The Ongoing Existential Threat to Modern Democracy

An era guided by the fringe, rather than the majority.

When the boat of Democracy flails, even under generous circumstances, it can be of uttermost difficulty to regain control of it. How mass protest movements came back into fashion around the globe is an indication that no matter how robust a system of popular rule is, it can’t withstand being undermined when the populace is sold the illusion of it working, when it’s not. Chile and Hong Kong are shining examples of this, wherein reasons ranging from material deprivation down to the repression of basic freedoms can be a step too far even for the too fond of stability to stomach. What this seeks to remind, is that Democracy, however tricky it has proven for some to follow, will be greatly missed once it’s gone–and there’s great reason to believe that hypothetical future isn’t as unlikely as one might think.

The system of democratic rule has been already greatly diminished by nominal democracies like the ones in Venezuela, Algeria and Bolivia–presidents hold sham elections in which they skew the results in their favor to project an aura of popularity, bolstered by the people’s desire for stability and a firm knowledge that upsetting the balances of power would be a net negative to their daily livelihoods. The views purported by the elite in these instances are often held up by a fragile oligarchy backed up by the military, bankrolled through the steady stream of revenue from a signature export (oil, rare minerals, a highly-sought agricultural produce, etc). As global trade made the market an even more unpredictable force than it already was, people realized that natural resources couldn’t forever foot the bill of rampant corruption. Heads turned to whose severed to put on a pike, and those of state were the first to fall.

That’s not to say only nations in sub-par economic standing have seen their democratic institutions severely undercut. Europe is being upswept by a current of far-right populist politics in which the needs of an extreme few exaggerate those of a moderate majority. Some countries were on a razor-thin margin to flip — like the Netherlands — while main staples of far-right European politics like Poland and Hungary continue to hold sway over the continent’s reticence to cushion the blow of the refugee crisis, amid rising xenophobic sentiment across the continent whose main fuel isn’t popular will, but political polarization. As loud as the screams of racial resentment are, the UK’s plan to exit the European Union is sure to capture attention away from it–long-lasting economic damage to the entire region is an anticipated outcome, effectively acting as a proxy anti-democratic gesture that not only the British will suffer under, but also the entire global economy in ways that are impossible to predict at this current stage.

The so-called “leader of the free world” wasn’t free of anti-democratic encroachments either. Donald Trump’s presidency was faced with claims of illegitimacy from the start, with special counsel Robert Mueller conducting a full-scale investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections. While the findings of the report commissioned by the special counsel weren’t as clear about potential collusion with the Kremlin for the purposes of winning the election, it proved that the guard rails the Founding Fathers have set up for America to not fall into a doom pit of tyranny aren’t as sturdy as previously-thought.

The term “Global Democracy” has been historically used to denote the acceptance of democratic rule as standard for all nations to adopt and live by, but it could use a revision where the actions of a democracy whose economic and social order is closely-intertwined with another, can immensely influence it regardless. The impact of Donald Trump’s election in particular wasn’t insular–it emboldened right-wing populist movements across the globe to play people’s fears for a fiddle, paving the way for the likes of Jair Bolsonaro and Narendra Modi to further erode their countries’ decaying democratic institutions. Doused in multiple thick layers of nationalism — among other views whose primary play is to undermine these institutions — the will of the people is only represented insofar as who’s to energetically vote, or care about the results of an election, and is not truly reflective of a popular desire by the people to see these fringe ideas brought to pass.

What’s frightening, is that those who we entrust the return of a free democracy to, can prove to be just as unenthusiastic about it. As much as the Right has put greater emphasis on pragmatic rule inspired by traditional values, the Left hasn’t shied away from expressing a misguided view on how democracies should work either–the kerfuffle over Evo Morales’ resignation is only the last example in a century-long debate over whether a dictatorship is worth preserving if it contributes to the global capital an ideology holds, above any genuine concern for whom it’s leaving behind in the process.

In the way that the fringe seems to hold more power to shape the political discourse, democracy doesn’t seem to be as treasured a principle as it once was. Those in the Liberal West — whose campaign against the Third Reich shaped much of modern democracy — have taken a system of democratic rule to be for granted, even when the mold of its Western iteration isn’t exactly par for the course. If anything, having the will of authoritarians in Saudi Arabia, Turkey and China capitulated to by the current American political apparatus is further proof that when an entire worldview coalesces around the adulation of a single powerful individual, subverting the dissimulated, but yet very present will of the people, ramifications of colossal dimensions are sure to ensue.

There was a time where firmly-established democracies were seen as a net exporter of their values to others less so — a beacon of hope of sorts — but what our current context seems to slowly reveal, is that it’s not a one-way transaction by any means. If the spread of democratic values to once-isolated parts of the world did indeed occur, the appeal to undemocratic forms of rule has just as equally found its way through modern technology’s information pipelines–and when those messages do end up dominating the global discourse, unless Democracy is dearly held onto, it’ll be gone just as swiftly as it came.