Liberals (including me) hate Trump. We look at what he says, his fallacies, inconsistencies, morals, the people he chooses, the processes he uses. But liberals fail to look at his amazingly successful achievements – what he does. He is on his way to being one of the most successful, influential US Presidents of all time, rather in the way that Reagan influenced world economics and politics for over 20 years.Read More »
Respected thinker Clive Hamilton’s new book, ‘The Silent Invasion: China’s Influence in Australia’, is very scary essential reading. This book’s deep research opened my eyes to China, especially now that Xi is President for life. It’s essential reading because it exposes so much that has long term impacts. If we don’t recognise these factors soon, it may be too late.Read More »
Came across a friend’s family recently where all four sisters had just had babies, but the parents faced four different levels of government support, despite living in the same (developed) country! Not surprisingly the sisters are angry. Should we be concerned?Read More »
I’ve always imagined that democracy was a critical element for a good society. But democracy is crashing all around us and we seem almost powerless to stop it. Then I learnt that fully participative democracy is quite fragile. Only a few countries in the world had democracy before WW2. Dictatorships are common in the world.
So what is it that makes ‘democracy’ valuable and stable…and how do we ensure we keep it and make it work for the good of most, rather than for the enrichment of the few?
What makes democracy strong?
A recent article in The Guardian (Capurro, ‘Can we stop the collapse of democracy?’, 5 Aug 17) suggested the following elements make a democracy strong:
– The rule of law
– An independent judiciary
– Freedom of speech
– Freedom of the press
– A strong civil society
– Firm civilian control over security services and the military
– A strong system of checks and balances on government
What about the importance of voting?
What’s interesting is that voting for a government is not listed. Because, when you look at voting, you see that China, Russia, Turkey, Egypt, Venezuela, Singapore, Hong Kong, Rwanda and many other countries ‘vote’, but the results are simply unbelievable as being representative, because the voting system is somehow rigged. (Actually it is increasingly rigged in the US too – the nominal ‘home’ of modern democracy – via the gerrymandering of congressional electorates.)
And, where people do vote, increasingly the voting is so split that many parties are represented, making governing by any one, or even a grouping of, parties quite difficult. And if we are really after ‘strong leaders’, then dictatorships provide great opportunities for ‘strong leadership’…
But fully participative voting, based on independently or concensually-determined electoral systems, should be a bedrock of any democratic system. Clearly, proper vote counting and abiding by the results are also necessary conditions.
Why are these elements important?
Voting is important because it gives all votes the opportunity to directly participate and reflect their views in choosing their own representatives to make decisions on their behalf. Voting enables non-performers to be replaced. Rule of law is important because it provides rules for how society should work and – theoretically – treats people equally, over time. An independent judiciary is very important as it provides the ultimate check and balance on any government that tries to change the rules or misuse the rules for its own advantage. Freedom of speech is important because, for societies to improve, problems must be able to be raised and alternative solutions proposed and debated openly, so everyone can consider the issue and the alternatives. Freedom of the press is important because the press has generally been the communicator of different opinions and the place where open debate has taken place. (The role of the internet now makes the role of the ‘press’ less clear and freedom of ‘speech’ very easy – perhaps too much, given the trolling of some people which takes place.)
The role of a strong civil society is underplayed. A good society needs a civil service to weigh up the evidence on issues, regardless of what current government policy or philosophy may be and to communicate that, not only to government and politicians, but also to the people, to improve decisionmaking. Civil servants know the evidence, but are often unable, even in democracies like Australia, to get this evidence out to the people. (Australia’s immigration practices are one simple example.)
Firm civilian control over security forces and the military is another underplayed element. As fear of terrorism and crime are promoted, citizens feel afraid even when the evidence may not support that. Money is given to boost ‘security’ and the military, with little or no discussion of its value, compared to alternative uses, such as addressing the underlying social causes of terrorism or crime. If the government controls security forces and the military, it gains access to private information and the power to prosecute, jail or kill anyone they wish.
A strong system of checks and balances – to appeal decisions, to review and overturn bad policy – is another important element. As well as the role of an independent judiciary, having two houses of government, with differing views, requiring compromise and logic to get policy through, is another key element. The roles of the legal system, appeals systems and civilian processes (eg Omsbudsmen, whistleblower legislation, civil service monitoring of laws) are just a few mechanisms that slow or stop dictatorships developing.
Democracy needs to be fought for
I must say I thought democracy was well established and highly desirable for most countries. But experience of trying to impose western democracy in the Middle East and elsewhere suggests this is not necessarily the case. More so, the experience of 6 months of Trump in the US – following Putin, Erdogan, Zuma, Maduro and many other elected ‘strong leaders’ – shows how hard-fought, social equity gains are easily swept away. In a ‘good’ society, these proposed changes should be met with evidence, rational argument and good processes to get to a logical decision. But strong leaders, believing in their righteousness and personal importance, often brook no argument…and democracy crumbles, often slowly, incrementally, but crumbles all the same.
Who knows how long it will be before Turkey or Venezuela or Egypt recover, let alone Russia, recover from their current anti-democratic situations…if ever?
Which battles will we fight for, because there are so many unjust issues? Will battle fatigue overcome us, as more and more undemocratic solutions rain down on us? How many causes can we support, in the face of shadowy millions from unknown organisations, seeking to enrich themselves at the expense of the people?
What seems certain is that fight we will have to, not only to preserve what we have or had, but to seek any new improvements for our ‘democratic’ society. The elements listed above are the fundamental, underlying elements to look at to see if a democracy can defend itself, or to see which foundations are being attacked. If only we had a dictator who could rule for the good of all…Read More »
As the UK and Afghanistan reel again today from yet another terrorist bombing (and who knows who it will be tomorrow?), the awful thought occurred to me: perhaps Trump is right. Perhaps it is a Muslim problem that we face.Read More »
As a neo-liberal, I’m dismayed by the political events of 2016. I cheer each ‘error’ the winners make, hoping that somehow reason – my reason – will prevail and all will be returned to right and good in just a few sleeps, or even a few years. But we neo-liberals need to wake up. We lost democratic elections and the right to democratic decisions and – hate it though we may – we don’t have a lock on righteousness. There are other people, other views. While Trump currently dominates our world (almost 50% of articles in the ‘World’ section of The Age online are Trump-related), Putin, Erdogan, Duterte, Wilders, Le Pen, Hanson and others have won or may win, all using the democratic election process that we hold so dear. We need to wake up if ‘our’ righteousness is to triumph in the future.Read More »
To an outsider, the difference between being in Britain and Europe is striking. In Brtain, people talk about ‘Europe’ as if it were a foreign place. In Germany, France, Spain, Italy and other EU countries, ‘Europe’ is something they belong to, even if they also have a stronger allegiance to their own country.
‘Britain’ and ‘Europe’: different perspectives
The Brits never seemed to really embrace being ‘European’, even after 40 years. They have seemed to still see themselves as a world power, though their power is largely historical now. There were times when the heads of Germany, France and Britain stood together as the guiding lights of the EU but, under the Comservative Party, they have stood outside, criticised the EU and – without seeming to realise it – become secondary players in the EU, let alone the old imperial world they seem to long for.
The Brexit vote shocked me though. I believed the bookies. I thought they’d go to the edge and pull back, as the Scots did when given the chance for independence. But it has happened. And even if the Brits find some way to back out of it now, their reputation in Europe is damaged irreparably.
Which is why Great Britain will become Little England. They will get their independence back, but they will cease to be an integral part of the largest market in the world. Companies wanting to be part of Europe will expand their European subsidiaries rather than their English ones. The Brits will lose their cheap skilled European work force from Eastern European countries as they close their borders to immigration. They won’t be consulted or counted in the big political decisions made between China, the US and the EU. The pound and UK stock market will probably drop as financial and economic uncertainties prevail, at least in the short term. Brits will find all that international travel they love to ‘cheap’ European places will become more expensive, as will imported consumer products.
The strangest part really is that the leaders of Brexit campaign have suddenly departed the stage, when victory was theirs. This political vacuum – to be filled by unknown future leaders not particularly committed to Brexit themselves – is bizarre and not helpful in building a strong, clear new direction.
Will Little England be better than Great Britain?
But it may not all be bad. Being a little country can be good, so long as you don’t want to be a big player. Look at Switzerland, Sweden, Australia. A falling pound should encourage investment and tourism in the long term. Foreigners can buy up the country. Maybe ‘hot’ international funds from Russia, the Middle East, international despots will flow in to buy property and assets that have suddenly become much cheaper (though they have already done this, since the UK refused to join the Euro currency zone). Tourism hordes will descend on this unique olde worlde place with its royalty still centre stage. International students seeking English language study might choose England over the US, Canada and Australia.
Whether these are the impacts you want is moot, however. Most countries really want a strong currency, enabling them to buy what they want overseas and have cheap imports.
Transitioning from ‘Great’ to ‘Little’
But if you have been a ‘big’ player on the world stage, it’s not easy to adjust to being a small player. And being independent sounds powerful, but it’s not, in this interconnected world. To be powerful, you can’t withdraw. You have to interact with others, play the main game, not a secondary game. Compromise, not take your bat and ball and go home. Be diplomatic, not throw sand in the face of your peers.
So, Great Britain, welcome to being Little England. Being insignificant in the world. You could have been powerful, but you chose not to be. You could have been admired, but you chose not to be. It’s a long way back to the top when you are on the way down. Just ask the Greeks, Romans, Norwegians and Austro-Hungarians.
The European football championship is almost over. 22 teams have lost and only France and Portugal are left, though it is possible to argue that Iceland and Wales are winners, given their expectations. But an analysis of the 10 year long (some would argue still continuing) Iraq War Championship – the Chilcot Report – was released this week. Many have wondered just who ‘won’ this event, but Chilcot made it clear. Everyone lost. And Chilcot explained why.Read More »