Democracy or What?

Regardless of your political leanings, our recent election should frighten you a bit. It does me. Where is respect for our institutions and traditions? How many Americans actually believe in democracy any more? If you find this question impertinent, look at these research data from the Journal of Democracy. The horizontal axis identifies cohorts of citizens in the specified countries who were born in different decades. The younger groups are increasingly skeptical of the value of democracy to them. I am most concerned about the United States data, but the trend everywhere it was tested seems about as bad.

fullsizerenderTo be clear, democracy has two generally accepted meanings. It is both a type and a form of government. The meaning used here is a type of government, meaning one where there are periodic free elections. As a form of government, this means absolute majority rule. Thank God this is not true for us; we are a republic with a written Constitution that protects us from the whims of such a majority. Thus the evidence is that most American voters who are not senior citizens no longer trust free elections to provide the benefits of self-government. And the younger they are, the lesser their trust. If that doesn’t scare you, then you scare me! For some time we have apparently been raising a bunch of little autocrats!

This is not solely evidence of the rise of the autocratic right. In the U.S. for instance, based on our recent election, this would seem to indicate that at least half of those who voted for Hillary Clinton probably aren’t big fans of democracy. What type of government is favored by Donald Trump’s supporters is an open question. I doubt if it is one that would be recognizable by our founders.

I don’t believe that either the far right or the far left trust the democratic process, and these are no longer just fringe groups. They dominate both parties and few are in the middle any more. Both sides want to force people to think and act in ways they approve. The result of any vote must be ‘wrong’ or even rigged if you don’t win. Both sides seem to yearn for a strong man in charge, assuming he is on their side of course. And I did deliberately omit the customary “or strong woman”.

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