U.S. DEMOCRACY HAS TEN YEARS TOPS
The Mad Sociologist Blog has now been around in some form for fourteen years. The mission of this blog is to use sociological principles to analyze a whole spectrum of social, cultural, political, and economic issues.
Occasionally, this mission leads to prognosticating. When it comes to making predictions, I tend to be fairly conservative. I try to avoid the most alarmist, worst-case-scenario, views. I also try to be optimistic. I look for the good news where I can. I think the best example of this was the case I made about the Post-Covid World.
As the prophet, Billy Joel once said, “The good ol’ days weren’t always good/and tomorrow ain’t as bad as it seems.”
Now I find myself confronting questions about the political future of the United States. Students, professional peers, and acquaintances who know that I’m a sociologist who engages in these issues often ask me about the prospects that I see for America’s future. Historically, I respond with the clear challenges, but also the amazing potential that I see embodied in the future generation.
Lately, however, I struggle to cultivate optimism and find it more and more difficult to avoid alarmism.
Frankly, I’m not Optimistic and I am alarmed. The bottom line is, based on contemporary trends, I believe American democracy as we know it has no more than ten years left. Fifteen at the most.
As much as I try to convince myself that I’m wrong, the harder the optimistic argument is to sustain.
The most immediate problem is that our party system as it is currently constituted is the worst possible political arrangement for guaranteeing democratic governance. This is no accident. The United States government was from the very beginning designed as an autocratic republic. An anti-democratic bias was built into the system.
Our party structures evolved to exist within an autocratic and ever oligarchic structural environment. Otherwise diverse political interests coalesced into a narrow two party system. Each party then had to strategize against the other in order to perpetuate itself. They did so by incorporating smaller coalitions into the larger party mechanism — the so-called Big Tent. Through most of U.S. history coalitions internal to the larger organizations caucused to direct their respective parties. Parties, in turn, negotiated with each other to hammer out policy.
Two trends, however, disrupted this process. First, during a conservative resurgence in the 1980s, the Democratic Party chose a more accommodationist strategy to attract conservative leaning voters. This served to marginalize the more progressive coalitions within the party, but they were stuck between supporting the so-called moderates or let the conservatives win. Consequently, progressives became less engaged in electoral or party politics and conservatives became more bold in their demands with little to check their goals.
The second trend was a response to the collapse of conservative reign after George W. Bush. After the complete delegitimization of their party, the Republicans decided upon an obstructionist strategy. The goal was to paralize the opposition, making governance impossible, and to use the growing right wing media to lather up the more Paranoid spectrum of the base. Unfortunately, this strategy worked, but at the cost of empowering the most anti-democratic coalitions within the party. It worked so well that a door was opened for the possibility of one party rule.
This evolution of our party dynamics sets the parameters for today’s absurd discourse. Democrats are not trusted by their base of support. Their traditional working class demographic is demoralized and encouraged by the opposition to vote on scary wedge issues rather than traditional class interests. The Republican base, on the other hand has been cultivated from the most reactionary end of the spectrum and have gained enough political capital to challenge and even to overwhelm the Party’s traditional establishment. They are fearful, anti- democratic and authoritarian.
So, on one hand, we have a party that is entirely dedicated to dismantling every shred of American democracy up to and including a willingness to embrace fascism as a political strategy. This party is dedicated to the principle of one-party rule and in not just defeating the alternative party, but delegitimizing it as a governing option. There are no norms this party holds sacred. There are no promises it feels entitled to keep. If millions of Americans must suffer in the face of blatant obstruction in order to keep the opposing party from claiming a victory, then so be it. If that means enabling if not completely embracing the clear crimes of the party leader even when he attempts a coup against the United States, that is the price one pays for power.
The other party is…
…the Democrats. The Democratic Party has a pretty porous history when it comes to holding back the tide of tyranny. Despite its name, the party’s dedication to small “d” democracy has been vague and sporadic at best. Furthermore, after forty years of turning its back on its historical constituencies and compromising away the bulk of its principles, the Democratic Party is pretty anemic in its ability to shape the political landscape.
In order to win soundly at this point the Democrats must either be running against an incumbent holding the reins of a global economic collapse after embroiling the nation in two military quagmires based on lies or must be running against an incompetent, divisive demagogue in the context of a grossly mishandled global pandemic that killed hundreds of thousands of Americans. Otherwise, Democrats mostly lose.
Yet, the Democratic Party is the only institution capable of turning the tide against a fascist takeover.
And it is not well-positioned to do so.
The political environment is one that has undergone over forty years of erosion and sabotage. The de facto fascist party as played by the steadfast GOP is, in essence, a professional anti-democratic institution. For generations, it has been positioning itself to perpetuate its power despite its minoritarian status and its profoundly unpopular platform.
First, it has entrenched itself in the federal judiciary, the pinnacle of which is the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has almost always been a shill for autocracy and oligarchy. The Court opened the tap for virtually unlimited and unaccountable money to be poured into political campaigns and has made it easier for regressive states to impose onerous obstacles against marginalized voters. Now that the right-wing takeover of the highest court in the land is complete, there’s no telling just how totalitarian it will go.
Secondly, the Republican Party has framed itself as the party of “real America” which most of its followers define as white, Christian, and rural. The United States has an intrinsic rural bias in its electoral process. This strategy has given the Republican Party a significant presence in the political-administrative structure at the state and local levels. Republicans are gaining greater and more acute control of state houses, elections supervisors, committees, and other public trusts. Where the GOP does not have a majority over local decision-making, state lawmakers strip local bodies of their discretionary power. According to the Washington Post, “G.O.P. lawmakers have also stripped secretaries of state of their power, asserted more control over state election boards, made it easier to overturn election results, and pursued several partisan audits and inspections of 2020 results.”
Furthermore, the party has its own dedicated media infrastructure–so long as members of the party are willing to play along with the most extremist elements. This FoxNoise Media Machine functions based on a codependent discourse by which its audience is captured by its own tunnel vision. Listeners and viewers are convinced that the only truth is that disseminated by their selected media. All other media lies. Only FoxNoise loves you. Nobody else will love you as much as FoxNoise. No counter-arguments can be made to try to convince the converted to leave the cult.
Most chilling, thanks to the rise of a proto-fascist demagogue who continues to have the base spellbound, the GOP also benefits from a well-armed paramilitary infrastructure. At least, the GOP benefits from this so long as they remain loyal.
The convergence of these forces manifested in the failed coup of 2020. On this matter, the Republican Party now has the gift of hindsight. In 2020, the losing incumbent attempted to steal the election by sowing confusion in the absurd ritual we call the Electoral College. The plan was simple. Get enough local and state-level officials to claim that there were improprieties in the voting process, refuse to certify the official electors, offer an alternative slate of electors, put the election in the hands of the lopsided House of Representatives…bam, declare victory.
There was only one flaw. It turned out that the elections supervisors, Secretaries of State, and other state-level officials were dedicated public servants who refused to violate their oaths and professional responsibilities in an ad hoc coup. Even Mike Pence, the Enabler-in-Chief himself, was unwilling to participate (um…ish). Damned patriotism and professional ethics getting in the way of what could have been a pretty awesome coup!
Right-wingers have nothing to fear. Unlike Democrats, Republicans learn from their mistakes. That’s why the MAGAFascist coalition within the party is actively filling important electoral positions with those who will toe the line. Where they can, they are changing who gets to count the ballots. MAGA trolls threaten and bully uncooperative officials to resign. The non-MAGAFascist Caucus, even the lauded Lynn Cheney, remains silent. After all, they may not be MAGAs, but they are loyal to their party, and a win is a win.
Meanwhile, Democrats are largely paralyzed in their ability to respond to these anti-democratic pressures. With just narrow majorities in the House and Senate, The very features designed to mitigate any democratic impulses on the part of the public are the very tools that are being wielded to Insure a Democratic and democratic downfall in the near future. Republicans can block any attempt to interfere in their strategy. So-called Democratic Moderates like Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema have joined forces to make sure nothing is done about the filibuster. So legislative fixes are blocked.
Even if a legislative fix were effected, any resulting legislation can be scuttled by the federal courts, especially the reactionary Supreme Court. There’s no prospect of reforming the Court, however, for the reasons elaborated above.
The only hope, then, rests in an overwhelming Democratic victory at the polls in 2022. Not likely. Democrats are not running against calamity. They are running in the face of their own lackluster incumbency in the face of growing inflation. Again, the so called Moderates guaranteed that nothing that could conceivably excite the base got done. The things that did get done will go virtually ignored because the Democratic Party is notoriously bad at marketing its accomplishments. In light of the standard anti-incumbency tradition in American politics, superior marketing skills of the GOP, and the enthusiasm gap between the left and right base, all indications point to a Democratic drubbing in 2022.
That means if anything is to be done about the anti-democratic structures bing put in place, it will have to be done in the next few months. There’s little likelihood that will happen. After 2022, there will be no force in a position to block the reactionary strategies of the MAGAFascists. All of the structures will be in place to guarantee a Republican win in 2024. Either an effectively neutered Democratic Party will fail to attract voters, losing legitimately, or Coup 2.0 will send its alternate electors. This time, all public officials that might interfere in a GOP putsch will have long since been purged.
As it looks right now, the 2024 election will be the last real election in U.S. history. The Democratic Party will go the way of the Whigs or may, at best serve as a neutered opposition party that offers nothing more than a patina of democratic legitimacy. The only true political debate will be between the traditional conservatives and the reactionary right. The MAGA Red Hats, however, will be there to remind any opposition who is really calling the shots.
I’m wary in writing this post. If I had read this post on someone else’s blog just a few years ago I would have dismissed it as unrealistic. I am well aware of how reactionary this thesis sounds. I admit that any number of things might arise in the near future that could save American Democracy. It is my ernest hope that I can revisit this post some years from now and we can all laugh about how ludicrously I misjudged the situation. My prediction can be wrong. However, it is not unrealistic at this point. This, in and of itself should give us pause.
- I wrote the bulk of this post before the Supreme Count overturned Roe. This decision only confirms the thesis. The anti-democratic bent in the United States is entrenched and impossible for the contemporary Democratic Party to Confront with more than rhetoric.
- Regular readers of this blog know that I use FoxNoise as a shorthand to describe the entire right-wing media infrastructure. It is not just a reference to Fox News. Ironically, Many on the Right now consider Fox a sellout institution. I suspect that the network will endeavor to win back any lost Viewership by becoming even more reactionary.