1. Can democracy survive?
Shaun Crowe has written an excellent review article on Can democracy survive?, based on the following books:
- How Democracies Die: What History Reveals About Our Future, by two Harvard political scientists, Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt
- The Death of Democracy: Hitler’s Rise to Power, by political historian Benjamin Carter Hett
- How Democracy Ends by David Runciman
This, I think, is crucial:
- Levitsky and Ziblatt’s basic argument is that democracy is less dependent on formal rules than on its guiding spirit. Constitutions might be necessary pieces of paper, even sources of national pride, but they only work properly when reinforced by norms and limited by taboos. Levitsky and Ziblatt call these the “guardrails of democracy.” Although largely unspoken, two in particular are important: “mutual toleration” (parties must view each other as more or less legitimate, not as an existential threat to society) and “institutional forbearance” (parties must allow government to function in some agreed-on way, not seek every possible mechanism to destroy their political enemies). (Emphasis added)
The slide from democracy to an authoritarian regime typically happens in small steps, each of which can seem logical and legal. The tipping point can be hard to discern.
Typical examples are Viktor Orbán in Hungary and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Turkey, but clearly we should worry about Trump and the Republicans in the US, especially in voter suppression, electoral boundaries, the administration of elections generally and the election of public officials such as judges and police chiefs.
In Wisconsin, Republican Governor Scott Walker was beaten by Democrat Tony Evers. The Republican state assembly is now passing laws to curtail the powers of Evers and incoming Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul.
Maggie Astor at the NYT says Wisconsin is borrowing a page from the North Carolina playbook. The effect, at the very least, ties up the new administration in the courts for years.
(Thanks for the heads up from Geoff Henderson on this one.)
John Howard once explained that the Labor Party in Australia, representing unions and working people, could never represent all sections of Australian society. I think that since Sir Lynton Keith Crosby AO, the “Wizard of Oz” started running the show the Liberal Party has treated their opposition as lacking the basic legitimacy needed to govern in Australian democracy, hence lies and scare campaigns became legitimate tools of the trade.
Of interest, in 2008 during our German holiday, we went to see the Nazi Museum in Nuremberg.
There too we saw how things changed little by little, apart from a few dramatic eruptions, such as torching the Reichstag. It all began when election after election in the Weimar Republic no party gained a majority and establishment conservatives found it unacceptable to govern with the Social Democrats. So the Reichspräsident Generalfeldmarschall Paul von Hindenberg invited the head of the largest party, an Austrian dispatch runner who had been mistakenly enrolled in the Bavarian Army to form a government. Hitler humbly accepted:
That photo comes from Christopher Clark’s Iron Kingdom: The Rise and Downfall of Prussia, 1600-1947.
Hindenberg was 84 and in poor health. He died during the following year, and the rest, as they say, is history.
2. US journalists are being played
According to Carrie Brown neutrality is being confused with objectivity.
“Neutrality in the teeth of asymmetric propaganda ==> complicity” — Yochai Benkler
Yochai Benkler, the Faculty Co-Director at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society and Professor for Entrepreneurial Legal Studies at Harvard Law School undertook:
A massive analysis of over two million stories related to the 2016 election from 70,000 media sources documented what many of us suspected: Journalists were manipulated by relatively small number of right-wing media actors into producing coverage that was ultimately favorable to Donald Trump.
In brief he found:
“We document that the majority of mainstream media coverage was negative for both candidates, but largely followed Donald Trump’s agenda: when reporting on Hillary Clinton, coverage primarily focused on the various scandals related to the Clinton Foundation and emails. When focused on Trump, major substantive issues, primarily immigration, were prominent. Indeed, immigration emerged as a central issue in the campaign and served as a defining issue for the Trump campaign.”
As a result more untrue and/or trivial nonsense was disseminated in the 2016 US election by the media than Russian bots and Macedonian troll factories.
3. May wins in a spectacular belly flop
It sounded like a comfortable win at 200 for and 117 against, but it means that there are more Conservatives than previously thought who will vote against May’s Brexit deal. The was a silver lining:
If you want to read one piece, I’d recommend Gary Younge’s Don’t pity May. Her immigration obsession helped get us into this mess. He says:
She is not a victim of events but a participant and protagonist in them. She may have voted remain, but as home secretary she contributed to the climate of anti-immigrant fervour that helped make the leave victory possible.
Problem is the Brexit sold during the referendum, for which there was barely a majority, does not exist.
- An image was conjured of Britain striding out of the EU in top hat and tails, like Jacob Rees-Mogg leaving the 21st century for an Old Etonian convention, towards a glorious past. Instead the two most likely scenarios at this point are that we fall out backwards, with our trousers round our ankles, and land on our behinds with no deal; or crawl back in with our tail between our legs and ask for a second chance.
Here’s some more:
The Betoota Advocate blames Tony Abbott for the move against Theresa May.
That’s as reported by The Guardian (Australia):
- Pope Francis has removed Australia’s most senior Catholic, Cardinal George Pell, from his inner circle in a restructure of his Council of Cardinals.
Pell’s position as the financial controller of the Vatican makes him the third most powerful person in the Vatican. He is facing prosecution in Australia for historical sexual offences and has taken leave from the position. Pell has strenuously denied the allegations.
The removal of Pell, 77, from the council does not necessarily affect his treasury position, which he technically still holds, and a Vatican spokesman would not comment further.
As separate information, courts can place suppression orders on cases before the court, especially when further charges are pending.
News organisations in the rest of the world are not constrained by these orders. Of course, on this blog we are constrained.
5. ScoMo becomes the action man
After spending weeks spinning like a top, and then running away from parliament to make sure nothing happened, PM Scott Morrison is suddenly all action, as Laura Tingle notes.
Integrity commission? Done. Religious rights. Fixed. Israeli Embassy? No problem.
Except that he’s not really fixed anything, and I still can’t see him fronting parliament.
Tingle looks at the integrity commission that only deals with criminal matters and has no public hearings.
Geoffrey Watson SC, who had acted as counsel to ICAC in NSW noted it was “worse than having no commission, in my opinion”.
Former NSW ICAC commissioner David Ipp told ABC radio that it was “the kind of integrity commission you’d want to have when you didn’t want to have one”.
Tim Soutphommasane is similarly unimpressed with the notion of special religious rights. His worry is that if you entrench the right to teach your faith it may end up being a right to discriminate. He believes “any legislative change should come in the form of a comprehensive human rights charter, not a piecemeal addition to existing laws.”
The Saturday Paper in an editorial Mighty men of values looks at how the election will be played:
We know, now, a little more of what the election will look like. We know that it will be desperate. We know the Morrison government will do anything to win, except develop policies that address the concerns of the electorate.
The stories are already being placed. In The Daily Telegraph is spurious legal advice that says Labor’s “softened border policy” would invite criminals into Australia. The headline reads: “Foreign crims’ free pass.”
This is not new. It was the premise of Howard’s Tampa election. The difference is how naked it has become. No longer are there sly hints, warnings of “who comes”. In Scott Morrison’s Australia, asylum seekers requiring medical evacuation are predators and killers.
“Asylum seekers convicted of murder or rape could be allowed entry to Australia under Bill Shorten’s softened border protection policy,” the story reads.
Here’s another one:
Peter Dutton says the policy “absolutely obliterates Operation Sovereign Borders”. He said a policy that relied on boat turnbacks was “a complete joke”.
He got the headline for which he was hoping: “Peter Dutton says Labor trying to undermine border protection policy.”
Except it’s not Bill Shorten that is “obliterating” Dutton’s system, it’s medical opinion put forward by a conservative doctor who snuck into parliament. And Dutton and ScoMo are confessing that the system cannot function without ignoring medical advice.
Morrison hopes this will be a values election. He is promising curious interventions on behalf of the religious, among others. But his real values are here: his willingness to mislead, to exploit, to stoke fears and cultivate disharmony.
We know, now, a little more of what the election will look like. In its opportunism, its barefacedness, it will likely be the ugliest this country has seen.
Thus little by little we dig a grave for democracy.