Democracy Self-destruction

Tom Edsall posted an article citing various scholars who are extremely worried about the state of democracy in the US and other populist-besieged countries. He starts by citing a poll to the effect that 46% of Americans think the media fabricates news, compared to 37% who say not. After quoting other doomers and gloomers, he quotes NYU political scientist Adam Przeworski saying that although Trump's election was not itself a failure of democracy, he might well act to undermine free and fair elections, the processes of informing voters, and using government power to attack opponents. He then quotes a Stanford political scientist,  Anna Grzymala-Busse:

"My big worry is not simply that formal institutions have been eroded, but that the informal norms that underpin them are even more important and even more fragile. Norms of transparency, conflict of interest, civil discourse, respect for the opposition and freedom of the press, and equal treatment of citizens are all consistently undermined, and without these the formal institutions become brittle."

Trump might, she says, follow the classical autocratic model of first attacking the courts, then the press, and finally the institutions of civil society like churches and universities.

An important cause of rising wing-nut populism, he notes, is a growing segment of disengaged and profoundly alienated citizens who support leaders like Trump and are comfortable with, in the words of another political science researcher, "a broader set of self-interested and antisocial attitudes that are present among a substantial minority of the U.S. population." 

He then goes into why this segment is growing and has the views it holds. It's basically a catalogue of social and economic ills and resentments. Then his conclusion: "Trump’s recklessness is disturbing enough on its own. But what makes it especially threatening is that much of the public — well beyond the 40 percent of the electorate that has shown itself to be unshakable in its devotion to the president — seems to be slowly accommodating itself to its daily dose of the Trump reality show, accepting the rhetorical violence that Trump inflicts on basic standards of truth as the new normal."

I suggest that Mr. Egan, one of my favorite NY Times columnists, has written a gloomy and scary essay, too well done to reject but perhaps mistaken, I think, in at least one major premise. That premise is that the individuals who compose the electorate will remain so easily fooled as they were in 2016. Trump's radicalism took everyone by surprise, and the delay in mobilizing adequate responses, along with the venal self-interest of his GOP supporters, has made his position seem very powerful. 

But to every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, even if we don't yet know exactly what form it is taking. Trump's trashing of moral norms like honesty and decency provoke widespread disgust, even among his supporters. His opposition to civic virtues like respect for heroes, protection of diversity, and support for the Rule of Law makes enemies of many who said "yes, but" about his indecencies. And the policies he seems to favor--like discarding diplomacy, abandoning international agreements, lowering taxes for himself and his rich cronies, stripping funds from national R&D efforts, eliminating health insurance for millions of people, demolishing environmental protections and vast areas of natural environment, etc.--will soon come home to roost in the form of severe economic and public health crises. So I think there is a growing opposition to Trump within the ranks of those he so effectively tricked in the 2016 election. They won't be tricked again. I hope.

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