WEIRDLAND: Don't Look Up, The American Republic in Crisis

Tuesday, January 04, 2022

Don't Look Up, The American Republic in Crisis

The scariest thing about Don’t Look Up is that as absurd as it is, it barely exaggerates. Much of our political elite are just as greedy and foolish, our media just as vapid, and our response to impending disaster exactly as mind-bogglingly irrational as in the movie. There’s no villainous authoritarian ending democracy; as in our world, American democracy in the film has already been smothered under the weight of oligarch money and corporate profit-chasing. There’s no secret evil conspiracy; the villains are just a self-obsessed, blinkered elite, and it’s their greed, venality, and stupidity that lead them to evil decisions. Astronomers Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) and Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio) are frustrated every step of the way in their efforts. It’s insane that people in power and influence would jeopardize stopping the literal apocalypse because they either saw it as a money-making opportunity or because they didn’t want to talk about bad news. The ending of Don't Look Up is great, with multiple references to the Suicide of the West, but unfortunately, it couldn't save the movie. Source:

Niall Ferguson: An increasing number of anxious American political commentators are asking themselves a version of this question: "Are we the baddies?". For some time, it has been a concern of political scientists such as my colleague Larry Diamond that the world is in a “democratic recession” or “regression,” which he dates from around 2006. Compared with the 1970s or 1980s, according to all the major surveys and databases, the world is a significantly more democratic place. Not only are there many more democracies (57% of all countries in 2017, compared with 25% in the mid-’70s); democracies also account for around three-quarters of global GDP. In 2013, the nonpartisan organization Freedom House gave the U.S. a score of 93 out of 100 in its annual Freedom in the World report. Today, that figure is down to 83, meaning that the U.S. now ranks below 60 other democracies, including Argentina and Romania. This is because (according to Freedom House) America’s “democratic institutions have suffered erosion, as reflected in partisan pressure on the electoral process, bias and dysfunction in the criminal justice system, harmful policies on immigration and asylum seekers, and growing disparities in wealth, economic opportunity and political influence.” Such self-criticism is music to the ears of this country’s strategic rivals. Earlier this month, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs had the audacity to publish an essay-length critique of American democracy. It is, the authors argued, “a system fraught with deep-seated problems”—a “game of money politics” in which the theory of “one person one vote” is belied by the reality of “rule of the minority elite.” “Democracy in the US,” the authors state, “has become alienated and degenerated. Problems like money politics, identity politics, wrangling between political parties, political polarization, social division, racial tension and wealth gap have become more acute.” 

You may be forgiven for wondering what business a one-party totalitarian regime has scolding Americans about the defects of their democracy. With critics like these, you might say, American democracy hardly needs defenders. And yet the shocking thing is how much of the Chinese critique of American democracy is copied and pasted from… Americans. No fewer than eight U.S. professors are quoted by the Chinese Foreign Ministry, notably Robert McDaniel Chesney (University of Illinois), Noam Chomsky (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), Daniel Drezner (Tufts), Francis Fukuyama (Stanford), Ray La Raja (University of Massachusetts), Robert Reich (University of California, Berkeley), Emmanuel Saez (Berkeley) and Matthew Stephenson (Harvard). In the Financial Times in September, Martin Wolf foresaw “The strange death of American democracy,” warning that by 2024 “the transformation of the democratic republic into an autocracy might be irreversible.” My final exhibit in the chamber of horrors is a recent Washington Post essay by two academics, Risa Brooks and Erica De Bruin, who detail the “18 Steps to a Democratic Breakdown.” I have a hard time imagining “governors sending the National Guard to state capitols for the express purpose of ‘rerunning’ elections.” There’s a little too much here of Sinclair Lewis’s “It Can’t Happen Here” for me to be entirely convinced.

After all, Lewis’s book was written in 1935. And it still hasn’t happened here. One of the central lessons of the political theories of the ancient world, the Renaissance and the Enlightenment was that republics are inherently hard to preserve and tend, after a time, to lapse into tyranny. To read any recent account of the fall of the Roman Republic—Tom Holland’s “Rubicon”—is to be reminded how important civil strife was in this process. How close are we really to suffering this fate? Liberals are so certain that it is Republicans who intend to overthrow the Constitution that they don’t even notice when their progressive wing openly discusses packing the Supreme Court, abolishing the Electoral College, conferring statehood on Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, and enfranchising noncitizens. 

Note that the New York City Council just voted to allow noncitizens to cast ballots in local elections. The republic may well be in mortal danger if each of the two major parties aspires to make fundamental changes to the political system obviously designed to entrench itself permanently in power. It is especially dangerous that each side firmly believes that only the other side is trying to do this. Democracy works only when the basic rules of the game are accepted. When changing those rules becomes the central object of politics, the stakes become too high—the price of defeat too heavy. But worrying about a crisis of their democracy is one of the ways Americans have kept themselves vigilant ever since the founding of the U.S. This is a feature of American political culture, not a bug—something the Chinese Communist Party simply cannot grasp. It copies and pastes the criticisms we level at ourselves, even as it deletes and suppresses any criticism of its own lawless and cruel regime. Source:

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