Posts Tagged ‘Democracy’


RECTOCRACY, n. Government by assholes. The form of government that has replaced what once passed for democracy in the United States.

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— (thanks to Dave Irish for this one) from The American Heretic’s Dictionary (revised & expanded), the 21st-century successor to Ambrose Bierce’s Devil’s Dictionary. (The link goes to 50 sample definitions and illustrations.)

American Heretic's Dictionary revised and expanded by Chaz Bufe, front cover


How Democracies Die front cover(How Democracies Die, by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt: Crown, 2018, 312 pp., $26.00)

 

It’s often worthwhile to point out the obvious, as Levitsky and Ziblatt have done here: the U.S. is undergoing a stress test of its democratic institutions, the increasingly authoritarian Republican Party is primarily responsible for the stress, and the means used by authoritarian parties to destroy democracy tend to be quite similar across the world.

The authors do a good job of outlining the commonalities of would-be dictators:

  1. Rejection of (or weak commitment to) democratic rules of the game;
  2. Denial of the legitimacy of political opponents;
  3. Toleration or encouragement of violence;
  4. Readiness to curtail civil liberties of opponents, including media.

The authors cite several examples to illustrate these points, including the Erdogan regime in Turkey, the Chávez regime in Venezuela, and the Trump regime (more politely, the Trump Administration) in the U.S.

They also cite three common tactics employed by authoritarians undermining democracy:

  1. Capturing the “referees” (especially the courts);
  2. Sidelining opponents (e.g., via slanderous charges and trumped-up criminal charges);
  3. Changing the rules (e.g., restricting the right to vote).

Again, they provide numerous examples, and again Trump and his Republican enablers are prominent among them.

These examples, these case studies of the attitudes and tactics of authoritarians, are the most valuable part of the book.

As for the analysis of why things have gotten so bad in the U.S., not so much. The authors are conventional liberals who see nothing fundamentally flawed in what, from its start, has always been a weak democracy with, almost from the start, a two-party duopoly under the control of the rich. (The authors don’t mention it, but George Washington, for all his virtues, was the richest man in the 13 colonies.)

While they’re not entirely uncritical of America’s past — for example, they include a good but quite brief history of the political aspects of Jim Crow in the wake of Reconstruction — they paint a remarkably rosy picture of America’s “democratic” past, with “backroom candidate selection . . . keeping demonstrably unfit figures off the ballot and out of office.” And this in reference to Warren G. Harding(!), arguably the most corrupt and incompetent U.S. president until Trump.

The authors are also rather obtuse regarding the underlying economic reasons for the current crisis in what passes for American democracy. They blame post-1975 “economic growth slowing” plus increased ethnic diversity as being the reasons for the current breakdown of political norms.

This is simply wrong. Since real wages peaked in 1972-1973, productivity growth has averaged roughly 1.75% per year, while wages have grown not at all. This means that the amount of goods and services produced per hour worked have approximately doubled over the last 45 years, with almost all of the gains going not to those who do the work, but to those who own the corporations. As well, there has been a distinct redistribution of wealth from the bottom to the top over the same period, with the top 1% now owning nearly 50% of the nation’s wealth — a trend which Obama didn’t even try to address, and which is worsening under Trump.

Is it any wonder that people are fed up? That so many voters are so fed up with their stressful economic state and the corporate-controlled two-party duopoly — essentially a choice between evil and greater evil — that 41% of those eligible to vote in the last election didn’t even show up at the polls? Is it any wonder that so many feel so much economic pain that they’ll listen to demagogues who scapegoat minorities?

The authors’ prescription to put U.S. democracy back on the rails? To oversimplify, a return to civility between Democrats and Republicans. That might involve (they say this is a remote possibility) a reformed Republican party casting out the white nationalists and other authoritarians (good luck on that), plus the Democrats fighting Trump et al. in court and on the ballot, and the Democrats advocating a few minimalist common-sense reformist measures, such as universal healthcare coverage and a significantly higher minimum wage.

In the end, the authors see nothing fundamentally flawed in the present system. If you’re looking for bold strategies to address the fundamental inequities, injustices, and outright horrors in present-day America, you won’t find it in How Democracies Die.

The book’s value, though, lies in its clear presentation of the attitudes and tactics of dictators and would-be dictators, and its many case studies of authoritarian figures and regimes.

Recommended.


I’ve written a lot about how the Clintons, Obama, and the the other corporate Democrats have paved the way for the current political catastrophe. How they sold us out, deliberately betrayed us.

Let’s briefly outline how all of the other equally guilty parties have  totally screwed us. This covers so much territory that it’s necessarily schematic. If you doubt any of this — it’s a matter of abundant public record — please, please investigate everything I say here. Facts are facts, “alternative facts” are just lies.

Here we go.

  • Racism. The Voting Rights Act of 1964 severed the Dixiecrats from the Democratic Party. Almost immediately, the Republicans instituted their racist “southern strategy.” Until recently, it was mostly implemented via dog whistles: Willie Horton, “welfare queens,” etc. The Republicans have now reverted to overt racism. Who knew that the racism of the Christian South ran so deep? The Republicans did. LBJ thought the Democrats would lose the South for a generation because of the Voting Rights Act. He was wrong. It’s been more than half a century.
  • Anti-intellectualism. To put it more baldly, pride in being ignorant, pride in being easy for scumbuckets to manipulate. To put it in Republican-speak, pride in not being a “pointy-headed intellectual.” Pride in stupidity ain’t a good thing, folks. But it’s a dominant trait in America. Admiration for Donald Trump, a dumbshit real estate heir with a fourth-grade vocabulary, an IQ probably in the 90s, and a transparently phony “I’m on your side” schtick, provides a good illustration of this.
  • Industrial-Strength Ignorance. Decades ago, George Carlin said, “Think about how stupid the average person is, then realize that half of them are stupider than that.” He’d have been equally right if he’d substituted “ignorant” for “stupidity.” As an example of this ignorance, an appallingly large percentage of the population thinks that the American military is weak — while that military accounts for nearly half of world military spending. They’re ignorant enough  to buy the obvious bullshit assertion that the way to create jobs is to give ever more money to “job creators” (corporations and the top 1%). They evidently think that rich jerks, upon receiving taxpayer largesse, say to themselves, “Yeah, first thing I’m gonna do with this is drive up my labor costs by hiring more people.” (News flash here, folks: Demand drives job creation; tinkle-down economics doesn’t. (hat tip to Jim Hightower)
  • Assaults on Higher Education. Thirty years ago the U.S. had the highest proportion in the world of adults with college degrees. At last count, the U.S. ranked 17th, largely because of the skyrocketing costs of higher education (annual increases averaging three times the rate of inflation). Why would the Republicans, with the collusion of all too many Democrats, permit, indeed foster, this? In general, the less educated people are, the easier they are to manipulate. As Donald Trump put it, “I love the poorly educated.”
  • Disinformation. Manufactured “news.” This has been going on for years. Let’s start with the Acorn deliberate disinformation campaign, accusing this in-part moderate voter-registration campaign of fraud. The Republicans produced no evidence of this, but Fox “News” destroyed this voter-registration campaign in large part because the corporate Democrats were too gutless to call them on it. Trump has now escalated his disinformation campaign to not only routinely lying, but — without a shred of evidence — labeling all honest reporting on his vicious, irresponsible, and often moronic conduct as “fake news.”
  • Voter Suppression. The prime example beyond the Acorn debacle is the utterly evidence-devoid charges that there has been massive voter fraud at the ballot box. Again, no evidence whatsoever. The result? Voter ID laws that have resulted in the disenfranchisement of millions of poor, mostly nonwhite, and elderly people. (My mom, who died last year at 99 , and who never had a driver’s license, would have had to produce ID.) At the same time, Bush stole the election in 2000, and Dumbshit lost the election by almost three million votes in 2016, while claiming, again without a shred of evidence, that millions of “illegals” were responsible for his popular-vote loss.
  • Taxation without representation. Millions of people in the U.S. are disenfranchised, largely because they’ve been sentenced to prison time despite having done nothing to hurt others. We’re talking about drug “offenders” here, folks. The assertion that they “forfeited” their rights by doing or selling drugs is no more valid than the assertion that their self-righteous accusers “forfeited” their rights by being authoritarian assholes. In other words, prove the assertion. Goddamn it. Prove it.
  • An Undemocratic Voting System. People here have a choice between bad and worse. Is it any wonder that 41% of eligible voters chose not to vote in the last election? A proportional or ranked voting system would have encouraged participation. As is, the voting system discourages participation. One minor example of this is that voting happens on a Tuesday with no provision for people to take time off from work to vote. Are you kidding me? Do you want people to vote or not? (The question answers itself.) And let’s not even get started on the Electoral College–a national disgrace for over two centuries that gave us both George W. Bush and Donald Trump.
  • Koch Whores. At this point, money buys elections. Here in Tucson, Kock Brothers’ money bought a house seat for Martha McSally (who’s now running for the senate). Same thing across the country. The corporate Democrats with their superpacs and deep-pocketed corporate donors aren’t much better than the Republicans — overall, they just get less money.
  • Authoritarianism. Probably around 30% of the American electorate are desperate for a “strong man” to goose step behind, and Trump has supplied them with one. Authoritarians want easy answers, want to abandon their responsibilities as independent, decision-making adults, and quite often are driven by sadistic, bullying impulses, which the “strong man” allows them to vent vicariously.
  • Religious Fundamentalism. By its very nature, fundamentalism — blind acceptance of the commands in a “holy book” or from a “holy man” — is authoritarian, anti-intellectual. It demands blind faith and discourages, all too often physically, free inquiry and a questioning attitude. It’s no wonder fundamentalists are such enemies of free thought and free people, and want to impose their views on others: a moment’s consideration shows that their beliefs are contradiction-riddled insupportable bullshit. Is it any wonder that they flock to mean-spirited, slimeball charlatans who screw them (and their kids and neighbors) economically, but promise to impose their theocratic “moral” dictates on others. In the last election, 81% of American fundamentalists voted for Donald Trump. Trump received the votes of 26% of those eligible to vote (Clinton got 28%, and over 41% didn’t vote at all), and almost half of his 26% came from fundamentalists. Nearly a century ago, Clay Fulks, in Christianity, A Continuing Calamity, nailed it:

 

Having fundamentalists in a nation is like having congenital imbeciles in a family–it’s a calamity. Allow their mountebank, swindling leaders enough control over society and though religious faith would flourish fantastically, society would revert to the sheep-and-goat stage of culture . . . Wherefore it is perfectly irrelevant whether your fundamentalist is honest or utterly hypocritical in his religious beliefs . . . It just doesn’t matter. The question of his intellectual integrity will have to wait until he grows an intellect. In the meantime, however, what the forces of reaction are doing with him constitutes a continuing calamity.

 

 

 


The 2016 presidential election is fast approaching, and to provide a few moments of respite from the nauseating spectacle — election workers would be well advised to hand out barf bags along with ballots — here are a few definitions you might find humorous.

The first definition is from Oscar Wilde’s The Soul of Man Under Socialism, and all of the others, plus the graphics, are from our new American Heretic’s Dictionary. We hope you enjoy them.

Democracy, n. 1) The bludgeoning of the people, by the people, for the people.

Democratic Party, n. 1) The “good cop” in the biennial good cop/bad cop mugging of the American public; 2) A political party which has persevered and prospered for over two centuries without, curiously, ever having had any principles to betray.

"Hell" graphic by J.R. Swanson from "The Devil's Dictionaries"

Hell, n. A place of everlasting torment, much like the United States during an election year.

Lesser of Two Evils, phr. The perennial and inspiring reason to vote for the Democratic Party’s courageous, incorruptible candidates.

Majority Rule, phr. The governing principle of the United States. The revered concept that it is every bit as right and just that two million individuals impose their will upon one million, under threat of force, as it is that two individuals impose their will upon one, under similar threat.

Municipal Election graphic by J.R. Swanson

Municipal Election, n. A refreshing dip in an open sewer.

President of the United States, n. 1) A pathological liar suffering delusions of grandeur; 2) An office which confers upon its holder vast coercive power as well as the means to commit mass murder—an opportunity of which all recent U.S. presidents have taken advantage. Because of this, some observers have concluded that only the worst type of individuals seek the office of president. This unkind assessment is, however, incorrect. It is more realistic to conclude that only the worst type of individuals are elected to the office.

Republican, adj. Having an affinity for gold, in both bullion and shower form.

Republican Party, n. Once described as “America’s largest hate group,” the Republican Party is often scurrilously portrayed as consisting entirely of racists, but this is not so. Many Republican leaders are not racists themselves, but are merely content to pander to them.

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American Heretic's Dictionary revised and expanded by Chaz Bufe, front cover


H.L. Mencken

“Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.”

–H.L. Mencken


George Bernard Shaw“Democracy substitutes selection by the incompetent many for appointment by the corrupt few.”

–George Bernard Shaw, Preface to Major Barbara


“The weakness of fascism and communism consists in their turning citizens into slaves. Slaves have nothing to gain and nothing to lose.

“The strength of democracy is that it encourages the common man to believe himself a ruler, that is, an oppressor of his neighbor.”

–Allen Thornton, Laws of the Jungle

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Quoted in The Heretic’s Handbook of Quotations

Front cover of "The Heretic's Handbook of Quotations