America - A disrupted democracy - RSA

America - a disrupted democracy

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"Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door! " - Inscription at the base of the Statue of Liberty

There is no doubt that this was a long bruising US Presidential campaign.  Its stunning revelations and vitriol were not unfamiliar but coming from one of the world’s oldest and most dynamic democracies, it was nothing short of jolting.

This campaign made me question my faith in a democracy more than 200 years in the making.

We hold these truths to be self-evident

Do you remember the era of “Truthiness”? It emerged during the Bush 43 Administration when political pundits and celebrity news anchors stated opinion as facts. I believe this was the prologue to the US Presidential election campaign of 2016. Conspiracy theorists penetrated mass media, peddled fake news and fanned mass hysteria by exploiting the fears of others. This created an environment where most voters did not differ on policy – but differed on the basic facts.  

This is not just a divisive society. This is a chasm that has rendered informed discussion and debate impotent. With this environment, how then could the US electorate weigh the policy options in a safe, civic space without the threat of a witch hunt via Twitter or an attack by internet trolls? Isn’t that one of the foundations of a democratic society – freedom of expression and freedom from fear?

Perhaps there was a meeting where everyone decided that expert opinions are no longer valid? Scientific evidence and analysis, no matter how rigorous, were no longer credible.  From job growth to climate change, people trusted their peers - not government reports or even the evening news. In some ways, I understand this especially when one’s personal reality is not reflected in the mainstream media. Sometimes it is better to listen to someone who looks like you and sounds like you.

So where did this come from? Did its roots start in the Bush #43 era with its parade of known unknowns and no WMDs? Maybe the sleeping giant of distrust was stirred awake by plummeting housing prices and government gridlock.  Maybe it was always there catalysed by the Recession of 2009.

The US democracy, though old and strong, also buckled under the kryptonite of celebrity. An outsider who the electorate knew for decades as a success on TV was preferable to a political insider with four decades worth of battle scars. The establishment was no longer to be trusted. Celebrity and the appetite for ratings lowered the standards of the electorate and created a false equivalence in the media. Journalists simply forgot to do their job.

All men are created equal

There is no doubt that globalization has affected some groups more than others. Low level skilled workers have seen their jobs disappear and their financial security threatened. These concerns are valid and real. However a disproportionate amount of media airtime was dedicated to the plight of the white working class man. This media glare legitimized their anger and justified xenophobia and racism directed at the other (immigrants, Muslims et al). This vilification and demonization should be rejected in any democracy. Instead it was exploited by political interest groups and normalized on the evening news. The sad result is that hate crimes against US Muslims are now at an all- time high.

This strikes at the heart of the US democracy – freedom from persecution.

Put women in the sequel

The level of vulgarity and misogyny during the campaign visible at political rallies and on our TV screens was revealing about how society views women. From the mansplaining  and the verbal attacks directed at women to the blatant sexism perpetrated by the media, this election made a mockery of women and their ambitions. It objectified women everywhere. Disappointing when, more than 59 countries have had a woman as the head of state or government.


 “the most important role in a democracy is the role of citizen.”

-       US President Barack Obama


We the people

When the American colonists decided to reject the British Monarchy, it devolved the power to select and elect its representatives to the citizens of a newly formed United States of America hoping to forge a more perfect union.

So it was hard for the rest of the world to see the US go against the values upon which it was founded.

This matters. The US has always been beacon of hope and opportunity. 

It is where the world’s huddled masses seek refuge. The wounds of this election have severely damaged that image.

What we should take away from this is that all democracies are fragile and should be handled with care – even in the US. Nothing should be taken for granted.

The role of the citizen is the most important in any democracy. For the US to heal from this, it must harness and mobilize the power of every citizen to resist against voter apathy, corporate interests and political tribalism.

Citizens must also hold its democratic institutions to high standards both within and outside of an election campaign and remain forever vigilant, active, engaged and well informed.

This, and only this, will make any living democracy great!

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  • It was not voter apathy...

    I am astounded that the election fraud uncovered by Greg Palast regarding the de-registration of millions of genuine ethnic minority voters in key swing states, such as North Carolina, by the 'Interstate Crosscheck' programme, brainchild of Donald Trump crony Kris Kobach, Secretary of State of Kansas, is being ignored by the mainstream media. Is this because many journalists are in the pocket and under the thumbs of the media moguls? All Palast forecast before the election came to pass. This is bigger than Watergate. Yet, it seems people are afraid to speak out. See for yourself: #Greg_Palast. There should be an enormous outcry - but Murdoch and other corporate magnates have too much influence and control. Very few seem to know what is really going on.

    Right-wing Steve Bannon, was quoted as saying: "Darkness is good ...D Cheney, Darth Vader, Satan. That's power. It only helps us when they (liberals) ...get it wrong. When they are blind to who we are and what we are doing." - Trump's chosen 'Chief Strategist' for his new administration. (Quote from the Hollywood Reporter).

    News of the fraud should not be obscured in the media fog of fake news. Greg Palast is a reputable journalist, but very few news agencies are reporting on his investigation. Most people are indeed blind to what they are doing and have done.

  • The Founding Fathers of the United States abhorred democracy. The United States was founded as a republic. As Fellow Benjamin Franklin said "If you can keep it". The United States remained a democracy until the Supreme Court rendered the "One man, one vote" decision which tuned the American Republic on its head. This also introduced the era of political correctness. Political correctness is the enemy of truth. This election in the United States is quite easily understood, if one ignores the so-called news media as a source of information. The 1st Clinton presidential administration was a total disaster. The Clintons stumbled from one scandal to another and were indifferent to the national security damage that they were doing to the country. G.W. Bush brought in the neoconservatives and reversed 200 years of defense policy and created a national diplomatic and strategic policy based upon perpetual war. Barack Obama announced himself as the first Black president. In fact he is half Irish. He had not only renounced his Irish heritage, but the Irish themselves. The largest ethnic group in the United States. During his candidacy, he promised to return our nation to its historical values. He lied. He received the Nobel Peace Prize for what he promised. The Chair of the Nobel Committee later admitted that the Committee had made a mistake in that award. The Obama administration was the 3rd and 4th G.W. Bush administrations, on steroids. Obama was never the president of all the nation's citizens. Like G.W. Bush, he represented only his base. The United States is about 13% Black, 17% Hispanic, and 1.7% GLBT. That is Obama's "base". That is who he represented as president. One cannot win a national election supported by 31.7% of the voters. Hillary Clinton truly thought that she had the support of all the American women. If she had, she would now be the president-elect. This election was not about voter apathy, corporate interests, or political tribalism. This election was about rejecting the Bush, Clinton, and Obama political legacies and resetting the nation's course. 

  • Alexis, Many thanks for your articulate comments below. I think the last two years have shown to everyone, even us in the UK, that deep fissures exist in Western democracies and civic engagement is critical to addressing the concerns of electorate. Communities have immediate worries and legitimate anxieties which were neglected for decades. This is the call to action for civil society to protect the interests of the people especially the most vulnerable and marginalised amongst us.

  • Fellow Adana, 

    Just a very quick comment here and what I think is directly linked to some of the work (yet a vital part) RSA has for the future-there is no democracy with a hungry stomach. There is no democracy without education, there is no democracy with closed doors, lobbies and "policy" groups and institutes. Ironically and I wish less painfully the US populous showed us, among others, that maybe they aren't as naive as some outside the US of A might think. They simply did not see any fundamental difference under Obama save for Obamacare and some minor local issues. Trump, being the maverick candidate in a maverick country by nature offered, to the eyes of most of is voters, a "possibly bright unknown future" whereas the -again- defeated Hillary Clinton, a bad choice altogether for the Democratic party if you ask me, offer nothing new. A worn-out political face who many saw as a person that is after power, one way or the other since the early/mid 1990s, a "looser" in this respect time and again. 

    Trump, being your non-conventional politician offered the American people a risky yet potentially better financial future having a business profile and showing a determination that couldn't be found in Hillary, not if you had the best paleontological tools to search for! Of course all this can tremble and fall and they might well do, I for one and after both Brexit and the Trump election (albeit quite different in nature) will from now on be more cautious not in what I believe but in what I see other people projecting, people who go for power and people who don't-people like me who generally speaking belong to the wider middle / upper middle class, ie all this people who are supposed to be the cornerstone of any successful, free and prosperous society, all this people who may have suffered, one way or the other from the current financial and systemic crisis. Trump is certainly not a president 'par excellence', but, life having a very ironic humour (or so I believe) may at the end prove better at least from what we feared up to this day or indeed January the 20th. Being an environmentalist, an animal lover, an opponent of weapons possession, a social and economically liberal person I cannot but be sceptical in view of the Trump election however, at the same time and after having seen so much in my relatively short life of 37 years let's try and transcend political labels and indeed judge by result. 



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