I recently commented on an excerpt from the Friendship edition of the Lapham's Quaterly. What I didn't mention is that the edition before that was called Democracy. At the time, I had left a few markers within the magazine, in expectation that I would comment on them in future posts, but, as you know, I haven't been posting all that much lately.
So, let's get back to two of those marked passages.
First, from "The Dogs Held an Election", by Lame Deer as related to a reporter from Life who was collecting Native American stories and myths.
As the tale goes, the dogs were trying to elect a president. One of them nominated the bulldog for his strength. But the bulldog was rejected due to his slowness of foot. After all, what good is a fighter who can't run?
Another dog then nominated the greyhound who was certainly a fast runner, but when it was pointed out that while he could certainly catch an enemy, once he did he would get the hell beaten out of him, he too was rejected.
Then an ugly little mutt spoke. "I nominate that dog for president who smells good underneath his tail".
Immediately, all the dogs started sniffing each other under their tails, but as one they realized that no dog smelled good in that area.
And so, to this day, if you watch the dogs in the park, or in your neighborhood, you still see them sniffing each other under the tail, in search for a good leader, as they still haven't found one.
The other item I encountered was a Democracy Index as rated by the Economist Intelligence Unit, a report issued by The Economist, something which this organization has done since 2006. See below for a link to the Wikipedia site which includes a chart which reflects the history of this Index.
In a nutshell, the index is based on 60 indicators grouped in five different categories measuring concepts such as pluralism, civil liberties and political culture from which the index ranks each country, while also categorizing each in one of 4 types: full democracies, flawed democracies, hybrid regimes and authoritarian regimes.
Of course, this is just one index, assembled from one set of criteria. Still, it has 15 years of data which allows us to look for patterns, whether they be individual, regional or global. The sad news is that globally, we are experiencing a slight retreat in democracy as the overall grade (from 0 to 10) has dropped for 2 consecutive years, 2019 and 2020. with averages down for all geographic areas except Asia and Australiasia.
For the United States, our rating since 2006 has fallen from 8.22 to 7.92, which equates to 8 spots on the index, from 17th to 25th.
Where are the better, full democracies? Western Europe which includes the Nordic countries of Norway (1) Iceland (2), Sweden (3), Finland (6), Denmark (7), Australia (tied 9) and New Zealand (4), Canada (5), Ireland (8), and the Netherlands (tied 9). The worst, or authoritarian regimes (assuming you believe that one person in complete control of a government is bad), are spread out mostly in Africa, the Middle East and some in the Asia/Australiasia area, most notably China and North Korea, although Venezuela is classified as an authoritarian regime as is Cuba, in case you suspect some kind of left leaning bias in this index.
Another interesting statistic from this index regards the percentage of world population that lives under each grouping. Sadly, only 8.4% (23 countries worth) live in a country rated as a full democracy. While 41% live in flawed democracies (52 countries), that leaves a bit over 50% of the world population living in a hybrid government (35 countries) at best, and under authoritarian rule (57 countries which represent over 35% of the planet's population).
In other words, over half of those living today, do not have the kind of political freedom that we take for granted, despite the fact that the US rated as a flawed democracy, as is currently ranked 25th in the world.
So, what can we do to improve those numbers, both here and abroad. First, perhaps we should stop invading other countries in hopes of transforming them. If you check the chart, you will see many familiar names of countries living under authoritarian regimes; Vietnam, Laos, Libya, Cuba, Cambodia, Iraq, Afghanistan. Should I add up the number of American soldiers who have died in those places in the last 60 years?
Leading by example might be the obvious path, but here too we seem to be losing ground. Rather than creating a national voting day, reducing the effect of money in our campaigns, expanding access to voting through more in person days, and the expansion of mail voting, making the registration process more automatic, eliminating the concept of gerrymandering which has created far too many "safe" districts, and, perhaps rethinking the filibuster tradition in the Senate which allows Senators representing 25 to 30 percent of the population to delay and restrict the passage of policies which are supported by 65 to 70% of the citizens, many of which were included in the Voting Rights Bill that did not have enough votes in the Senate to pass, we are fighting with each other over the right to vote as a partisan political battle. In essence, we are fighting with each other over whether we want to protect democracy or allow it to falter.
Folks, it is clear that faith in democracy is receding, both in America and globally. Some of that doubt is deserved. Here in our country, we have been bombarded with far too many stories of politicians lining their pockets, and corruption which diverts too many tax dollars into the wrong hands. Currently, we have a former president whose only platform seems to be that the 2020 election was stolen, a claim without merit, a claim which did not exist until this particular person began fomenting it. As a result, the example of democracy that shone from our shores, has dimmed. How can we justify telling another country to create a more democratic political system, when we can't even agree that our own elections are free and fair?
Perhaps it is time to start sniffing under the tails of those who pretend to be leaders while creating obstacles to the right to vote. Remember, once you allow restrictive voting laws to be enacted to limit those you don't like or whose perspective you don't agree with, you risk the loss of your own right to vote when the winds change, or the new dog doesn't agree with your views.