how Democracy was once replicated nearly everywhere. This was true for generations.
Thus Democratic forms have also been under assault for generations. The present case could be seen as a long term, strategically diabolical plan to subvert American democracy or simply the result of social drift. But the case can be made that much of it is the result of deliberate subversion, perpetrated by what FDR called "economic aristocrats", starting from before my life time. As usual the reasons for the subversion, might be sold as ideology, "libertarianism" or the like, but are actually the result of indoctrination passing on the greed and arrogance of people who benefit from autocracy.
We aren't reinventing anything. We need to salvage bedrock ideas vital to the survival of our republic. Democratic forms are vital to our society. They harmonize what are otherwise centripetal and centrifugal forces.
Not that long ago, people practiced parliamentary procedure, a replication of our Republican forms, as a matter of course. At one time the majority of organizations people participated in were organized on the well constituted principles of Republican Democracy.
Yoni Applebaum describes that most voluntary organizations organized on a model similar to that of the USA government:
“Local chapters elected representatives to state-level gatherings, which sent delegates to national assemblies.” Atlantic
Yoni notes that:
“Associations are created, extended, and worked in the United States more quickly and effectively than in any other country,” marveled the British statesman James Bryce in 1888. These groups had their own systems of checks and balances. Executive officers were accountable to legislative assemblies; independent judiciaries ensured that both complied with the rules. One typical 19th-century legal guide, published by the Knights of Pythias, a fraternal order, compiled 2,827 binding precedents for use in its tribunals.” Atlantic
Democratic Associations Win
Organizations as diverse as the KKK, NAACP, or the laborers of the Workers of the World, organized on these principles. For Labor, organizing on these principles gave workers power over otherwise hostile forces. Concepts like the General Strike, Closed Shop, got their power from democracy. A Trade Union, only representing one skill-set had no chance against the combined forces of judicial, law enforcement and private security. But the ability to assert themselves en-mass and achieve common goals like minimum wages, 8 hour work days, and other basic rights. Democracy rules, autocracy drools.
Volunteerism and Participatory Associations
The founders may have argued about who should be a citizen, and didn't always take their own words seriously that "all men are created equally. But the elites who founded the country were not allowed to backslide. The founders included the tens of thousands of citizens who took Jefferson's words seriously. Indeed Jefferson staged an electoral revolution in 1799 that changed the country based on using democratic principles to organize his followers.
Bottom up Democracy
The founding generation of Americans took those principles seriously and asserted that they applied to all of our ancestors equally. Even where the founders ignored their own principles, such as with black people and slavery, the people so ignored refused to be silenced and struggled for, and eventually achieved a place in our republic.
Volunteerism Equals Stepping up
Washington, Jefferson and Adams based their ideas on an engaged and participating citizenry, where ordinary people would step up and take a role in governing themselves. Washington so valued this concept he modeled himself on Cincinnatus, who left the plow to be a General for Rome and returned for it when his duty was done. A fundamental equality is based on everyone stepping up where necessary, and nobody letting tyrants run rough shod over them.
Separation of Powers and Checks and Balances
Separation of powers is the principle that "no man can be his own judge" and that power tends to be corrupt, so it needs to be distributed in a manner that prevents any one person from arrogating it. This is the principle behind "checks and balances". We not only need to separate powers, but people need a place to appeal when power is abused.
Americans practiced separation of powers at all levels not merely the Federal Level, out of respect for these vital principles. If a town had a magistrate who was also the Police chief or Sheriff and also the Mayor, a fundamental wrong was sensed. It is part of our literature of corrupt officials and resistance. And the purpose of democracy is to prevent such corruption.
Corruption is bad government
The Right to A Say
Related to Checks and Balances is the notion that everyone should have a right to a say in the places where he/she lives, labors and participates. This is also a principle of good government. Without the right to appeal inequity, the people who are engaging in unjust behavior assert impunity. People with impunity bully others. This leads to resources being hoarded, misallocated and abused. Moreover, good decision making requires input from everyone who has knowledge of what is going on. The basic right to a say, can prevent bad decision making. History is full of people, like the Greek Cassandra, who spoke truth, were ignored, with tragic consequences. In Germany, which practices our lost principles of democracy, workers help guide management to more efficient and better processes because they have a say in the operations of the companies they work for.
Genuine Rule of Law = Consent of the Governed
When people have a say in government, understand process, then they understand majority rule. Even if they don't agree with the majority, they'll go along with them until they can change their minds. This makes 51% or 60% decisions into 100% peaceful decisions and allows actions even when people don't completely agree.
Respect for Process
Respecting process is the basis of lawfulness. If everyone respects the law, then there isn't as much need for police and coercion. There will always be disagreement and disaffection. But a healthy polity, having a say in the decision making learns to respect rule of law too.
Bottom up Representation
Bottom up representation is essential to organizing masses. people who all live in the same place might be able to practice direct democracy, but when people have separate functions and locations they need to come together through representation and organize their demands through local democracy. Successful organizations establish chapters and subchapters recursively and each is run on democratic principles and involves representations from its parts. Our Ancestors understood this. In the modern age we confuse mass opinion with democracy, but successful democracy involves bottom up discussions, legislation and inputs to decisions. Leaders lead better if they have to convince more people than a simple 51% majority of the whole.
Privateering as a Challenge to Democracy
The exception to the Democratic forms came in the form of undemocratic trusts and corporations. Very early on corporations were formed that no longer included representation of employees and rarely regarded the views or needs of the constituents of those corporations. As I've demonstrated elsewhere their origins was in the Pirate/Privateer tradition, Ship Companies and Filibustering corporations like the East India Company. These corporations challenged the right of the 13 Colonies to even exist. The Tea Party was about the East India Companies effort to create a monopoly on tea sales in the United States in a bid to expand its rule of British Colonies to ours.
The Majority of this country always found itself opposed to this tyranny. But corporations propagated authoritarianism and denied both consumers and employees a say. in the 1870s and 1880s they arrogated personhood rights to themselves even as the courts denied those rights to blacks, Asians and employees. A right to a say in one's own life is a basic right and it is something that republican forms protect.
Replacing Democracy with Authoritarianism
Democracy has been under assault for decades. A genuine program of replacing democratic forms with more authoritarian ones has been going on for decades. It has been under assault from bottom up. It seems that the subversion of democracy starts there. Children no longer enforce their own rules based on a shared concept of rule of law. People Join Associations like the American Automobile Association and never experience an election or a choice in who is running the Association. Some volunteer associations still have the forms, but those forms are subverted by authoritarian leaders and hierarchies of leaders. When I was younger I remember successful minority stockholder challenges of giant corporations via stockholder meetings. As a student of Democracy I remember how FDR supported the right of people to join unions and have a say in their government. Those were buried. People used to experience local democracy in Union membership. But that too was subverted. I barely remembered practicing democracy as a child til I saw Yoni Applebaum's reference to Alexis De Toqueville. Democracy dies one community at a time.
This principle has been under attack for many years. The attack has been insidious. Those who toil for a living have been denigrated, while those who live a life of privilege are lionized as heroes when they do toil for status and fame. The notion of equality of opportunity and essential humanity has been attacked to the point where labor is looked down on unless it is some high status labor like that done by artists.
Pushing the Authoritarian model
The alternatives to democratic forms tend to be authoritarian ones. These have been assaulting republican forms for a long time. This has been under systematic assault for a long time. Yoni Applebaum notes that “Volunteerism” alone doesn't teach Self Government. At least not the way we practice it today. Further:
“church attendance, and social-media participation are [also] not schools for self-government; they do not inculcate the habits and rituals of democracy.” Atlantic
Yoni probably doesn't know that at one time Militia members elected their non-commissioned officers, that many early Americans were Presbyterians or Quakers, and both practiced democratic forms in their churches. It is not the Volunteering, Church participation or social media participation that is stopping the inculcation of democratic principles, it is the dominance of authoritarian Volunteer organizations, Churches and Social media run by for profit privateering corporations, over these previously democratic structures. As our organizations are subverted by privateers and authoritarian groups, the result is that:
“as young people participate less in democratically run organizations, they show less faith in democracy itself.” Atlantic
These authoritarian organizations; authoritarian churches, volunteer organizations that impose discipline and obedience but not civic duty and a say in their organization, and social media run by profiteering privateers, indoctrinate people with something that is Anti-American. At least from the POV of US Persons from 1781-to the mid 20th century:
“In 2011, about a quarter of American Millennials said that democracy was a “bad” or “very bad” way to run a country, and that it was “unimportant” to choose leaders in free and fair elections. By the time Donald Trump launched his presidential campaign, Gallup polling showed that Americans’ faith in most of the nation’s major institutions—the criminal-justice system, the press, public schools, all three branches of government—was below the historical average.” Atlantic
To people who've never worked out how to play a game on the playground rules are either those given by authority or a waste of time and effort. They are vulnerable to Demagogues like Trump, because they've been reprogrammed with Authoritarian attitudes:
“Trump turned the long-standing veneration of civic procedure on its head. He proclaimed that America is “rigged”; that “the insiders wrote the rules of the game to keep themselves in power and in the money.” The norms and practices of democratic governance, he insisted, had allowed elites to entrench themselves.” Atlantic
Yoni claims that:
“The golden age of the voluntary association is over, thanks to the automobile, the television, and the two-income household, among other culprits. The historical circumstances that produced it, moreover, seem unlikely to recur; Americans are no longer inclined to leave the comforts and amusements of home for the lodge hall or meeting room. Which means that any revival of participatory democracy won’t be built on fraternal orders and clubs.Atlantic
The other culprits are the spread of authoritarian religion, the defenestration of more democratic religious institutions like the Quakers and Presbyterians, the spread of British/Prussian discipline in our military and National Guard. Automobiles didn't destroy Democracy, Ford Motor Company tried to. The Television didn't destroy Democracy, the takeover of TV stations by monopolies did. The two income household is a product of the loss of democracy not a cause. Labor fought to make businesses follow a Republican model. They succeeded in Scandinavia, they failed in the United States. Our increasing authoritarianism represents the deliberate subversion of local government, associations and the disenfranchisement of people in the organizations they are part of.
Yoni is right here:
“Young Americans of all backgrounds deserve the chance to write charters, elect officers, and work through the messy and frustrating process of self-governance. They need the opportunity to make mistakes, and resolve them, without advisers intervening. Such activities shouldn’t be seen as extracurricular, but as the basic curriculum of democracy. In that respect, what students are doing—club sports, student council, the robotics team—matters less than how they’re doing it and what they’re gaining in the process: an appreciation for the role of rules and procedures in managing disputes.” Atlantic
It's not just young Americans, it is working Americans in all walks of life. It is apartment dwellers. It is people living in sprawling developments with no mayor, city council or say over water, sewer, cable or power supply decision making at a local level. School Children need to judge miscreants instead of sending 12 year olds to prison. Class Presidents need to be more involved in School than simply being the prettiest or most popular kids. Democracy is a right not a mere privilege. And Authoritarianism is not an alternative, but a curse.
Authoritarianism Claims “The cult of efficiency”
Yoni Claims that:
“This is where the truly hard work begins. Democratic governance is never the most efficient means of running an organization, as anyone who’s attended a local zoning hearing can attest. Its value lies instead in harmonizing discordant interests and empowering constituents. A nation of passive observers watching others make decisions is a nation that will succumb to anger and resentment—witness the United States.” Atlantic
I'm not sure I agree with Yoni's assessment. Authoritarian organizations seem to be more efficient but they are usually only good for funneling wealth to the hierarchs. A Republican government guarantees leaders that once the rules specify 51% agree, 100% will go along with the decision made by the majority. A Zoning hearing may take a long time but that is because that 51% threshold takes getting people to come together. A Federated Democracy can mobilize 100% of the electorate when other systems break down secretly. More importantly, an empowered mass of people is extremely efficient and effective in defeating enemies.