Churchill famously said "Democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others."
A few months ago, I wrote that a democracy is characterized by the regular, peaceful transition of power based on equitable choice (one citizen, one vote). Voting is the act of choosing the best person(s) to represent your voice in the governing process. Governing is the enforcement of laws and creation of policies that improve the citizens’ wellbeing today and tomorrow.
How naïve am I!
The basics of democratic politics, whether in America, Egypt, Israel, or Russia are simple. The job of the candidate (and their Party) is three things:
- Find or fabricate a means to polarize "your" people vs. "their" people - make the "us-es" hate the "thems," and create the groundswell (of $ & advocacy) needed to win.
- Whilst in power, focus ONLY on subverting and diminishing your opponent, and
- Altering the rules of the electoral system to assure a win next time, and the time after that.
If you are the leader of your Party, your ONLY job is to assure more wins than the last election. There is no other objective. On the face of it, that seems reasonable - the role of a Party should be to achieve perpetual success. After all, the ONLY reward in politics comes with winning. Unlike sport or business, there is no value, or prize, or credit for being second.
Pavlov showed that a dog can be conditioned to drool (reflex action) via an environmental event (bell ringing). Politicians in a democracy are conditioned to its binary nature. Their instinct/conditioning (and more precisely, their survival) requires that they pursue winning at all costs. Losing is fatal. As is the desire to be a real public servant. You can't serve if you don't win. But once you win, your priority staying "in" - you have to keep winning.
These venal, mercenary politicians (VMPs) also understand Pavlov, and realize that they have to condition the electorate to value (and vote for) rhetoric over public service. In America, the most effective VMPs are the Tea Party; the Democrats and Republicans are trying, but they're not as good at it ...yet. Once the citizenry is conditioned vote based on fear and anger vs informed reason, the game is over.
The game in America is perilously close to over...
The natural behavior of democratically-elected politicians (VMPs) is the willful evisceration of their opponents, in order to perpetually hold power; to achieve totalitarianism. Since it goes without saying that no-one's voting for anything in a totalitarian state, it is thus that democracy leads to democracide.
What would Churchill say now I wonder?
A popular answer is term limits, which does limit the damage any one politician can do, though it has the effect of making the Party more powerful - they are the constant; and as king-maker, the puppet master is running the game, and the politician is but an empty shirt.
Another favorite is election finance laws. While this might curb election "buyers," it does nothing to regulate the candidate selection process (Primaries in the US), which again puts the control of government in the hands of an unelected few. The Tea Party in the US recognized this, and has successfully manipulated the Republican Party through the Primary process, knowing that if their candidates win the Primaries, mainstream Republicans will vote for them because of their fear and hatred of Democrats.
These and other ideas are all similar in that they attempt to fix symptoms, but not cure anything.
Is that it? Are democracies screwed?
To create a government of the people, by the people, for the people, the people must do the work. There is no other way.
Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, and all the others who have caused the tides to rise for all boats have one thing in common. They asked more of themselves (and the "oppressed") than they did of others (including the oppressors). Until we want it badly enough to do the hard work ourselves, we're doomed to voting for totalitarianism.