Political Polarization in the U.S.

On page 52 of the text, Nancy Bermeo articulates the three aspects of European polarization: extreme division amongst Left-Right groups, oppositions in agreement of a corrupt government, and a weak political center. Quite frankly, these aspects that surfaced throughout Europe during the interwar period have persisted, and more so heightened, in the United States since the beginning of the presidential campaigns. We have seen Left-Right groups experiencing greater tensions on what is “believed” to be the most pressing issues of the countries and the mechanisms to “solve” them with zero common ground to collaborate. We have seen opposition groups demonize candidates and political figures from both political parties. Also, we have seen what would be considered more moderate, centered politics to disappear, and a more extreme agenda to takeover. From ordinary citizens to political power, the polarization that is erupting throughout the country is alarming, but historically speaking, nothing that could have not been predicted.

The rise of groups such as the alt-right, essentially a nationalist group, joined conservatives in casting their ballots to elect a president whom they praise. Similar to the rise of the fascism in Germany as Bermeo mentioned, not all of those who voted for their candidate could say that they were willing to commit to the agenda in its entirety, yet they supported their candidate being that they encompassed a sufficient amount of qualities and invoked enough fear to progress the political elite. As a result, the country now has a president with “too much unchecked power,” that has shown he will work without the consent of others.

The increased protests after the U.S. election are not necessarily prompting an anti-democratic agenda, but rather drawing attention to groups, movements, policies, governmental agencies, resources, etc. that are singlehandedly being excluded from “the land of the free”—a basis of American democratic values. Bermeo pointed out that before the fall of European democracies, there had been a decrease in political protest in the years leading up to their demise. Though I do this that this elite polarization in the U.S. is going to be even more problematic long-term for the country’s stability, I do not necessarily think that protest will decrease. The continuation of protesting will perhaps expand to more groups, as it already has, equating to increased shaky grounds for renewed political support, with the power residing within the president seeming more powerful..

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It is no surprise that when masses in a country feel as if their government is not acting with the citizen’s best interest that protests will erupt. However, the way that the government responds to those protests, such as adhering to what the masses want, speaks heavily on how much a government is willing to cooperate with the masses and how they will be able to maintain control. The CCP has utilized this tactic as an informal way of citizen’s participation, as the protests that have erupted throughout China have resulted in halted policy continuations. The CCP has manipulated their system of government to by disabling opposition, and acting strong when there arises an outcry. This mechanism gives a sense of power to the citizens, but how real is this power without direct citizen involvement? Sure, the CCP hears their “voice” through the chaos attached to protest, but is it giving the masses what they want a distraction of some sort of hidden political manipulation?

A second way that the masses “voices” become surfaced is through the consultation between the local and national governments. This connection has created trust within the local governments; being that they are firsthand working with individuals in both rural and urban areas that have differentiating needs from the CCP. Urban areas have closer connections to the government, and this creates a need to engage with the rural areas to provide services that are crucial to maintain their support.

Both of these examples contain increased government transparency that the CPP has been moving towards. As a result, the CCP has been able to hold onto power through bridging the gaps between government and civil society, while maintaining power through limiting the actions of society in political engagement efforts.

Election Fraud

For today’s prompt, I struggled to narrow in on one aspect being more dangerous than the other, being that both encompass extremely detrimental challenges to a functioning democracy and blatantly express political corruption. The ability to give the lead to one candidate is harmful because it often enacts a substantial amount of money in obtaining the votes-something that is a distinct division among class lines. However, in the readings for today, the amount of damage that resides within purposefully suppressing an opponent’s vote total is very visible in the readings, but can be invisible in reality. Therefore, I would conclude that the latter fraud category is more dangerous to democracy due to the fact that there are distinct actors in place preventing legitimate representation of citizens and entail a lack of overall transparency.

Evidence to support this claim from Campbell’s piece focuses on cases of voters purposefully not being able to locate their new voting location, racial and gender rejection, and locations claiming to not having a sufficient amount of ballots. These are exact measures that will shrink the true amount of eligible voter participation, essentially suppressing the voice of citizens in an election’s outcome. These mechanisms enable the power to reside within a specific group, advancing their power and authority in a society while completely eliminating the opportunity for any opposition.

Fraud in the form of adding to candidate’s total also tends to be more visible. Though tactics such as vote-buying and fraudulent ballots can be easily deemed as undemocratic, the whole point of a campaign is to be influential and gain support, sometimes through mechanisms that wrongfully obtain votes. The actual act of suppressing an opponent’s total is creating a blockade to citizens obtaining representation in the political system-an aspect that is not always readily pinpointed. These blockades are often not surfaced until an elections results are conclusive, where it is possibly too late to challenge.

The Dictator’s Handbook

A certain type of fairness arises when a larger nominal is present. In The Dictator’s Handbook, authors Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Alastair Smith state that the power of a government lies on the size of the nominal, meaning the overall size of eligible participants within a certain country. The authors refer to this group as the interchangeables, and that given a larger amount of interchangeables involved, more representative governance will occur. This is partially due to the fact that the larger coalition would need to be more responsive in providing protections, but also because it would maintain a rule through all governance. Though smaller scale coalitions can be successful in a democratic nation given the divisions within a country’s boundaries, the overall success of a small coalition at the head of a nation would specifically cater to a minimalistic agenda that would be extremely damaging to the majority. Therefore, this would aid in the creation of an autocratic regime.

Both democracies and authoritarian regimes focus on maintaining power and what mechanisms are effective in its regimes survival. However, authoritarian regimes completely dispute Bueno de Mesquita and Smith’s claim that governments cannot be single handedly ran by one individual or a small group. Authoritarian regimes do not govern with the consent of a large body of people, but rather their power resides within a small coalition. These regimes rely on minimal interaction with the entire body, therefore enabling the advancement of supporters while restricting the majority in order to keep their power alive.

Again, there is a certain fairness that is involved in democracy, and this fairness would need to slowly aim toward the center of an authoritarian regime. For an authoritarian regime to begin on the pathway towards democracy, there would need to be an introduction of more representatives and how this introduction within the government needs to reflect the interchangeable group in a country. Also, there would be a distinct shift in civic responsibility, being that citizens would being to aid in government processes.

Holton and Bouton on the Early Republic

Both Holton and Bouton illustrate the picture of the climate that existed in the early republic; one that encompassed immense amounts of economic inequality that drove citizen action to unfold. This tension between the people and the elites rose as a result of the American Revolution, that created a democracy specifically catered to those who were amongst the top.

Given the post-war period, states experienced high levels of debt, with the government heavily leaned towards quick, high taxation to control the debt that flourished at the conclusion of the war. These post-war periods are amongst the shakiest times for government stability, given the fact that existing economic disparities continue to diverge as states struggle to pay back their debts. Therefore, the move towards statewide taxation provided a platform where both elites and farmers could financially contribute to the road to stability. However, this system was inherently set up to fail, given the fact that farmers already lacked clear economic securities, whereas the elites were steadily fulfilled.

A focal point a democracy in place is to provide a government that was representative of its people, not just those who had a higher economic stake, and the farmers quickly noted that this was not the case. These taxes infringed upon smallholders abilities to collect their commissions in their entirety, therefore aided in the extreme divide between the government and its people, which in turn created physical blockades in opposition to the government. The taxation in place furthered farmers into debt, toppling onto an inability to save. Therefore, farmers were essentially calling for recognition of economic injustice in a flawed system as the government was more attracted to the idea of being economically sound as a state, and fast.

Islam and Democracy

As someone who is non-Muslim and who admittedly is no where near an expert on the topic of Islam and democracy, I find it difficult to explicitly state whether or not Islam is compatible or incompatible with democracy as an overarching rule of governing thumb. Though the readings helped myself grasp a furthered understanding of how Islam’s role can be problematic at the head of a democracy, introducing religious law can also be hopeful for majority Muslim countries that have experienced a plethora of unstable, non-democratic, corrupt regimes.

Amir Taheri firm stance on Islam being incompatible with democracy challenges the idea that people are not able to hold the power, given the fact that the law must controlled by God. Given the Greek origins of democracy as previously discussed by Ober and now again resurfaced by Taheri, can there truly be equality amongst people and power when God is seen as the almighty in government? It seems a bit questionable.

While Taher took a strong stand against the compatibility, the second piece by Dr. Kendhammer utilizes studies that argue both in favor of democracy and Islam and against. There are specific values in Islam that align with what I understand democracy to be, such as a balance of powers, transparency, and accountability. However, as El Fadl from Dr. Kendhammer’s piece iterates Taheri’s point, arguing that the people will not come first. This notion jeopardizes political participation and the ability to obtain the freedoms and liberties that are often guaranteed in a functioning democracy. It also devalues the democratic practice of separation of church and state, which in itself is questionable in practice, but by putting God first it enforces that distinct connection. Also, Taheri notes that “Islam is about certainty (iqan) while democracy is about doubt,” suggesting that the two concepts will not functionally mesh. The values of Islam are consistent, whereas the development of democracy is fluid, meaning that uncertainty will pose changes to the system as it was before.

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Wealth and Democracy

There is truth to wealthy nations holding the upper hand in democracy due to their ability to provide a platform of opportunity for its citizens. However, this statement should not serve as a guarantee that countries that are not as rich will not be as successful, nor does it mean necessarily that wealthy nations will be able to consist of pure democratic stability.

Huntington notes that while it is very apparent that there exists an economic divide amongst the world, there is also a political divide in correlation with that. Historically speaking, wealthy nations have been able to provide more for their countries, therefore are able to withstand stronger streams of stability, whereas poorer nations who have not found routine stability are more prone to conflict. Both Huntington and Lipset argue that the level and power of an institution is the underlying key to a stable democracy, and that wealth is a contributing factor. Agreeing with authors, the force is behind the strength of the institutions is the long-term goals encompassed within them. Poorer nations have not had as long as a history of democratic development as wealthier ones. Democracy is very new to a decent majority of the global south in comparison to the north, meaning that these long-term goals have not been able to advance or accurately modernize as needed.

Through examining the strength of institutions and the level at which citizens participate, with social and economic opportunities as the outcome, one can explain the level of democracy a nation experiences. Including higher levels of education, literacy, and healthcare, these implications are key to a democracy’s function that will all have to stem from a nations economic security.


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Illiberal Democracies, Competitive Authoritarianism, and Democracy- Oh my

Illiberal democracies and competitive authoritarian regimes aim to encompass the underlying components of democracy that essentially equate to equality in every levels. However, these democratic components, as argued by Levitsky and Way, do not invoke systematic favorability, the inability for opposition and the processes to be partisan as seen in illiberal democracies and authoritarian regimes. These regimes are specifically gaged to forbid the levels of accessibility, accountability and competition that are necessary in democratic institutions.

Therefore, no, the countries mentioned that are illiberal democracies or competitive authoritarian regimes are not moving toward a democracy. In Levitsky and Way’s piece states that the now reality of countries that have transitioned out of these two regimes are moving towards a full authoritarian regime. Though one should always take another’s view as a grain of salt, these regimes are not transitioning to dismantle the incumbent nor are they attempting to stabilize a fair multiparty system.

Does it look democratic? Does it smell democratic? Offer elections as a form of democratic practice? Then it must mean that they are pursuing the role of a democratic nation! Well, not exactly. A country having elections does not mean that they are going to be heading toward upholding future democratic standards, nor does it mean that it will not succumb to hidden abuse from within. Diamond offers a fine example of recent elections that were supposedly fair and free to all peoples, but were influenced, disrupted and driven by an outsider’s agenda. These levels of abuse question current democracies as well as questioning transitioning regimes ability to have “…effective de-linking of state and party,” (Levitsky and Way, p 64) If the results are not favorably, even when engaging in irrational tactics to push a specific agenda, the incumbent will assume the authority to overturned or overlooked results.

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Defining Democracy

Democracy has undergone and continually undergoes a multitude of shifts over time; shaping itself to tailor each country’s intuitional needs. For the basis of defining democracy, certain implications must be present for a nation’s government to be defined as a democratic institution, predominately being a government for the people. However, given the shifts within the governments historically, for example, from the Ancient Greek and Romans that heavily relied on local governments to support them or to more modern times where nations are still struggling to seek legitimacy in their systems, democracy cannot be given a blanketing label as to what each democratic institution will look like. Rather, the focus must be on maintaining accountability and equality for its people through individualized processes.

Dahl believes that approaching democracy through the “thick” definition adhere to a platform of democratic institutional values that effectively include equality amongst its entire people without any violations against their process of development, meaning access to rights, freedoms, and protection. Unlike Dahl, Schmitter and Karl believe that that due to the complexity of the institutions, that each democracy should not adhere to similar standards. “Thin” democracy focuses on the diversity within their practices, such as participation, consensus and a separation of powers therefore creating different processes and outcomes within the institutions.

While I do agree with Dahl’s seven pillars, I would join the Schmitter and Karl argument because it promises proper representation “by the contingent consent of politicians acting under conditions of bounded uncertainty,” (Schmitt & Karl). There is a definite level uncertainty within democracy, but ensuring that officials are acting fairly to its people is a vital part of democracy. “Thin” democracy provides the level of accountability that each democratic nation needs to be held to without infringing upon each country’s individual governmental processes. Referring back to the levels of uncertainty, Dahl firmly believes that democratic nations are the most promising, while Schmitter and Karl debunk this by surfacing its challenges and false notions of promised prosperities-valuable when engaging in democracy.

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