The Crisis of Liberal Democracy 2.

Since his election in November 2016, Democrats have been talking about Donald Trump and the Republican Party in terms of a fascist danger.  Trump broke with established policies, especially in foreign affairs.  He continually violated behavioral norms, the “guard-rails of democracy.”  He treated the bogus collusion-with-Russia investigation as if it were bogus.  He cavalierly broke with many of President Obama’s executive agreements and executive orders as if he had the authority to do so.  He escaped prosecution for his corrupt business dealings when intense investigation by Democrat prosecutors in the city and state of New York failed to turn up significant evidence.  He dodged removal from office over his efforts to use government resources to turn Hunter Biden’s business dealings into a black eye for his likely opponent in 2020, Joe Biden.  He failed to adequately condemn radical right groups, while also condemning both radical left groups and the criminals who buzzed around the edges of some of the BLM demonstrations.  The hearings on the 6 January 2020 riot are intended to get Democrats thinking about the danger posed to democracy by Donald Trump and his followers. 

            Now the views of political scientists on feeble democracy in other countries are being cited as warnings for the United States.[1]  In particular, “some scholars argue that Americans hoping to understand their country’s trajectory should look not to Europe but to Latin America.”  Peru (1992, 2000), Venezuela (1999—the present), Ecuador (2018), and Bolivia (2019) all offer examples of constitutional crises over the transfer or retention of power in politically fragmented nations.  Europe, in contrast, has few political similarities to the United States. 

            The parallels that make the comparison so appropriate in the eyes of some are two-fold.  First, the United States shares with Latin American countries a presidential system of government.   Most European countries have a parliamentary system.  In this system, the party or coalition of parties that wins the majority of votes in a free and fair election gets to form the government.  There are not alternative centers of power.  In contrast, the American constitution divides power between three theoretically co-equal branches of government.  Each seeks to maximize its power, holding the power of the other branches in check.  Extreme social and political polarization can interact with a divided government to create a deadlock over who should rule. 

            Second, in such a crisis, it is often up to “elites” to decide the fate of democracy.  These “elites” include “lawmakers, judges, bureaucrats, police and military officers, local officials, business chiefs, and cultural figures.”[2]  They need to reach some consensus on what should be done, who should keep or yield power.  They act from , unpredictable motives. 

            “We can’t go on together with suspicious minds.”[3]  Still, this analysis could suggest that people are formulating a rationale that de-legitimizes the existing constitution of the United States.  Nobody wants a government like the ones in which Latin Americans are trapped; while even Boris Johnson hasn’t (yet) discredited parliamentary government.   They are doing it before the 2024 election.  It also could suggest that it casts doubt on the reliability of elites.  It could look like preparing emergency measures to over-turn an election in defense of democracy. 

[1] Max Fisher, “During Constitutional Crises, Democracies Aren’t Always Democratic,” NYT, 19 June 2022. 

[2][2] What, in the Middle East, would be called the “deep state.”  Although what if “cultural figures” included RuPaul? 

[3] “Suspicious Minds” (written by Mark James, 1968).