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The Big Answer


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The People vs. Democracy: Why Our Freedom Is in Danger and How to Save It

a book by Yascha Mounk

(our site's book review)

Democracy Is at Risk

The Amazon blurb says that The world is in turmoil. From India to Turkey and from Poland to the United States, authoritarian populists have seized power. As a result, Yascha Mounk shows, democracy itself may now be at risk. Two core components of liberal democracy—individual rights and the popular will—are increasingly at war with each other. As the role of money in politics soared and important issues were taken out of public contestation, a system of “rights without democracy” took hold. Populists who rail against this say they want to return power to the people. But in practice they create something just as bad: a system of “democracy without rights.”

The consequence, Mounk shows in The People vs. Democracy: Why Our Freedom Is in Danger and How to Save It, is that trust in politics is dwindling. Citizens are falling out of love with their political system. Democracy is wilting away. Drawing on vivid stories and original research, Mounk identifies three key drivers of voters’ discontent: stagnating living standards, fears of multiethnic democracy, and the rise of social media. To reverse the trend, politicians need to enact radical reforms that benefit the many, not the few.

This May Be Our Last Chance to Save Democracy

The People vs. Democracy: Why Our Freedom Is in Danger and How to Save It is the first book to go beyond a mere description of the rise of populism. In plain language, it describes both how we got here and where we need to go. For those unwilling to give up on either individual rights or the popular will, Mounk shows, there is little time to waste: this may be our last chance to save democracy.

The rise of authoritarian populism shows that we can no longer assume that liberal democracy is the wave of the future. So argues Yascha Mounk in this sobering and astute analysis of our current political moment. This splendid book is an invaluable contribution to the debate about what ails democracy, and what can be done about it.—Michael J. Sandel, Harvard University

To state the obvious, the past year has created a sense of distrust and fatigue between some American citizens and the government. Mounk attempts to identify what has driven citizens to despise politics and what politicians need do to reverse the trend before democracy is irrevocably lost.—Entertainment Weekly 2018-01-25

Inequality is illustrated by the huge income gap between rich and poor in the U.S.
Inequality is illustrated by the huge income gap between rich and poor in the U.S.


Average after tax income by income group 1979-2007
Average after tax income by income group 1979-2007

As Mounk says, "Was the past stability of democracy brought about by conditions that are no longer in place? The answer might well be yes. There are at least three striking constants that characterized democracy since its founding but are no longer true today."

When there was democratic stability, most citizens experienced a nice, brisk increase in their living standards. Between the years 1935 and 1960, for example, the income of a typical American household doubled. Between the years 1960 and 1985, it doubled again. Since 1985, typical American household income has been flat.

Trust and Optimism Have Evaporated—It's the Elites' Democracy, Not Ours

He continues: "This has heralded a radical change in American politics: Citizens never especially liked politicians—and yet they did, by and large, trust that elected officials would stick to their end of the deal, and that their lives would keep getting better as a result. Today, that trust and that optimism have evaporated. As citizens have grown deeply anxious about the future, they have started to see politics as a zero-sum game—one in which any gain for immigrants or ethnic minorities will come at their expense." See Politics and Government, Democracy—an American Delusion, and Freedom of the Press—an American Delusion.

US serious mental illness 2008
US serious mental illness 2008

As Mounk says, "Pundits and political scientists alike told us that Brits would never vote to Brexit. They did. Pundits and political scientists alike told us that Donald Trump could never get elected. He did. Pundits and political scientists alike told us that democracy would never be in danger of deconsolidating. It is.

We Live in an Era of Radical Uncertainty

We live in an era of radical uncertainty. The range of possible outcomes is much wider now than it seemed to be a few years ago. Prediction is a more difficult game than ever. And yet, the one prediction that has reliably misled us—the assumption that things will forever remain the way they have always been—remains the most popular, even today."

Prediction is a more difficult game than ever, and the one prediction that has reliably misled us is the assumption that things will forever remain the way they have always been
Prediction is a more difficult game than ever, and the one prediction that has reliably misled us is the assumption that things will forever remain the way they have always been

If we can hope to preclude being as surprised by the future as we have been surprised by the recent happenings, then we must reexamine our most basic assumptions and expectations. Perhaps our planet's liberal democracies are less stable and reliable than we have been assuming. And maybe the rise of populism will be leading to the destruction of our political system. Who knows? Mounk assures us that the reliability of stable sameness is now just a memory. We expect it at our peril.

Mounk tells us that for every story of populist failures around the globe, there are two stories of populist success where authoritarian strongmen get power and consolidate said power by altering the system so as to make it nearly impossible to vote him out of power via elections. Examples are Turkey and Venezuela. Defenders of democracy failed to halt their degenerating into dictatorship. India, Poland, and the Philippines are led by strongmen but the future of democracy in such places is too early to call.

Wrecking ball Republicans are coconspiring with Trump to wreck democracy to rig the game so they get even richer
Wrecking ball Republicans are coconspiring with Trump to wreck democracy to rig the game so they get even richer

Our Constitution Has the Tools Needed to Deal with an Iffy President Like Trump

In North America and Western Europe, democracies have long histories and citizens are more affluent and educated and the insitutions of democracy are more entrenched. The Founders put into the Constitution the tools needed to deal with an iffy president like Trump. The judiciary's Supreme Court can call a Trump order unconstitutional, and the legislature's Congress can impeach him. Since May 2017, a Special Counsel investigation has been led by the United States Special Counsel, Robert Mueller, a former Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. All Democrats and many Republicans stand ready to impeach Trump if he tries to fire Mueller for reaching decisions unfavorable to Trump and his minions. No one wants a president who thinks he is above the law. He's been an asset for rich, greedy corporations and Republicans who loved seeing their taxes decrease, but if he begins playing the demagogue full tilt, our politicians will read the writing on the wall and react appropriately to the dangers. Like when Nixon commisioned burglary and Congress jumped.

Republicans go suddenly deaf when we ask them about Trump's assaulting of our democracy—i.e., they ARE balking out of cowardice
Republicans go suddenly deaf when we ask them about Trump's assaulting of our democracy—i.e., they ARE balking out of cowardice

Mounk poses the question: what if Congress balks out of cowardice? The answer: we are in deep doodoo. Trump has been assaulting our democracy since day one, and Republicans go suddenly deaf when we ask them about it. I.e., they ARE balking out of cowardice.

Trump doesn't care abour laws, Constitutions, or democracy. He cares about himself and about power, so he wants us to respect his authoritah
Trump doesn't care abour laws, Constitutions, or democracy. He cares about himself and about power, so he wants us to respect his authoritah

Grassroots opposition groups are having an effect and posing critical resistance. Some Republicans are reprioritizing country above politics. Resist is the new watchword of the anti-Trump folks. See The resistance to Trump is blossoming – and building a movement to last and 10 Ways to Join the Resistance and Fight Back Against Trump Right Now.

Congressman Jerry Nadler informs us that "Since Election Day, many people have asked me what they might do to support those of us in Congress who are ready and willing to stand up and fight the Trump agenda. My answer starts with a fundamental belief that the 240-year-old institutions of our government, in particular, our systems of checks and balances, were, in part, created with the precise goal of averting tyranny. These institutions can only function properly, however, when our country’s leaders work vigorously to ensure that they do, and when citizens remain fully engaged in the process. Now more than ever, with a President-elect who threatens to undermine and even delegitimize those institutions—and in doing so, to damage the very soul of our liberal democracy—I implore everyone to help our country help itself." (Source: HOW WE RESIST TRUMP AND HIS EXTREME AGENDA, Congressman Jerry Nadler)

If you love our country, RESIST and never ever give up!
If you love our country, RESIST and never ever give up!

Trump could never have become president without tens of millions of citizens becoming disenchanted at our democracy and the way it has screwed the nonrich. Noam Chomsky is the consummate expert on such things, and he proves it in the best book of the 21st century: Requiem for the American Dream: The 10 Principles of Concentration of Wealth & Power.

Chomsky systematically documents the many ways the system is rigged from top to bottom
Chomsky systematically documents the many ways the system is rigged from top to bottom

U.S. Propaganda and Advertising Work Together to Create Mind Control

U.S. propaganda and advertising work together to create control of what's on our minds, how we obey leaders, how we spend our hard-earned money. The result is mostly a docile, compliant, conformist populace whose spending and conforming tendencies fall right in line with elite oligarchs' expectations and hopes. Mounk warns that if we merely dump the Trump, those that elected him may consider him a martyr and wish to elect an even more extreme rightwing demagogue. Perhaps this time the Democrats will produce a realistic candidate, not an elite establishment lady who cannot handle emails and is merely OBomb'em 2.0 in a skirt.

U.S. propaganda and advertising work together to create control of what's on our minds, how we obey leaders, how we spend our hard-earned money
U.S. propaganda and advertising work together to create control of what's on our minds, how we obey leaders, how we spend our hard-earned money

Pigs Get Fed, Hogs Get Slaughtered

Trump's Make America Great Again baloney fooled millions who should have known better, but were incensed with the establishment's game of giving us candidates who would not change things like they said they would, so they made fools of us when we voted for them. Trump was supposed to be the outsider that represented the people, yet he obviously represented, primarily, his own business interests. He claimed he was the anti-establishment candidate, but his actions are not anti-establishment—they are, for the most part, pleasing the hell out of the Republicans, the rightwingers, the extremists, the regressives, the Culture Warriors, and especially the corporatocracy who view his very low corporate taxes as their favorite wet dream. Even if Gordon Gekko from the Wall Street movie is right that greed is good (?), too much of it will bite one in the ass. Leaving us enough money so we can buy their products, or they'll end up losing money—this is but one example.

At least the rich will leave us a few scraps once they're done eating—we cannot consume products from the corporatocracy if we have no money
At least the rich will leave us a few scraps once they're done eating—we cannot consume products from the corporatocracy if we have no money

Too much greed is bad, and bad for you. "Bulls make money, bears make money, pigs get slaughtered" is an old Wall Street saying that warns investors against excessive greed. So is "Pigs get fat and hogs get slaughtered." Or "Pigs get fed, hogs get slaughtered."

This pig is getting fed and taking only what he needs
This pig is getting fed and taking only what he needs (Pigs get fed)


These hogs got so fat they couldn't walk so they got slaughtered to put them out of their misery (hint-hint, Wall Street)
These hogs got so fat they couldn't walk so they got slaughtered to put them out of their misery (hint-hint, Wall Street: hogs get slaughtered)

USA Has Many of the Trappings of Democracy But Isn't a Democracy—It's an Oligarchy

"There is no shortcut for democratic processes. Too much emphasis has been placed on elections and too little on the other essential features of democracy (The Economist, 2014). Robust checks and balances are just as vital to the establishment of a healthy democracy as the right to vote. Indeed, being elected does not give government all the rights. They still have to operate within democratic principles that provide guarantees for individual rights. . . . Democracies usually require a long-term institutional building that does not always match high post-dictatorship expectations and aspirations. It requires constant checks and balances to ensure the protection of individual rights." (Source: The decline of democracy and the implications for development cooperation, on Linkedin and by Jean-Christophe Charlier.)

In our opinion, Mounk makes the democracy definition more complicated and pedantic than it needs to be. In our article, Democracy—an American Delusion, we keep it as simple and basic as it can be without losing its essense. And we demonstrate that the USA has many of the trappings of democracy but none of the essentials and is therefore not a democracy, regardless of what the lying politicians say. The USA is an oligarchy.


Mounk Worries about What Comes after Trump—Will It Be Like the Infamous Fall of Rome?

Tha author tells us that democracies can be illiberal if they curtail rights for minorities, or it can be undemocratic if the political process is so distorted by elites' powers that elections rarely translate the public will into public policy. So illiberal democracy (democracy without rights) and undemocratic liberalism (rights without democracy) prevail in many parts of the world. Francis Fukuyama figured democracy would be the world's final form—the perfect system. He was wrong. It is merely a transitional regime type to other lesser forms.

Mounk worries about what comes after Trump—will it be like the infamous fall of Rome?
Mounk worries about what comes after Trump—will it be like the infamous fall of Rome?

Mounk worries about what comes after Trump, since people were actually willing to elect him to the presidency. He doesn't so much worry that our fate will be like Hitler's Germany as he worries it will be like the nasty way Rome disintegrated. The citizens are mad and glad they had Trump to express their anger to the government. Of course, what Trump actually did is to exploit the disenchanted, using them to get power and more wealth for himself and his Republican flunkies. He didn't Make America Great Again, he Made American Oligarchs Even Richer Again.

Trump didn't Make America Great Again, he Made American Oligarchs Even Richer Again, and his supporters are too dumb to see what happened
Trump didn't Make America Great Again, he Made American Oligarchs Even Richer Again, and his supporters are too dumb to see what happened


The people remain ignorant, manipulated, and gullible, never knowing they're constantly drinking the Kool-Aid and being brainwashed into following elite agendas that often go against their own interests, like Trump's
The people remain ignorant, manipulated, and gullible, never knowing they're constantly drinking the Kool-Aid and being brainwashed into following elite agendas that often go against their own interests, like Trump's

Democracy Is Unstable for Three Reasons

"In Mounk’s account, three big developments are driving the contemporary instability of democracy. First and foremost, slow economic growth and rising inequality have replaced the sustained high growth and moderate inequality that helped root Western democracy in the second half of the 20th century. Second, the recent wave of immigration in most major democracies is prompting a 'vast rebellion' against ethnic and cultural pluralism. Third, new communications technologies have removed traditional media filters, empowering previously marginalized illiberal voices and making citizens more aware of the unrepresentative features of their democratic institutions. . . . [Mouk prescribes] Economic policy must be reformed to increase living standards and reduce inequality. Democracies need to replace exclusionary nationalism with 'inclusive patriotism' that facilitates a greater sense of community among citizens while easing fears about migration. And democracies must renew the faith of their citizens in their own democratic systems." (Source: How inequality, immigration and modern media are undermining democracy, Thomas Carothers, Washington Post) Needless to say, it is easier to prescribe than to actualize. How will greedy politicians be made to listen to such grand prescriptions such as these? Bernie Sanders spoke eloquently about such things, but politicians did not listen—they had their own agendas. Many citizens listened raptly only to have their hopes dashed as establishment Hillary grabbed the nomination.

" . . . considering the Hillary Clinton defeat of 2016, [Mounk] argues that 'defenders of liberal democracy must demonstrate that they take the problems voters face seriously, and seek to effect real change.' Optimistically, the author even finds hope that the Trump administration will, by its bad example, 'help to inoculate the United States against illiberal democracy.' Provocative reading: ammunition for pundits and food for thought for anyone with an interest in political trends." (Source: THE PEOPLE VS. DEMOCRACY: Why Our Freedom Is in Danger and How to Save It, Kirkus Reviews) So why were Hillary's advisers so lost in their guidance that she impressed many as Ms. Establishment—the entities selling out the 99%?

World Values Survey about Democracy
World Values Survey about Democracy (so you can see why new democracies are sliding back towards autocracy)

"Today, nearly one-fourth of millennials (the cohort that will soon dominate public elections) think democracy is a bad way to run the country, according to data Mounk compiled from the World Values Survey, Gallup polls and other research resources. By 2011, fully 44% of Americans ages 18 to 24 felt that a political system with a strong leader who did not have to bother with Congress or elections was a good idea or a very good idea. At the same time, one in six Americans said they were in favor of military rule. . . . As this superb book makes clear, we need both the liberal framework and the democracy, and bringing them back together is the greatest challenge of our time." (Source: Yascha Mounk's 'The People vs. Democracy' describes an America on the brink, Mickey Edwards, LA Times) Bernie and Trump both saw that politics was losing the young, and since many of them had working parents that hadn't found enough time for them when they were young, they tended to be seeking a parental figure to take care of them and both Bernie and Trump were convincing in their "strong (fatherly) leader" assurances that they would not forget the little guy.


Eternal Vigilance Is the Price of Liberty

The most important point in Mounk's book The People vs. Democracy: Why Our Freedom Is in Danger and How to Save It is his warning to our citizens not to think that democracy will prevail and endure even though the current version of it kisses the 1% as it kicks the 99%. It will probably be okay if we take care of it and act responsibly, he says. But if we take our eye off the ball, things could get very bad very fast. "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty," is a truth which Thomas Jefferson neither said nor wrote but he did firmly believe it, as does Mounk. American Abolitionist and liberal activist Wendell Phillips actually said it, among others such as Thomas Charlton.

Aldous Huxley, in an introduction to the 1965 radio version of his novel Brave New World, said: “Eternal vigilance is not only the price of liberty; eternal vigilance is the price of human decency.” So if we don't keep our eyes on Trump assaulting our democracy with Republican help, we may wake up to a very indecent facism—authoritarian populism with a vengeance. See Understanding the F-Word: American Fascism and the Politics of Illusion.

How do you take power from (impeach?) a rich, powerful demagogue like Trump? The same way you take a banana from a 900-pound gorilla—very carefully!
How do you take power from (impeach?) a rich, powerful demagogue like Trump? The same way you take a banana from a 900-pound gorilla—very carefully! (No one gives up power voluntarily.)

Other Democracy-Is-Dying Perspectives