Final Prompt

My views on Democracy have absolutely changed since taking this course. It wasn’t really a thing I thought about critically beforehand. I just assumed it was an overall positive system of governance and that it will inevitably be adopted by any educated and prosperous country. That is obviously not the case, its amorphous, ambiguous, and riddled with nuance. This class was very dense and pretty difficult but I learned more from it than my other classes especially in an analytical and critical thinking capacity.

The most insightful takeaway I have is a better ability to define the parameters of the democratic/authoritative spectrum. I am more readily able to understand moves in the contemporary political landscape that are reflective of an autocrat (such as the elimination of legislature in Venezuela) or moves that further democracy (which unfortunately has not been a trend in 2017). I am very happy I took this course and i think the insights I have gained have outweighed the stress the course load gave me. Global democracy is seemingly under threat by the rise of far-right populism, most of the countries undergoing this trend already have an established democracy. If the people want to save democracy then they have to get off teh couch and use it.

Final Prompt

My views on Democracy have absolutely changed since taking this course. It wasn’t really a thing I thought about critically beforehand. I just assumed it was an overall positive system of governance and that it will inevitably be adopted by any educated and prosperous country. That is obviously not the case, its amorphous, ambiguous, and riddled with nuance. This class was very dense and pretty difficult but I learned more from it than my other classes especially in an analytical and critical thinking capacity.

The most insightful takeaway I have is a better ability to define the parameters of the democratic/authoritative spectrum. I am more readily able to understand moves in the contemporary political landscape that are reflective of an autocrat (such as the elimination of legislature in Venezuela) or moves that further democracy (which unfortunately has not been a trend in 2017). I am very happy I took this course and i think the insights I have gained have outweighed the stress the course load gave me. Global democracy is seemingly under threat by the rise of far-right populism, most of the countries undergoing this trend already have an established democracy. If the people want to save democracy then they have to get off teh couch and use it.

 

Pepinsky and Snyder

Going under the presumption that democracy in the west crumbles and authoritarianism rises I don’t think its possible to make a firm prediction on what will happen. Both Pepinsky and Snyder proposals are feasible and I believe their are too many political nuances to say which one is more likely. Life under authoritarian rule may be ordinary and boring in Malaysia but it strict authoritarianism also lead to the collapse of Syria and the greatest humanitarian crisis of the modern era. Both Pepinsky and Snyder are right but in different respects. In a Western context I think Pepinsky would be the more likely outcome only because I don’t think the authoritarianism described by Snyder would be feasible. I think are congressional system is too strong to allow for a strict authoritarian ruler to come to power. Snyder’s piece was clearly alluding to Trump in some capacity and although Trump ran on a campaign of xenophobia and hyperbole I do not believe he is capable of collapsing American democracy. Pepinsky states that the American people view authoritarianism as something apocalyptic and argues that its a fanatical and cartoonish view of how authoritarianism actually operates. But I would argue that this cartoonish and fanatical standpoint may act as a safeguard in preventing authoritarianism to rise.

Ordinary People in Extraordinary Times

I believe we are seeing enormous amounts of polarization within the United States. The 2016 election highlights this. Donald Trump represented a change in status quo to those who feel they have been marginalized by the previous administration. He made a call to those in Appalachia and other rural areas in American who have seen their vibrant industrial communities collapse. He did this by vilifying the liberal elite and the politically entrenched, represented perfectly by Hillary Clinton. Political gridlock within congress has slowed policy making dramatically and many believed Trump would be an outsider who would drain the swamp and rewrite the rules. Regardless of your opinion on Trump he has greatly exasperated the already tenses party relations within America and strained tensions. the “middle ground” of the ideological spectrum mentioned by Nancy Bermeo seems to be further away than ever before, i think the next few months are going to be very interesting ones in American history. With everything thats been happening I can only help to feel that stability is slightly threatened and American and the Trump administration are currently involved in a very delicate balancing act.

CCP

Chapters 3 and 4 in Dickson’s book “The Dictators Dilemma” discusses the method of consultative authoritarianism that the Chinese ruling party engages in. While they face some challenges in the road ahead I do not think that their collapse is inevitable. I believe smart strategy and greater allocation of personal rights and autonomy can keep the party in power indefinitely. Dickson notes that China is during much better than similar countries at their level of development.  If China can continue to modernize and provide more comprehensive education and healthcare plans to their citizens, then they will continue enjoy an increasingly higher standard of living. I believe these will inevitably lead to citizenry demand for values we consider democratic (such as access to information, freedom of speech, etc) but I don’t think it’ll necessarily constitute democracy. The ruling party has done a great job of keeping their image and reputation high amongst their citizens.  One poll done by Dickson shows that 90% trust the central government in some capacity. I’d be willing to wager that that is much higher than citizen trust in the US central government. I consultative authoritarianism can prove to be a stable form of governance as long as the ruling continues to serve the people to the best of its ability. I biggest threat the ruling party faces is greed. As long as the wealth is distributed evenly I think the party can remain in power.

CPC

China’s Communist Party, otherwise known as the CPC, walks a thin line on keeping their authoritative rule and maintaining stability within the state. The actions undertaken by the CCP involve both negative and positive rule. They engage in various methods of suppression of both the people and potential political opponents, they actively censor state media and internet access, and they have shown their willingness to use force to silence dissonance. At the same time, they promote economic development, modernization, actively fight corruption, and promote strong levels of Chinese nationalism. Through this balance of legitimacy and suppression the CPC has been able to adapt and maintain their hold since 1950.

The CPC has been especially good in finding the right balance of resource allocation and authoritative rule. Internet monitoring and dissent suppression have been successful in silencing any reformist ideas. The CPC is also quick to responding to and mediating any unpopular policy such as current reforms of the hukou systems. The CPC is by no means an egalitarian party as demonstrated by the massacre at Tiananmen square and frequent arrest of political opponents. Their biggest strength is general support of their people however, with increasing levels of globalization and flow of information it is going to become increasingly difficult to monitor and control Chinese citizens access to information.

Voting Fraud

Suppressing the electorate or enhancing vote numbers via a fake electorate are both detrimental to the functioning of democracy. Gist and Campbell highlighted methods of voter fraud using early 20th century Louisville and Adams County, Ohio as case studies. The methods included suppression of republican and African-American votes in Louisville via false registration, police force collusion, thievery and the purchasing of votes in Adams county. The case studies of both Louisville and Adams County show the harmful effects of voter suppression and fraudulent augmentation, but which one is more harmful to democracy? It’s hard for me to determine which worse, they are both harmful to the democratic electoral process and should not be held in contention of each other. However, I do believe it is easier for states to engage in suppression rather than augmentation.  I believe this is notable in the current political climate.

Two weeks ago, we discussed how race dynamics influence elections. It was noted in one of the readings that sates with the highest preponderance of African American prisoners had the strictest felony disenfranchisement laws. This makes it clear that suppression can be hidden in legislation and the public may not even realize the influence that certain legislation has on voter turnout and election results. The issues with gerrymandering, extremely long voting lines, controversial voter ID laws, and party corruption during election of 2016 also highlighted issues of voter suppression. So, while they’re both harmful I believe suppression is easier to achieve, provides more fruitful results, and is currently more actively used in contemporary politics.

The Dictators Handbook

The dictator’s handbook provides a detailed account on how leaders seize and stay in power. Bruce Bueno describes all the underlying factors that influence an autocratic or democratic leader’s ability to maintain control of the state. He states that resource rich countries are generally the most oppressive states in the world because the leader only has to pay of the army to protect him and a small coalition that maintains control of the state resources. Wealthy, educated democracy are the least oppressive. Maintaining democratic rule directly corresponds to the leader’s ability to create effective policy that benefits the majority of her people. Governmental transparency always for the people of a democratic nation to analyze and scrutinize their leader’s abilities and oust him if they believe he doesn’t represent the majority.

 

Ultimately, Bueno is arguing that autocrats and democrats both are seeking the same thing, maintaining their hold on power. Bueno list three groups essential for a leaders political survival; the nominal selectorate, the real selectorate, and the winning coalition. A leaders political survival depends on his ability to balance the needs of these three groups and various factors influence how each group is treated by the leader. Autocrats, especially in resource rich countries, keep a small winning coalition and real selectorate base. The wealth is distributed only amongst those that have the power to influence the government and its leadership, since resource rich autocrats don’t rely on the people a very small number of people reap the rewards. Democracy different because democratic leaders rely on the good policy and majority approval to maintain their power. Therefore, they must distribute the wealth more uniformly and invest in education, healthcare, and infrastructure. The autocrats who lead a country that isn’t overtly rich in resources walk a thin line between keeping the public happy and maintain their hold on power. Bueno stated that no autocratic country has a university that ranks greater than 200th in the world. This is strategic because a smart citizen is a threat to the winning coalition. They must find a level of education that allows their citizens to perform their job but not question their authority. This autocrats are the most prone to citizen revolt.

Race Dynamics of American Democracy

Racial constructions played a fundamental role in the formation of American democracy. I found Olson’s section on the creation of race particularly interesting. He elaborates on how the first immigrants from the Africa and the Indies possessed most of the same rights and duties as all other Virginians.  It wasn’t until Bacons Rebellion, where poor Englishmen aligned with African indentured servants against the wealthy, that racial lines began to be drawn. The elites deliberately created ethnic tensions and strife to separate Englishmen from Africans and Indians. Thus, a system of citizenship was created based strictly of race. The elites used the subordination of non-whites as a cheap labor force and the non-elites recognized the benefits of being white and further embraced the divide, supplemented by fear that the subordinate class might become them. America then created a quasi-democracy where all men were treated equal and deserved basic rights except African-Americans who “by nature or by curse is fitted for the condition in our system of which he occupies.”  

Manza sought to find if the racial composition of state prisons systems were reflective of the states felon disenfranchisement laws. His finding resulted in an emphatic yes. His research showed the states with higher African Americans in the prison systems were the most likely to have strict felon voting restrictions. It’s not at all surprising that Maine and Vermont are the only two states that don’t restrict felon voting rights. The racial dynamics of America’s prison system heavily disenfranchise the African American community from equal representation in their votes.

Early Republic Economy

The revolutionary war had plunged the American economy into a rescission that Holton compared to the great depression of the 1930’s. The war was extremely costly and had put obvious strain between America and their much wealthier colonizer, Britain. Since Britain was Americas most extensive trading partner, it greatly hindered Americas ability to collect revenue. To alleviate the cost of the war and the hindrance of a major trading partner Americas wealthy elites began to aggressively tax their colonies, which put an incredibly strain on the working class. So much so that it created a troubling trend in American suicide rates. Houlton and Bouton both elaborate on the working classes desire to establish a federal government that could better mandate and monitor monetary policies and taxation.

The working class wanted greater circulation of fiat money, the elites wanted to keep circulation low to protect their bond. Which led to the elites heavily exploiting by the working class by seizing property or jailing them for not having the economic means to pay them back. This led James Madison to join the forefront of pushing for new economic laws that protected all citizens and lobbying for a federal government. Bouton discusses how working class farmers took matters into their own hands and took desperate measures to protect their livelihood and economic standing form exploitation by the elites. This included blocking roads, resistance of policy, and even taking up arms to protect their rural communities.