robertogreco + voting + economics + history   2

The Anti-Democratic Urge | New Republic
"The argument that Trump, Sanders, and their respective constituencies are two sides of the same benighted coin gained currency, in part, because it lets elites off the hook. It’s a way to rationalize clinging even more vehemently to a ruinous, oligarchic status quo—democracy be damned. But here again, it gets things backward. Protests and populist political movements, after all, are signs that people have been locked out of structures of governance, not that they have successfully “hijacked” the system. Elitists plead for more reason in political life—and who can disagree with that, in principle? But their position itself is not entirely rational.

In a widely circulated cover story in The Atlantic, Jonathan Rauch rallied to the defense of those in power. “Our most pressing political problem today is that the country abandoned the establishment, not the other way around,” he complained. “Neurotic hatred of the political class is the country’s last acceptable form of bigotry.” Mass discontent, he concluded, is a “virus” that must be quarantined.

But mass discontent has already been quarantined. That’s why voters on both the right and left are so pissed off. The real challenge facing America today is the near-absence in civic life of democratic channels that run deeper than a sporadic visit to the voting booth, or the fleeting euphoria of a street protest.

In reality, our political system is far less democratic than it was a generation ago. Over the past 40 years, we’ve seen unions crushed, welfare gutted, higher education defunded, prisons packed to overflowing, voting rights curbed, and the rich made steadily richer while wages stagnated. It’s not the frustration of the people that should terrify us, but rather the legitimate sources of their frustration, which have so long gone unaddressed. Regular citizens struggling to make ends meet have almost nowhere to turn, nothing to join. We shouldn’t wonder that so many voters have seized on this election to make a statement, even a nihilistic one. To insist that the only solution is for the people to get back in line is to refuse to acknowledge that the “establishment” bears any responsibility for the conditions that created the public’s outrage in the first place.

There’s no quick fix for this mess. If Hillary Clinton wins in November, it will be tempting to view the ballot-box refutation of Trumpism as a restoration of political sanity. But a Clinton presidency won’t fundamentally change the conditions that led millions of Americans to turn to Trump or Sanders. The only way out is the hard way—building democratic outlets for change patiently, on the ground. We have to build durable movements that support and advance the twin causes of racial and economic justice in a lasting and meaningful manner. And we have to acknowledge that protests are a necessary but insufficient ingredient for social change: They can be galvanizing and clarifying, but, just like political campaigns, they tend to be short-lived and don’t always translate into the sustained, strategic organizing efforts we need.

Above all, in spite of the reports of political chaos—and yes, even stupidity—that daily flood our inboxes and Twitter feeds, we must resist the call of the elites and the tug of the anti-democratic urge. Knee-jerk contempt for democracy—insulting those we disagree with as idiotic, as incapable or unworthy of civic trust and responsibility—has a long and ugly history in this country, where the Founding Fathers were nearly as democracy-averse as Plato, and certainly more hostile to the prospect of redistributing wealth. The non-propertied, non-male, and nonwhite have all had to battle for basic political inclusion—and then real political power—pushing against reactionary conservatives and anxious liberals alike. Our job now is to advance this democratic march, rather than retreat from it in fear. Before we write democracy off, we should at least truly try it."
astrataylor  us  2016  elections  donaldtrump  berniesanders  democracy  elitism  unions  history  voting  politics  justice  socialjustice  economics 
august 2016 by robertogreco

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