Saturday 6 June 2020

The Fragile Promise Of American Democracy.

The Two Americas Collide: You gotta love the Americans marching for George Floyd and the fragile promises of the US Constitution. But, you also gotta keep your eye on the pale rider in the White House, and understand that behind him Hell follows.

THE FRAGILITY of democracy’s promise is becoming clearer with every day that passes. Don’t be fooled by all those inspiring images from the streets of America. No matter how moving, these democratic vignettes do not represent the emerging political reality. For every thousand protesters risking Covid-19 and police violence in America’s public spaces there are hundreds-of-thousands wishing President Donald Trump would stop talking about dominating the protesters and just get on with the job. Those who prove their devotion to democracy by taking action to defend it will always be outnumbered by those unwilling to pay it more than lip-service.

The best historical estimates put popular support for the American Revolution (1776-1783) at around 30 percent. About the same percentage were loyal subjects of King George III. The rest of the population simply kept their heads down until it became clear who had won – at which point they solemnly reassured their neighbours that the victors’ success had always been their most earnest hope.

We should also be profoundly grateful that the science of opinion polling remained undeveloped at the time of the American Civil War (1861-1865). Had pollsters been given access to the American public in the years immediately prior to the war’s outbreak, they would, almost certainly, have confirmed that those favouring the abolition of slavery constituted a minority of the US population – albeit an extremely well-organised and noisy one. Certainly the number of Americans willing to affirm the equality of whites and blacks in the 1850s would have been vanishingly small. Knowing how substantial was the population’s general indifference to the “slavery question” may well have encouraged the slave-owning southern states to stick with the Union – causing US and world history to take a very different turn.

It is equally disconcerting to discover how many of the most “progressive” Americans had fallen out of love with democracy by the early years of the twentieth century. The problem, as they saw it, was that giving people the right to vote in no way guaranteed that they would use it wisely. Middle-class reformers were appalled at the power exercised by the great working-class, immigrant-based, political “machines”. Controlled for the most part by the Democratic Party, these machines were indisputably corrupt (although no more so than the “Gilded Age’s” rapacious corporations and their market-distorting “trusts”) but the solutions put forward by the Progressive Movement – primary elections, the recall referendum, popularly-generated policy “propositions” – proved to be a mixed blessing. (It was, after all, the primary system that delivered the Republican Party’s nomination to Donald Trump!)

Progressive opinion was even more distressed by the ease with which “ordinary” Americans could be turned against their fellow citizens. The supposedly “progressive” President Woodrow Wilson (a Democrat) railed against “hyphenated Americans” (by which he meant German- and Irish-Americans, whose communities remained stubbornly unconvinced by Wilson’s arguments for entering the First World War on the side of Britain and France). Wilson’s suppression of all dissent was aided and abetted enthusiastically by the millions of White Anglo-Saxon Protestant Americans who proved only too happy to intimidate their neighbours into “patriotic” silence. Wilson, an insouciant racist and segregationist, was also a ruthless foe of anti-war socialists and anarchists.

These frightening demonstrations of democracy’s awesome potential to tyrannise unloved minorities inspired progressive writers and journalists – most notably the redoubtable Walter Lippmann – to take careful thought about how the consent of the governed could be “manufactured” by those with less dangerous political instincts than the ordinary voter. Rather than follow the lead of the electorate, argued Lippmann, the Executive Branch of Government should be guided by public opinion – by which he meant by the publicly disseminated ideas of highly-educated and public-spirited intellectuals like himself. Unsurprisingly, Lippmann’s hero was Franklin Roosevelt: the aristocratic president whose “Brains Trust” and brilliant collection of young “New Dealers” encapsulated perfectly the managed democracy Lippmann never ceased promoting in his newspaper columns.

Roosevelt’s principled pragmatism notwithstanding, ordinary Americans – properly aroused – could still inflict a powerful amount of harm. Joe McCarthy’s “Red Scare” of the early 1950s used democratic majorities to suppress the democratic rights of the American Left. For the next 70 years, popular prejudices and political passions would prove remarkably resistant to elite instruction. The great American public were pretty damn sure that the opinions fed to them from on-high by the news media as their own – were somebody else’s.

Watching the idealistic journalists and presenters of CNN declaim in favour of peaceful protest and rail against President Trump’s atavistic instinct to terminate violent disorder with extreme prejudice, I was minded of the last moment in American history when the USA was convulsed from coast to coast by riots and protests. Journalists covering the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago had been outraged at the brutality meted out to anti-war demonstrators by Mayor Daley’s thuggish cops – and said so with considerable eloquence across the mainstream media. Their dismay is easily imagined when, over the course of the subsequent days and weeks, ordinary Americans in their tens-of-thousands denounced not only the demonstrators, but also the “liberal media”, and cheered on Mayor Daley and the City of Chicago Police Department.

The lesson was not lost on Richard Nixon. Four years later, in 1972, his appeal to “the great silent majority of Americans” would be rewarded with one of the most decisive presidential re-election victories in US history. Significantly, his extremely narrow 1968 win was made possible only by the fact that the all-conquering Democratic Party electoral coalition of 1964 had fallen apart. George Wallace, the fiery segregationist Governor of Alabama, was able to draw millions of southern voters away from the Democratic Party’s liberal contender, Hubert Humphrey. By 1972 the Republicans – Abraham Lincoln’s party – had transformed itself into the party of white supremacy, Christian fundamentalism and right-wing populism.

You gotta love the Americans marching for George Floyd and the fragile promises of the US Constitution. But, you also gotta keep your eye on the pale rider in the White House, and understand that behind him Hell follows.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 4 June 2020.


Trev1 said...

I would rather have the American Constitution with its separation of powers, checks and balances, and guarantees of individual rights any day compared to the shonky system we have here. In the blink of an eyelid this country has been transformed into a Police State by an unlawful lockdown latterly supplemented by a rushed and dangerous law giving Police virtually untrammeled powers to harass citizens. A bloody disgrace and a stain on this government.

John Hurley said...

You have Jim Bolger saying "the land belongs to Maori" and Gareth Morgan's "the resources belong to Maori". You have a speaker/researcher for Age Concern and the Mental Health Foundation or the local Pol Sci Dept., tweeting BLM and colonisation and on talk-back every other Maori is a royal victim.

And on the other hand you have Jon Haidt, Greg Lucianoff, John Mc Whorter.....
Absolutely no need for whites to apologise, get down on knees.
Trump isn't doing well here. He scored when he understood that people want the borders controlled to defend the remains of the imagined community, but it is Cognitive Behavioural Psychology the US needs. The facts relating the blacks and crime etc show that they do it (basically). Also a black former cop on Dave Rubin said he never saw George Floyds arrest as racial, just bad policing.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Yes, well – the left is losing in the marketplace of ideas to the extreme right who seem a lot more savvy in their use of propaganda. And all those people that are in favour of free speech when a couple of extreme right eejits were deplatformed here, haven't said a great deal about the press in America being silenced, about reporters being beaten and shot by rubber bullets, about press restrictions in Eastern Europe, Hong Kong and South America. And not a peep out of any of you, when just after the eejits were deplatformed, Peter Singer a well-respected philosopher with somewhat outrageous views according to son was deplatformed in Auckland. Those left-wing people with access to media are going to have to raise their game obviously, and I don't see much evidence of it at the moment.
The way I see it, we are in deep shit if we ignore the tolerance paradox.

John Drinnan said...

Surprising o
ptimism about CNN's championing of democracy. It is an unalloyed champion of the Democratic P:arty and Establishment . Wall Street and the war machine. They all are of course - because there is money taketh the media.

Sam said...

Open you minds. Why is the left losing the battles of ideas? This YouTube clip explores the idea of whether or not Martin Luther King would have gotten cancelled cultures today:

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"The facts relating the blacks and crime etc show that they do it (basically)."

That's unmitigated bullshit. The facts are, that blacks are far more likely than white people to be stopped by the police, once stopped, far more likely to be searched, and if a small amount of say marijuana is found, far more likely to be prosecuted, far more likely to be convicted if prosecuted, and if convicted will receive a heavier sentence. Those are the facts. Most so-called black "crime" is bullshit small-time drug busts. White kids get let off because daddy might create a fuss. Once you're in the system of course it's difficult to get a job, and unemployment send you back on the same old roundabout until you've committed three minor crimes in some jurisdictions and then you get sent away for 20 years or so. Pure unmitigated bullshit, which I find it difficult to be polite about. But I do try.

Nick J said...

Trev, our democracy allowed the executive power in an emergency to do things that could be interpreted as unlawful and legislatively dangerous. That the people have not protested en masse but assented to the governments impositions would indicate a healthy respect for our governance systems. There will be an election in September and I suspect that the people will vote for whoever in the time honoured way. This is how government and executive power is both judged and assented to, not by courts and constitutions, but by popular will at the ballot. I am thankful we have not mimicked the mess that is the US system.

John Hurley said...

message.. message....

oneblokesview said...

Guerilla Surgeon. Some references for you so called facts would be lovely:-)
or are you reacting after watching CNN or reading NYTimes?

Nick J said...

GS, Dr Google can give you the raw numbers. A quick review shows me that blacks who commit murders in the US per head of population run at 5 times the rate of white murderers. Most murders are intra racial. That's the numbers, a comparatively excessive rate of black violent crime is a fact.

The reasons for this we can argue about, the empirical information we cannot. If black life's matter a key question is why blacks murder blacks at exponential rates? I don't know, I'm yet to be convinced by any academic theory.

sumsuch said...

Legitimacy comes from the people. My simple idea. I apply it to everything. From that it implies a party for the people, which would be enough. V. all the dopey buggers and privileged people who know the art of the possible like the gospel. Rather than the people's interest. Maiz ben sur, it happens. For 95 % of the time for the needy. Or where Labour's mind should lay.

sumsuch said...

I've suggested Shipley's benefit's cuts were an undeclared war on Maori. For 30 further years! Now that overseas has said the same ... can colonials come in behind?

Pretty disgusted.

Truth, and organisation behind that standard are the only way really. Everything else is just gray tending to gray tending to nothing.

No one is willing to stand out for the people. Isn't that the lesson of the last 36 years? The 35ists were the people.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

I have a memory of saying in these columns some time ago that the checks and balances in the American Constitution would mitigate any drift to authoritarianism, and an abandonment of democracy. Given how the radical right have interfered with these checks and balances, I no longer believe this. I still have some hope, but it seems to me there is a clear and present danger that the US will become a dictatorship in all but name.

John Hurley said...

2018 Crime in the US

Wayne Mapp said...

It is easy to get caught up in the moment and think that American democracy is about to collapse. But it won't, certainly not anytime soon.

In less than two weeks these protests will be over. Will they be remembered like the 1968 riots, or will they be more like the million man and million women marches?

I suspect somewhere between the two. They will lead to some changes, but how likely is it that US police will become essentially unarmed and act as if they were NZ police. Not much chance. The societies are too different for that.

It is a similar question with Trump. Will he be remembered as an aberration, or he has he wrought (or expresses) some fundamental change in the body politic?

Based on the many articles Chris has posted on Bowalley Rd, it seems that his view is that Trump represents a fundamental change, that the US is in an illiberal terminal decline.

I think it is way too early to tell. The US is a nation of 350 million people, and is the richest large nation in the world. Given the rise of China, the relative influence of the US will decline, but I suspect its cultural and democratic influence will last considerably longer than it being number one in economic terms.

John Hurley said...

"This is for my brothers and sisters who have been oppressed for 100s of years by the White man. They've treated us like dogs for centuries, they've painted us with dirty brushes and they've created a system where only the white survive. Do your research mother f***ers," he wrote."

That you Scot Hamilton NZ On Air etc

Andrew Nichols said...

Trev 1 says "I would rather have the American Constitution with its separation of powers, checks and balances, and guarantees of individual rights.."

Nice theory but it's not practised. Every year the US legislature Dems and Repubs vote nearly unanimously and without debate for extension of the POTUS dictatorships unfettered powers under the Patriot Act and the Authorisation to Use Military Force despite Trump being apparently the most dangerous pres there's ever been.

Then there's the Supreme Court a corrupted politicised judicial enabler of democracy suppression.

Methinks your rosy picture of US Constitutional health is a wee bit out of date.

David George said...

The activists pushing the riots and looting want the shooting to start, they need a pretext to escalate the violence. What better than gunned down blacks to provide it. It's a tough call, especially with people getting killed and their property destroyed by the rioters.
The situation is very dangerous.

"One of the most awful elements, I think, is the idea that individuals should be defined in terms of their group identity at all. This is one of these weird inversions that’s so characteristic of this chaotic state that we’re in.

When people originally started fighting against unfair discrimination... the initial idea was to eliminate the proclivity for people to be categorized according to their group identity, because that was interfering with everyone’s ability to view them as competent individuals. But that got flipped, probably in the 70s after the Soviet state so self-evidently was revealed as a catastrophe. That got flipped so that the world was turned into one group against another—a power struggle from one group against another. And then the social justice warrior types and the lefties, even the Democratic Party, started categorizing everyone according to their ethnic or sexual or racial identity, and made that the canonical element of their being.

That’s an absolutely terrible thing to do. In the Soviet Union when that happened, they introduced that idea along with the notion of “class guilt.” So, for example, when the Soviets collectivized the farms, they pretty much wiped out or raped and froze to death all of their competent farmers. They called them “kulaks,” and they attributed class guilt to them because they were successful peasants, and they defined their success as oppression and theft. They killed all of them, pretty much—shipped them off to Siberia and froze them to death. And they were the productive agriculturalists in the Soviet Union. And then in the 1930s in the Ukraine, because of that, about 6 million Ukrainians starved to death. The Soviets were big on collective guilt.

And all of these things you hear about now, like “white privilege” for example, are variants of collective guilt. I pick your bloody identity, whatever it happens to be, and then I make you a guilty member of that category, and then you and the rest of the guilty members of that category are judged as a unit. It’s murderous, pushed to its extreme. And we’ve seen that many, many times."
Dr Jordan Peterson.

Andrew Nichols said...

I would rather have the American Constitution with its separation of powers, checks and balances, and guarantees of individual rights any day compared to the shonky system we have here.

The separation of powers checks and balances ins another enduring myth, nullified by the endless and chillingly near unanimous annual ratification of the Authorisation to Use Military Force and the patriot Act plus the slow but inexorable destruction of the Supreme Court as an independent body. Pelosi, Schiff Biden, media commentators and the procession of lesser liars, hypocrites and war criminals like Clapper Comey, Rice and Powell endless rants about how dangerous/racist/treasonous/dishonest Trump is, are totally hollow when they endorse this constitutional dereliction of duty and even when they cheer loudly at his various bombings and other military shenanigans.

aberfoyle said...

Off all the commodities,violence is the cheapest.

John Hurley said...

Based on the many articles Chris has posted on Bowalley Rd, it seems that his view is that Trump represents a fundamental change, that the US is in an illiberal terminal decline.
When immigrant numbers rise at the national level people vote for populists. That's what's wrong with multiculturalism: people care about ethnic share.

Nick J said...

Wayne, I tend to agree with your assessment that the US is not going away any time soon. That said Nial Ferguson amply demonstrated in a recent book the speed with which Empires can collapse.

Trump appears to me to be a symptom of a sick body politic, not a cause. I can't work out if he is a bigger joke than Pelosi, Biden and the Dem gerontocracy? He may be flawed but is he as corrupt and crooked as Hillary?

What I can envisage is a Trump re-election from voters who perceive the Dem Party to have caved in to lawless protests, to overblown wokeness and to white guilt. Should that happen trouble will really kick off. Either way the US is in deep disarray.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"Guerilla Surgeon. Some references for you so called facts would be lovely:-)
or are you reacting after watching CNN or reading NYTimes?"

African Americans and the Criminal Justice System Phyllis Gray-Ray,Melvin C. Ray, Sandra Rutland and Sharon Turner.

You could start with that. But if you don't have access to academic databases there is plenty of stuff from reputable sources, in which I do include the two that you mention, because they have been checked for accuracy and come out reasonably well. I don't know what sources you would use, but Breitbart and Fox do not relate well in the accuracy stakes.
Such as:

"Dr Google can give you the raw numbers."

The raw numbers mean nothing without context. Absolutely meaningless.

"I don't know, I'm yet to be convinced by any academic theory. "

Jesus wept, how on earth did we get to the point where we can dismiss actual research as "any academic theory"? How the hell did we get to the point where not only do we ignore scientific research, but we actively resent it? We are doomed.

greywarbler said...

Anyone who quotes Jordan Peterson I place aside as doubtful value not even worth recycling.

Whereas Andrew Nichols hits the spot with real points and not waffle attractive to those who love pontificating from the fence.

sumsuch said...

Opportunity: colour identified with discrimination exploding in America. In NZ the 1991 benefit cuts were a renewed war on Maori, and the resistance to helping the most helpless is fueled by racism. The experts say it's impossible to live on the benefits. Let alone the neediest being where we social democrats' heart lies.

Don't think much of your commenters here. The American constitution was division of power, or divide and rule, for the rich from the start.

If no leader understands this opportunity for our people I'll be pissed. Middle class interlocuters. But it doesn't matter -- pissing on people produces poison via whatever vent.

The Barron said...

With all due consideration to the Hon Dr Wayne, I think I'll turn to the late great humanitarian and entertainer Danny Kaye. He sung of the 'Kings New Clothes'.

'And everybody was cheering like mad, except one little boy. You see, he hadn't heard about the magic suit and didn't know what he was supposed to see.'

The thing with Donald Trump is that by November, the USA is likely to have over 200,000 dead because of Covid19,and at least 3 -4 million to have been infected. A bi-partisan group pf legislators (inc. Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker) have just written to both the Senate and Congress 'in two years the United States could see an additional 175,000 to 1,500,000 Americans chronically ill and possibly permanently disabled by ME/CFS. When everyone knows someone who has died or unable to return to work or study, someone is going to notice the King.

"Well, as the King came by the little boy looked and, horrified, said,"Look at the King! Look at the the King! Look at the King, the King, the King!"

Currently a Federal Judge is examining the unredacted Mueller report and is demanding answers on Barr's distortionof the report.

"The King is in the all together
But all together the all together
He's all together as naked as the day that he was born.
The King is in the all together
But all together the all together
It's all together the very least the King has ever worn."

Another Court is looking at the 'Apprentice tapes', rumours allege Trump is heard making extremely racist and sexualised comments regarding his experience with African-American women. With the Black Lives Matter movement getting traction in middle America, this might not go down well if released.

"All the courts positioned to call an intermission
His majesty is wide open to ridicule and scorn"

Yet other Courts are looking at Trumps finance, taxes and Deutsche Bank. Rumours allege it might show money laundering involving Oligarchs and Sheikhs from places that the Administration favoured. Over 40 million unemployed may object to this.

"The King is in the all together
But all together the all together"

I keep getting this vision. It is in black and white on a small screen. A young girl is plucking a daisy - 10,9,8,7,6 - it turns into a countdown - 5-4-3-2-1. The girl looks up, a mushroom shape covers the screen . . .but its not a bomb.

"He's all together as naked as the day that he was born.
And it's all together too chilly a morn!"

David George said...

The police in the US are locally administered and controlled so it's interesting that the Democrat controlled cities have the worst records for both crime and police brutality. Perversely the mayors and governors of these benighted municipalities are the ones leading the calls for de-funding and dismantling their police forces. The problems are of their own making.
Eternal faith in the goodness of humanity is all very well but, seriously, what do they expect will happen if they did dismantle the police? Leave it to the local (and generally dysfunctional) communities to sort out? The whole thing would collapse into fiefdoms controlled by the last people you would want.

Chris, your concerns over federal actions to prevent the mayhem (riots, looting and murder) ring a little hollow when you had this to say (among other things) in support of the CCP's proposed crackdown on the very similar situation in Hong Kong.

"Protests as intense as those which have shaken Hong Kong would test the patience of even the most liberal of democracies. Confronted with rage as unending and inchoate as that which has assailed the Hong Kong authorities, it is unlikely even the New Zealand state would be permitted – by its own citizens – to undertake no measures to strengthen and protect their national security. What’s more, conservative New Zealanders would be leading the charge."

It's a great shame that this is being presented as a racial issue; there is no evidence that Floyd's death was racially motivated and European Americans are 27% more likely to die in an interaction with police that African Americans once the different rates of serious and violent crimes are accounted for.

“Many people ask whether black or white citizens are more likely to be shot and why. We found that violent crime rates are the driving force behind fatal shootings,” Cesario said. “Our data show that the rate of crime by each racial group correlates with the likelihood of citizens from that racial group being shot. If you live in a county that has a lot of white people committing crimes, white people are more likely to be shot. If you live in a county that has a lot of black people committing crimes, black people are more likely to be shot. It is the best predictor we have of fatal police shootings.”

By connecting the findings of police officer race, victim race and crime rates, the research suggests that the best way to understand police shootings isn’t racial bias of the police officer; rather, by the exposure to police officers through crime.

The vast majority – between 90% and 95% – of the civilians shot by officers were actively attacking police or other citizens when they were shot."

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"The police in the US are locally administered and controlled so it's interesting that the Democrat controlled cities have the worst records for both crime and police brutality"

Here we go again. 30 seconds gurgling would have shown you that:
a. The Democrats control the majority of major cities in the US.Republicans control 13 out of 50 major cities in the US.
b.Nine out of the top 30 most unsafe cities in the US are controlled by Republicans.
c.The research on the racial origins of police brutality is to say the least mixed.

As for the study , if it's the one I think it is, and I'm afraid that Brandolini's law comes into action here:

"'It’s just a completely indefensible conclusion to draw from the data that’s available,' says Dean Knox, a political scientist at Princeton University who published a critique of the study this month. To begin to justify such a claim, he says, researchers would need to know how often black and white civilians encounter police officers—something the authors of the original study did not consider in the paper."

This study is only trumpeted in the right wing press.

Nick J said...

Quick answer GS. Jesus did indeed weep, usually because of the pharisees, the keepers of "wisdom" . The academics of their day. What I'm not seeing a lot of though is changes to numbers as a result of policies made from academic recommendations. You'd probably agree with me if I said the same about economists. Dogma over riding numbers?

Numbers are important. How you interpret them is important. So when you see massive disproportionality in the numbers questions need asking. You ask for context, no. That's a numeric fact. I'm saying that it's too easy to jump to conclusions. I'm saying I've heard the same tired explanations from both sides for too long, nobody has got it right. What I suspect is that the hard questions are not being asked.

Nick J said...

Good work GS, you prove my point, numbers matter, questions need to be asked. Could we conclude that there is no difference regardless of who rules? If so do any academic theories stand up to scrutiny? WTF is going on?

David George said...

Thank you for the comment Greywarbler, it begs a response, a question.
What do you think will be the result of attributing guilt or innocence on the basis of ethnicity.
It doesn't take much of a reading of history to find the answer, written in the blood of millions. No amount of taking the knee will ever absolve you of the crime of your genetics.
Your guilt has been decided, your cries of innocence rendered meaningless, henceforth the side you are on is not your choice to make; you are forever damned by the sins, real or imagined of your race. You have no choice and no chance, no path, of redemption.

There is a very good post up on this from a Christian perspective up on UnHerd"

Excerpt: "Among her favourite hymns was ‘Amazing Grace’. I find it hard to hear her sing it without welling up. It is utterly beautiful and captivating. And the opening words are such a direct and powerful statement of the Christian doctrine of redemption:

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost, but now am found
Was blind but now I see.

without some sort of secular equivalent to personal redemption — and I don’t know what that would be — those who recognise themselves as “a wretch” will look nervously at this crescendo of moral righteousness and begin to fear that one day the same people will come after us too. Indeed, without the existence of redemption we should probably all be afraid of vigilante moralism.

The Barron said...

It is a myth that John Newton wrote Amazing Grace seeking redemption for his role in the slave trade. Newton was very engaged in the triangle slave trade when in 1748 he found himself in a major storm off the coast of County Donegal, Ireland. He sought mercy from God. He continued in the slave trade until 1755, when he gave up his seafaring. He later studied theology and wrote hymns. A personal call for mercy from what he saw as a higher power is very different than redemption for the murder and enslavement of people based on the concept of race. Newton later campaigned against the trade and possibly sought redemption, but Amazing Grace was written independent of this.

A secular equivalent? Waitangi Tribunal and Truth and Reconciliation.