Why Does the World Seem to Be Moving Away from Democracy?

Created October 21, 2022

Welcome to this week’s Bill Harvey Blog.

In my regular MediaVillage column the other day I advised the political parties to use imagery rather than just words in their midterm political ads. This was based on a finding that only 38% of Democrats and only about 20% of Republicans and Independents consider democracy to make it into the top two vote-deciding issues of the day. The greater concern is with money, meaning the declining portfolio values of investors and the cost of living going up. Voters clearly want those pain points to be made to go away by some form of governmental action. In the face of those felt pains on a daily basis, the idea of protecting democracy seems abstract and maybe even farfetched. My MediaVillage column implied showing, in ads, how life would be like if America became like Russia and China, people ratting each other out, getting conscripted and sent to war, not able to say what is really in their hearts and minds, and so on. This would be the way to get past abstractions and make the importance of democracy felt.

I was thinking of the great spot of the little girl smelling the flowers and then an A-bomb goes off behind her, which spot ended the presidential aspirations of Barry Goldwater in 1964. Images not words. I was picturing midterm political ads in the next couple of weeks with Americans having a loving dinner until political police kick in the door, 16-year-old girls in peaceful protests beaten to death, and so many other kinds of scenes like that which go on every day in most of the world, who live in authoritarian states rather than in democracies, ads showing those same sorts of things happening right here in America. That would be sure to cause a rise in the perceived importance of protecting our democracy in polls.

Americans are so sure of themselves however. We feel that it can “never happen here.” Which makes “protect our democracy” seem like mere political manipulation language, and we have all hardened ourselves against being manipulated.

I’m no longer so sure about the “It can’t ever happen here” thesis.

One of my former partners, a Chinese patriot in a long family line of Chinese patriots, told me sadly one day that he couldn’t stand to live in China because people were forced to rat each other out, so that you could never trust your neighbors to know anything beyond the superficial about you and your family’s doings. This was in 1983 when I visited China with him and found its ambiance very friendly, except for the airports and the soldiers inhibiting taking of some photographs. He said I didn’t know the half of it. Before he passed away he told me it’s much worse now.

Could it happen here, people ratting each other out to the government? Well, yes, in some States that are now attempting to pass or actually passing legislation paying bounties for reporting women seeking or having abortions, that’s a big step toward one of the many distressing things about living in an autocracy. One such law could move us a long way away from the kind of free-thinking freedom we’ve been used to for hundreds of years. And into the growing camp of countries who choose strong men to rule by force so as to allow individuals who play the game right to grow wealthy and powerful themselves, and the hell with everyone else.

Why is this happening now? Why didn’t it happen before? Newton’s Third Law: there is always an equal and opposite reaction. For more than a half century, civil rights, feminism, coming out of the closet, Hispanic immigration all made great strides in America, making it even better than it had always been. Then a line was crossed when Obama was elected. The shining moment. Not seen that way by everyone. Some white folks really disquieted. Pendulum starts to swing, metaphorically obeying Newton, we get Trump, Trump cozy with autocrats, acts like one, millions of Americans emulate him and let it all hang out.

Neil Postman said that television would eventually take us to a place where we all acted like we were on TV all the time. So did Aldous Huxley in his own way. We are here, living proof they were both right. Living as if in a dream world that pays very little attention to truth, facts, reality, where the average person plays back whatever they hear persuasively put, by people they are biased to believe in, in the expanded media, whether it’s backed by facts or not. Those of us lucky enough to go to college learned to think for ourselves but apparently many of us quickly forgot about that stuff under the endless media barrage. And Acceleritis. Let’s never forget that the human mind has limits and we are being pushed beyond those limits and have been for many decades by the media onslaught embedding our subconscious program of giving up trying to think for ourselves because it is all just too complex and everchanging. A great breeding ground for autocracy. Grand scale knuckling under to bullies.

That’s why it’s happening now, and why it’s already happening here. “It can never happen here” is obsolete. We are already about 40% of the way into autocracy. Fortunately, Millennials and Gen Z are thinking for themselves more than most of us. But we saw how 60s idealists were largely in finance by the 80s, so we can’t count on the purity of youth to save us. It’s an internal fight each of us has to win against our own tendencies toward autocracy, having bad feelings about some other people, unable to transcend that level of thinking and emerge into the daylight of solutions thinking, uniting rather than arguing. The essence of American democracy from the beginning. Rational discourse and civility, the genuine effort to find the win/win solution or get as close to it as possible. A uniquely American idea which echoes the importance placed upon balance by the eminent Greek philosophers.

When the question is asked in a poll after the kind of acerbic and heated media conversation that has been going on about democracy, the average person probably looks at this as a Democratic Party issue not as a really universal one. And answers accordingly, with the subconscious belief that “it can’t happen here”, that democracy is not the big issue of the day. Despite the first violent insurrection breaching the capitol in history. Insurrections are not democratic events, they are the signature of the start of most autocracies. Anyone who would use violence in those ways based on such skimpy evidence and self-delusional thinking would not hesitate to create laws to keep people from having abortions, from voting, for incentivizing tattling on others and taking vigilante actions, for gaming elections with districting, from stalling progress via filibustering, for arresting people on suspicion without habeas corpus, for allowing the state to cause individuals to disappear when considered desirable for the common good, for allowing people to be publicly humiliated in social media within purposely-impotent restrictions, for allowing legislators to goof off on the job for political gain ignoring the needs of the people, for allowing people to tell lies in the media with zero accountability… and all of the other tricks of the trade of the ever-dominant political form on the planet.

Here we are living it large and spoiled into thinking nothing can change that, all we need to do is pay less for gas and stabilize the stock market and go back to sleep. Too bad it isn’t that way, but it isn’t. Thousands of smart and calculating people have decided, long ago, to impose their will and take over control of the USA despite being a minority, and they have almost completed the operation. Millions of us have taken their word for things. Stuff happens in the world that Biden & co had no control over, yet the voters are told that that crew caused it all, and millions of people accept that without a second thought. They caused inflation, they caused the economy to go down, kick them out and put us in. Anyone running on that sort of ticket will not get my vote. I want to see solution plans, not irrelevant blame allocation. The best people in both parties can do a better job of forming their ideas and communicating them effectively, because right now the tailwind is going to people who are themselves internal autocrats, probably brought up by harsh parents, and who have the money, power, and will to win. That minority must not be allowed to take over the brightest hope of humanity. Elect Democrats or Republicans not based on their party but based on who they are and what solutions they are proposing. Are they putting down their competitors? Do they exude anger? Are they citing verifiable facts you can look up on Urban Legend and see are true, or are they telling what’s true to them?

The stakes are not just gas and stock prices. The stakes are slavery for ourselves and God knows how many generations of our progeny, if we stay asleep at the switch and let the strongest democracy ever to exist on Earth, backslide all the way centuries back into autocracy by simply voting the party and going back to whatever we were doing.

Please: Think. Feel. Vote.

Love to all,



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