Getting it wrong on democracy

Dan Balz of the Washington Post bemoans the “new world order” of “instability and populist unrest.” He writes:

The particulars might be different, but the upheavals playing out in Britain and France this week have familiar and common undercurrents, born of the same forces — rebellion against globalization, fear of immigrants and distrust of traditional leaders — that have stoked discontent in Germany and other European countries and that are roiling politics in the United States.

Instability appears to be the order of the day, whether in the United States or in Europe. Traditional politics, of the kind practiced in Western democracies for decades after World War II, is on shaky ground nearly everywhere, struggling to find the point of equilibrium that can satisfy populations fractured by economic, cultural and social changes.

What Balz misses in his article is the fact that the politics practiced by Western democracies are under attack mainly because these politics haven’t been democratic enough. I don’t consider myself a populist but, unlike Balz and the luminaries he quotes, I’ve noticed that leaders throughout the West impose key policies that voters plainly do not support.

The most obvious example is immigration. Polling by the Pew Research Center found no country in which the public desires higher levels of immigration (never mind illegal immigration). Yet leaders in the Western democracies have promoted large-scale immigration and have been unwilling to take the measures necessary to curb illegal immigration.

The most recent example is leniency for felons. Three-fourths of the American public disfavored shorter sentences for drug dealers. Yet, President Trump, who promised increased toughness for such criminals, endorsed leniency legislation.

Congress is now on the verge of passing it. Tellingly, Trump and Mitch McConnell waited until after the November elections to do this. They are putting one over on the public.

In Europe, the elites refused to take “no” for an answer on the European Union. When voters in some countries rejected it, they had to keep voting until they “got it right.”

Decades ago, Britain abolished the death penalty. At the time, most Brits favored it.

These matters are not peripheral. They go to public safety, the state of one’s neighborhoods and schools (unless one has plenty of money), and national identity and sovereignty.

Thus, the hand-wringing about democracy being under attack gets it mostly wrong. It’s democracy in which the elites ignore the desires of the public that’s mainly under attack.

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