Category Archives: Illiberalism

do americans believe in democracy

Do Americans Believe in Democracy?

Americans aren’t enthusiastic about liberal democracy

Democracy.  The theory underpinning our Republic; the heart of the American experiment; the principle for which millions dedicate their lives.  It’s the pillar of our country’s identity and a principle we have long sought to export.  Yet despite democracy’s centrality in our political life, do the American people actually believe it?

Our Political System

America is a liberal democracy.  That means our Constitution enshrines rights unalterable by an elected majority to preserve the liberty of all inhabitants, regardless of the likes of race, gender, creed, religion, and so on.  Elections are fair and free with suffrage near universal for those of age.  Scholars such as Francis Fukuyama have heralded such a governing system as the “end of history” (that is, the final point towards which all governing systems evolve).

A liberal democracy protects citizens against tyranny of the majority or the minority.  In so avoiding authoritarianism, other minor inconveniences of a diverse state arise: Viewpoints differ among the population, meaning arguments – vicious at times – will be had; government will often be gridlocked as members of different political parties butt heads on how to best achieve common goals; policies will not be perfect as only through compromise will necessary steps ever be taken.

Americans Dislike the Perceived Costs

Americans dislike those messy drawbacks to liberal democracy, a phenomenon that leaves many susceptible or even willing to accept arguments proffered by demagogues with a decided authoritarian or otherwise illiberal bent.

In “Stealth Democracy,” John Hibbing and Elizabeth Theiss-Morse examined how Americans feel about the political system.  The results, a bit dated and likely worse now, should scare those who believe in liberal democracy.



A whopping 86 percent of the American people believed that “elected officials would help the country more if they would stop talking and just take action.”  In other words, elected officials – namely, the president – should act unilaterally and without concern to those who disagree with them to advance ideological aims.  That, of course, is invited (democratic) authoritarianism: Americans elect someone and then encourage that person to act as (s)he sees fit.

60 percent think “compromise is really just selling out on one’s principles.”  Governing is impossible without compromise because never at any point in time will a polity experience 100 percent agreement on any given subject, no matter how trivial.  For non-trivial matters, majority support for any given policy will never overwhelming, especially in a legislative chamber.  To pass legislation – to do anything – compromise is needed.

60 percent also believe “government would work best if it were run like a business.”  Governments must care for the people (“common welfare”).  Businesses care only for profit (as, arguably, they should).  These diametric purposes almost certainly cannot be meshed and, when tried, results are disastrous.



31 percent would forego the democratic part of liberal democracy and simply hand the government over to “nonelected, independent experts rather than politicians or the people” and simply hope that these individuals somehow decide to protect liberty and act for benevolent purposes.

Liberal Democracy and Donald Trump

Last year, the study’s authors repeated the surveys and found very similar results while also noting that those least inclined to support liberal democratic values favored and felt positively towards then-candidate Donald Trump.  In other words, illiberal, anti-democratic Americans found their favored candidate.  And that should come as no surprise for Donald Trump broke numerous democratic norms throughout his campaign and has continued to do so while in office.

It should frighten us all that a large minority of Americans have only marginal affection for liberal democracy and that they have found an illiberal politician who now extolls those beliefs from the Oval Office.

A thriving liberal democracy depends on citizens believing in its values and passing those beliefs onto children.  These democratic mores protect democracy from the flaws that befall it – especially its susceptibility to demagogues.  As those beliefs crumble and are made further mainstream by a candidate who earned 62 million votes, the continued vibrancy of our liberal Republic may be threatened.

donald trump free press

Donald Trump and the Free Press

Donald Trump Doesn’t Understand the Need for the Free Press

President Donald Trump holds very few patriotic or American beliefs – unless ignorance and obtuseness now define the American character.  His principles don’t originate from natural rights or a devotion to liberty.  They stem from a malicious character hooded in hate, versed in vengeance, and shrouded in stupidity.

For a man whose oath of office calls for him to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States,” Trump deviates from the words and rights enshrined by our founding document at every twist and turn of his volatile presidency, a continuation of his assaults on the Constitution and democratic norms that so defined his campaign (and, embarrassingly, appeal).

Of all constitutional protections, Donald J. Trump has most assailed a First Amendment right integral to the creation of our country and its preservation: The free press.  We cannot understate the vital importance the free press plays in maintaining a healthy Republic.  Voters unversed in issues and unaware of candidate beliefs and character cannot be expected to make informed decisions.  Transparency, a fundamental democratic tenet, withers without a hounding press that demands information from officials, elected and otherwise, and holds administrations to account.

Perhaps Thomas Jefferson said it best.

“The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. But I should mean that every man should receive those papers and be capable of reading them.”



Trump’s disdain for the free press knows no bounds.  He frequently dismisses valued news organizations as “fake news” simply because they publish articles critical of him and his presidency.  However, for all of his verbal attacks, and angry early-morning or late-night tweet tirades, Trump cannot point to specific instances of actual “fake news.”  The president, on whom the burden of proof falls, fails the first step of constructing a persuasive argument – supporting his assertion.

Most recently, Trump’s pointed to a retracted CNN article as evidence that network spews nonsense designed solely to degrade him.  But that obviously misses the mark.  CNN retracted its story and issued a humbling apology which the story’s subject accepted.

Three employees then resigned, a clear sign of journalistic integrity and accountability that demonstrates CNN commitment to providing its readers and viewers with the truth.  Its admission of error actually boosts its credibility: Rather than wrongly standing by its story and acting defiant in the face of evidence, it took actions to resolve a wrong and correct the record.  That’s integrity and the exact opposite of how a “fake news” network would react when confronted with its mistake.

Trump doesn’t realize that (or he does, but his frustrations with critical coverage still provoke him into fits of uncontrollable rage in which he lashes out with little regard for the deleterious effects he has on public discourse and the institutions that make democracy possible).

Instead, he retreats into the dens of Sean Hannity, Alex Jones, or Breitbart.  The former recently denigrated himself into the pits of hell by peddling the nonsensical and wholly debunked conspiracy relating to DNC staffer Seth Rich’s murder, alleging – without proof and in the face of official police statements and findings – that the Clintons had him murdered.  Fox, for its part, has done little to ensure its viewers and online readers understand that Hannity’s delusions, as with all delusions, fly in the face of all evidence.



Alex Jones, on whose show Donald Trump has spoken and who Trump called shortly after winning the presidency, lambasts 9/11 as an “inside job,” believes the government carried out the Sandy Hook shooting, and fervently promotes every other lunatic conspiracy imaginable.  His outlet has no integrity, no accountability, and no regard for the truth.  If anything should be classified as “fake news,” it’s InfoWars.  That doesn’t stop Trump from enjoying its content.

And, lastly, Breitbart News markets itself to white nationalists in an effort to corner the news market for avowed racists.  Its content either fabricates information or distorts in such a sensational way that context fades to oblivion and instead bestial and tribal mental processes control the brain and bring bigotry to its forefront.  Breitbart operates with racial motive and cares little for nuance or truth, especially truth that in any way undermines its nationalistic and borderline segregationist outlook.  Trump frequently tweets and praises the outlet.

Clearly, Trump doesn’t actually take issue with fake news (though he does enjoy hanging fake Time magazine covers in his golf resorts).  He takes issue with critical coverage.  Sean Hannity, Alex Jones, and Breitbart all wax poetic about the president and so Donald Trump ignores their journalistic malpractices and endorses their products.  But the likes of CNN, the New York Times, and Washington Post bother with the press’s actual purpose – guarding our liberty to ensure our Republic (to paraphrase Jefferson).



We must treat his actions seriously.  Trump’s vitriolic rhetoric – rhetoric echoed by his staff, favorable media outlets, and, most shamefully, some members of Congress – causes millions to, at best, doubt the press and, at worst, fall into the same derisions while simply ignoring information needed to understand the country and world.  This Trumpian assault hurts the country by undermining its bedrock – the free press.  It promotes ignorance and willing stupidity.  It’s an effort to subvert democracy to the statements of a deranged demagogue.

 

america decline

The Decline of a Nation

 

Demagoguery destroys nations.

America.  Conceived under tyranny and borne by patriots fighting for freedom and liberty.

Its ideals – our ideals – ring through our founding documents.  Our Declaration of Independence boldly states that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

The Constitution recognizes fundamental and natural liberties destined to remain ever untouched by the corruption of mischievous faction.  These rights, to be heralded above all, constrained government and set forth the vision of our nation: A state dedicated to the equal liberty of all its residents.

declaration of independence

To be sure, our nation has not always lived up to its ideals.  The tree of liberty has been occasionally watered with the blood of citizens fighting for righteousness and always with an eye towards expanding liberty, both within and outside our country.

But now our country finds itself in unchartered territory.  For once, the denigrating forces of demagoguery have consumed enough voters to find itself in the Oval Office.  This presents dual problems for the country.

First, Donald Trump’s gross incompetence and actions motivated solely by animus, whether at racial or religious minorities or those who dare criticize him, threaten the global order and the continued democratic traditions here at home.  His political career started by alleging incorrectly that the country’s first black president was born in Kenya, not the United States.

While campaigning for president, he called for a complete ban on Muslims entering the country; claimed that challenger Ted Cruz’s further had been involved in the JFK assassination plot (another lie); called for Hillary Clinton to be jailed; and continuously railed (incorrectly, again) that outside forces would collude to steal the election from him.

national enquirer cruz oswold
Trump pushed this obviously false story in hopes of hurting Ted Cruz’s presidential bid.



Now, as president, he’s wrongly furthered the notion that 3 to 5 million ballots had been cast illegally.  He called Russian interference into the 2016 election a “witch-hunt” and “hoax.”  His tweets and virulent diatribes against the media as well as other foundations of our democracy threaten long-standing democratic mores and encourage millions of voters to live in willing ignorance.

Secondly, and intimately related to the dangers Donald Trump himself poses, his core supporters fervently embrace and believe all that Trump says – and only what Trump says.  That endangers democracy as the only person who can reach and influence millions of Americans is Donald Trump, a man whose lies as president already near 1,000.

trump fake news
Not one Trump supporter can actually explain why CNN is “fake news.”

These supporters have, by and large, foregone the values that make America great.  They care little about the Constitution or the democratic norms that have long brought success to our grand experiment.  Fundamental freedoms and liberties mean little so long as their abrogation benefits Donald Trump.  Charlie Sykes best described the phenomena when he decried conservatism’s morphing into an ideology that abandoned principles to instead annoy liberals.



Trump supporters lust for, or seeming desire, authoritarianism led by Trump (who many proclaim to be the “God Emperor”).  Demagoguery’s potent appeal leave many inebriated from the violent, ignorant, and condescending rhetoric from a man whose cult of personality attracts the constitutionally and ideologically ignorant.  And to them, Trump can do no wrong and his actions need not be motivated by the pursuit of constitutionalism or constitutional rights.

Bizarre propaganda.
Bizarre propaganda.

Now, their fervent belief that press critical of Trump is at best “fake news” and at worst, as adviser Kellyanne Conway put it, “unpatriotic.”  That precludes them from learning about policy, truly judging Donald Trump’s character, and challenging their fanaticism.  Instead, they turn to the likes of Fox News, which has portrayed itself as a de facto state media outlet, often ignoring information or revelations that would hurt Trump while attacking liberals or Democrats in a (succeeding) effort to further tribalize political divisions.

This leaves the country with increased polarization driven not so much by ideology but by different sets of facts and different truths, as irrational and impossible as that may be.  It’s possible these voters cannot be reached by any outlet with integrity.  Would that extend to Democratic politicians or activists?  Probably.  Divisions, then, may be insurmountable.



Such a phenomenon, of course, is neither new nor confined to Trump supporters.  Factions motivated by demagoguery have arisen throughout American history.  Democracy has long been known to suffer from a demagoguery problem, but America has largely remained safe from such forces due to a fervent belief in natural rights and our Constitution – democratic mores, in the worlds of Alexis de Tocqueville.  But as mentioned above, those democratic mores seem to be disappearing, perhaps as collective memories of the horrors perpetuated by illiberal and autocratic regimes fades.

The far-left also suffers from such a problem.  Democratic socialists and their even more radicalized comrades similarly distort history and facts to abandon constitutional rights and advocate instead for a revolution – democratic or otherwise – to change the regime.  They, however, number far fewer than those on the Trumpian right and so, for now, pose less a threat to our democracy’s success.

Socialism, of course, has never worked.
Socialism, of course, has never worked.



And so we see ourselves in the midst of our nation’s decline.  Liberties, rights, and democratic behavior becomes increasingly unimportant to large swaths of the population interested only in promoting their tribe (in this case, Donald Trump).  We’ve been here before and we’ve already emerged a stronger nation.  But it’s always taken a national emergency or collective, bipartisan action, the likes of which seems unlikely in this highly polarized time.

The best remedy may be a return to fundamental American values.  We must promote natural rights and use our history as a common building block to unify the nation and return political discourse to how we can best collectively protect and further these liberties to all Americans.

tulsi gabbard

Tulsi Gabbard is a Tyrant Apologist

Tulsi Gabbard Has No Place in Washington

Tulsi Gabbard should face a primary challenge.  She is no liberal, certainly no Democrat, and while she masquerades as a progressive, her record speaks otherwise.  In fact, Gabbard’s actions reveal that she is a renegade with a cause celebrated only by tyrants.

The congresswoman’s secret trip to Syria perfectly exemplifies her foolishness and affability to brutal authoritarianism.  She failed to alert government leaders that she would visit a country with which we do not have diplomatic relations; upon her return she refused to say whether she met with strongman Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (it turns out she did, which, given that her positions are dramatically at odds with U.S. foreign policy, might have run afoul of the Logan Act); now, she won’t disclose who funded the trip, signing and submitting incomplete ethics forms.  Her conclusion from the trip?  The war-criminal should remain in power as only his repressive regime can restore order to a region his undemocratic, illiberal actions helped destabilize in the first place.



Gabbard went to Syria on a “fact-finding” mission.  Why, then, did she allow the trip to be curated entirely by government figures?  Why did she allow to accompany her two of Assad’s henchmen, who hail from a virulently anti-Semitic party with a history of fascism?  After viewing a Syria portrayed solely from the government’s point of view, Gabbard returned with renewed belief in Assad’s beneficence – an American falling victim to Assad’s propaganda (the same propaganda used by dictators throughout the world to portray democratic societies as tyrannical or otherwise flawed and repressive).

In case you’re wondering, yes, this is the same Bashar al-Assad who dropped chemical bombs on his own people.  Yes, it’s the same Assad whose massacre of Aleppo generated thousands of refugees and gave us images of the war-torn city and injured children that tug at one’s heartstrings.  She, like Vladimir Putin (Assad’s ally in Aleppo’s slaughter) and Donald Trump, wants to see the same Assad that brutally cracked down on all dissent, on those aligned – however loosely – with perceived opposition remain at Syria’s helm.



It’s little wonder that Steve Bannon, alleged anti-Semite and former executive at white nationalist site Breitbart, takes a fancy to Gabbard: Like Trump, her foreign policy inherently views Islam as a terrorism problem and her solutions involve maintaining dictatorial regimes.  For her part, Gabbard, the lone House Democrat to vote against a resolution condemning Assad for his crimes, also bucked her party by refusing to sign a letter urging Trump to fire Steve Bannon, a senior adviser who nihilistically views war with China as inevitable and already thinks we’re in a global conflict with Islam.

Gabbard’s populist roots – the aspiring child of demagoguery – find her favor in the White House even while lending legitimacy and support for authoritarian regimes.  What proclaimed progressive can look into the eyes of a refugee and say “I stand with your oppressor?”  Our leaders need to stand up to dictators and urge democracy’s shining light to spread across all corners of the globe (and this does not necessarily entail military force, though presenting that false choice bolsters Gabbard’s weak arguments).  At a time when the White House wants to strengthen tyrants – when far-right European parties a step removed from power wish the same – authoritarian apologists must not walk the halls of Congress.



Hawaiian voters must hold Tulsi Gabbard accountable for her actions and undemocratic (and certainly not progressive) viewpoints.  Someone – a real Democrats who understands the intricacies of the 21st Century economy and who believes that a (small-l) liberal world order in which a society of states exists without the repressive hand of dictators promotes stability and peace – must primary challenge Tulsi Gabbard.

safe spaces

Illiberal Leftists

The Far-Left and Far-Right Have All Too Much in Common 

Far too many liberals and Democrats forget that authoritarianism is a horseshoe.  The extremes of both ends of the political spectrum tend towards totalitarianism wherein the state suppresses, to the best of its ability, the viewpoints of dissidents and critics.  This can be done in many ways – governments can pass laws forbidding contrarian speech, condone violence and physical retribution against those speaking in opposition, or it can discriminately apply frivolous labels meant to “poison the well” or otherwise taint the perspectives of those who stand against empowered group.  All of these methods serve the same end purpose: Monopolizing thoughts and ideas.

While it is of course easiest to pursue any of these avenues while in the majority and holding the seats of power, plural or minority factions can embrace the latter two means of muzzling nonconformists in efforts to squelch opposition and create a homogenous group.  Donald Trump has, throughout the course of the past 18 months, encouraged violence against protesters and applied meaningless and incorrect monikers to outlets and individuals who disagree with him.  See how he and his supporters deride the “mainstream media” as “fake news” or dismiss liberals as “libtards” or “communists” or “treasonous insurgents.”  Many (but not enough) have railed against such labelling and suppression of ideas, especially when it comes to the media as the news organizations help educate a wanting electorate.  But what Democrats, facing the brunt of this well-poisoning, seem to ignore is that such silencing also occurs in their own ranks

College campuses have been the focal-point for leftist censorship, and rightly so.  Students care too much about “microaggressions” and other slights to feelings and, as a result have sought to curtail free speech and free expression.  But these illiberal sentiments continue once students descend from the ivory towers.  Leftists, those on the fringes of the Democratic Party and liberalism, continue the college belief that speech with which they disagree – or speech which they find, in any way, racist, sexist, or condescending – should be banned.  How is that any different from the illiberal ideas of Trump, who blacklisted outlets critical of him, or his supporters, who want to see constitutionally-protected speech (such as flag-burning) outlawed because they disagree with the argument being presented?



These leftists also love to quickly and easily dismiss speakers with different views.  Innumerable speakers have been disinvited from schools because of potentially offensive viewpoints.  Not even liberals are immune from leftist censorship: When the illiberal left is faced with disagreements from Democrats or other liberals, they don’t try to have a dialogue or come to an understanding with the other party.  Rather, the illiberal left condemns critics as “racist” or “condescending” or “intolerant.”  Many antagonists are simply ignored by virtue of being a “straight white man” (I’ve been told my opinions or use of logic aren’t welcome because I’m white and rationality is somehow, and I kid you not, a racial construction).  Suddenly, immutable characteristics, rather than being something to defend and protect, are reason to dismiss opinions and thoughts just because they hail from a historically privileged demographic.

And so, by labelling as “racist” or “intolerant” or “bigoted” those who bother to disagree with the far-left, leftists alert other leftists than a speaker or writer is to be ignored.  It is de facto censorship within a community, creating an ideological echo-chamber and the makings of authoritarianism should the faction ever somehow come power.  Much as Trump and Trumpian thought is a cancer on conservatism, leftists and leftist thought are quickly becoming a leech on liberalism of which Democrats must be wary lest they follow the Republican Party down the road of authoritarianism.