One thing that has struck me recently is the utterly casual way in which many of the central tenets of American (and increasingly other developed countries’) democracy are being undermined and abandoned. As I wrote in “Reason’s End:”
In his 2007 book The Assault on Reason, former Vice President Al Gore saw the same alarming trend. Gore held that reasoned discourse, the “central premise of American democracy” was imperiled by changes in the media and the politics of wealth. Supporting this contention, Princeton University released a report claiming America was no longer a democracy at all, but an oligarchy. When the Citizens United decision, SuperPACs, blows to the Voting Rights Act and the end of internet neutrality are taken into account, the veracity of these claims is hard to deny. So the real question is: what caused this fundamental shift in the American consciousness?
It is the hubris and bluster seen on the Republican side of the presidential race in particular that show these trends most clearly: a casual move toward blatantly racist rhetoric of a kind that was still intolerable as late as 2007! Trent Lott’s mere tone of nostalgia over Strom Thurmond’s (racist) past – at Thurmond’s funeral no less, where his shortcomings might be overlooked – lost him his spot in the Senate (where he was the number 2 Republican).
As NBC News reported on Nov. 16, 2007:
The smooth-spoken Lott found himself in hot water in December 2002 after Thurmond’s party. Lott said Mississippi voters were proud to have supported Thurmond when he ran for president on a segregationist platform in 1948, and added: “If the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn’t have had all these problems over all these years either.”
A few days later, Lott issued a statement saying he had made “a poor choice of words” that “conveyed to some the impression that I embraced the discarded policies of the past. Nothing could be further from the truth, and I apologize to anyone who was offended by my statement.”
But the damage was done. President Bush distanced himself from Lott’s remarks, telling an audience the comments “do not reflect the spirit of our country.”
But Trump gets away almost daily with statements that far outstrip Lott’s. Suggesting going after the families of suspected terrorists met with silence (admittedly an awkward one) and left Trump time to repeat it (this was “light” morning television!).
We may just be seeing the death-throes of the Right, and with Bernie Sanders, the resurgence of a solidly left consciousness after the years of the Clintons’ “New Democrats” (which are, in many ways, similar to old Republicans). As I said in “Why I am a Leftist:”
… pendulums always swing back, and this happened with Obama and the Occupy movement, where leaderless revolution seemed to almost spontaneously emerge. There seems to be a progressive ground swell, with even fairly mainstream media like Salon and the Huffington Post making progressive arguments and even cogently showing their practicality (something the left wasnʻt quite so good at previously).