Contemporary Politics 12
HOW PERSUASIVE IS THE CONTENTIONTHAT CONTEMPORARY POLITICS IS “POSTDEMOCRATIC”?
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Democracy is defined as a form ofgovernment where power is vested in the people and exercised by themthrough directly elected leaders. Governance of this kind has comeunder threat fromthe abuse of digital technologies and vast corporatewealth subverting the rule of the law. According to American SupremeCourt judge Louis Brandeis (1928) "Decency, security, andliberty alike demand that government officials shall be subjected tothe same rules of conduct that are commands to the citizen”. Today,the United States has become a two-tier system of justice, where theexistence of the government failed to see the law scrupulously.Post-democracies have certain characteristics that include steepdeclines in active voter participation in political party membershipand national elections. Inthe United States and the United Kingdom, it is becoming evidentthatprivate wealth has become one of the most potent factors ininfluencing the application of the rule of law amongst individualsand global corporations(Johnston 2005 p56 ).This paper will discuss how wealth and power has corrupted theapplication of the rule of law in mature Western democracies, whicheffectively transform them into post-democratic societies.Additionally, the paper expounds on how the role of technology istransforming the United States into a post-democratic country.
Rule of Law
Selectiveness in the applicationof principles of democracy such as the rule of the law and equality,fairness and accountability and transparency has compromiseddemocracy. The rules of law are synonymous with the rule by men andnot rule of law. The Communist Party of China theme for the year 2014was translated to mean state of the law, which is vital tomaintaining an open economy and protecting courts from politicalinterference (Chin 2014 p1). The U.S is an established democracy thatis created on the fundamental principles of democracy, rule of lawbeing one of the most important of them all. Nonetheless, it has beenevident that the some American agencies such as CIA have beenconsistently violating the law but no legal action has been takenagainst them. Since the terrorist acts of September 2011, nationalsecurity organs have subverted international laws to extractinformation via torture (Allan &Hansen, 2009, p47). Actions suchas the use of drone attacks, the torture of Guantanamo detainees andthe bombing in Syria and Iraq have violated international lawsregarding war crimes and basic human rights. While largeorganizations such as CIA have gone unpunished, this has not been thecase for Americans who commit crimes (Hager, 2014, p1).
ProPublica, an independentmagazine publication, revealed that high government officials andrich individuals are exempt from lawful justice. In addition, wealthywhites accused of crimes but with powerful political connections arelikely to get a presidential pardon. Unfortunately, this is so forthe black community that faces the full wrath of the law. While largebodies such as CIA, “too big to fail” banks, and political elitessuch ex-President Bush and President Obama get away with actions thatwould call for criminal prosecution under the rule of law, ordinaryAmericans are subjected to one of the world’s most merciless penalcodes (He & Cheng 34). The U.S imprisons more people than anyother state in the world, and for long sentences for minor offensesand with a less clemency that any other country. It is all too clearthat oppressive penal policies are more lethal to ordinary Americansand are racist in effect. For example, the war on drugs has resultedin disproportionate imprisonment of Latinos and the black community(Horton 2011 p1).
But it is quite evident that inChina, the rule by law would be the aptest definition of thepolitical leadership and government actions. The two phrases havedifferent meaning, while rule of law that is one of the fundamentalprinciples of democracy is intended to constrain the authority andpower of the political elite to regulations and legislation. Rule bylaw is the mother of rule of law means application of laws as is fitfor the political leaders (Chin 2014 p1). In this regard rule of lawmeans application of the law in a predictable and fair manner. InChina, the rule of law is only observed when it does not conflictwith the interest of those in power. The police, courts andprosecutors are controlled by the party in political power and theconstitution which provides and guarantees the rights and freedom ofChinese people is pushed aside if it conflict with party politics(Chin, 2014, p1).
Wealth and Democracy in theU.S
In the U.S, the wealthyAmericans who use their money to serve their personal interests,often infringing on other people’s rights, threaten democracy. Inthe U.S, the rich use regulatory capture, a form of politicalcorruption, where they use their wealth to compromise regulatoryagencies. Regulatory capture compromises independence of regulatorybodies, allowing the wealthy behave in ways always injurious to thepublic (Phillips 2003 p18). Additionally, they influence the mediaand compromise objectivity in its role of checking governmentperformance. As a result, politics there is disillusionment withpolitics, the media are powerless hence the rich can have their way,even if it is against democracy (Usborne 2014 p1). An excellentexample of how the wealthy subvert democracy is best highlighted bythe circus surrounding Robert Murdoch. Since 1980s Murdoch politicalactivities has influenced major political events in Britain. Murdochformed close alliance with Prime Minister Thatcher in 1980s,Supported Labour Party under Tony Blair and played an imperative rolein the ascendancy of David Cameron to power. Murdoch has gone largelyunblemished from the phone hacking scandal that has bedeviled NewsCorporation(He& Cheng 2012, p56).
In America, regulatory captureby the rich is evidenced by the case of the Koch brothers. Thesebillionaire brothers wanted to use their wealth to acquire theChicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times, to control politics of theregion, bending the political landscape in their favor (Usborne,2014, p1). Using personal wealth to influence politics dates back toWilliam Randolph Hearst, who owned and gagged the media to controlthe political landscape (Rowbottom, 2010, p139). Additionally, therich channel lots of private cash into political parties, whichproves successful in controlling the political landscape(He&Cheng 2012, p 56). This was especially so after 2010, when theSupreme Court erased caps on the amounts of cash individuals andcorporate could channel into campaigns. Since then, wealthy Americanshave channeled their wealth into campaigns and political committeesto influence decisions (Usborne, 2014, p1).
Initially, corporations, tradeunions, and associations were not allowed to make directcontributions to politicians and political parties. The act aimed atensuring fairness in the electoral process, ensuring that wealth didnot influence political decisions. However, the Supreme Court, made alandmark ruling called Citizens United, where it allowed such groupsto spend their wealth to oppose or support political candidatesthrough communication media such as advertisements (Usborne, 2014,p1). Additionally, these groups were allowed to donate unlimitedamounts of money into political campaigns, arguing that suchindependent expenditures do not give rise to corruption. However,this law is unbelievably debauched since it undermines the integrityand independence of elected leaders, making them always indebted tofunding groups. This landmark ruling makes the U.S a post-democraticcountry, where wealth will significantly influence the leadership ofthe country (Rowbottom 2010 p 159).
Impacts of Ultra powerfulglobal corporations on democracy
The rise of ultra-wealthy,unaccountable and unelected global corporations subvert liberaldemocracies. For example, TheTrans-Atlantic Trade Agreement and Investment Partnership, which aimsto remove regulatory encumbrance between the European Union and U.S,will be an atrocious mugging on democracy (Robin 2002 p 58). Thistreaty aims to accord large corporations and business entitiesoperating within the aforesaid jurisdiction remarkable ability towage a fight through legal action against elected governments thatshall try to safeguard the rights of its citizens (Boesak& Hansen2009 p 87). One of the fundamental proposals of this secretivetreatywhichis currently under negotiationis for unelected, non-accountabletribunal to enforce the rules under the treaty. This agreement shallallow a secretive jury of lawyers to overturn decisions by law makingbodies and destroy legal protections (Monbiot 2013 p 1).
As can be observed from otherparts of the world where such treaties are operations, thecontroversial investor-state dispute arbitration clause has thepotential of killing regulations that safeguard citizens in thesenations (Steve &Gerstle 2005 p 66). For example, the AustralianGovernment, with the support of the supreme court decided that allcigarette in that country must be sold in plain packets, but thisdecision has not augured well with large cigarette manufacturers suchas Philip Morris from Hong Kong (Fraser, Steve &Gerstle 2005p34).The company has used the trade agreement between Hong Kong andAustralia to sue the government for an intellectual property loss inregards to the requirement for plain packaging of their cigarettes.Eli Lilly, a large American drug firm is suing the Canadiangovernment for revoking tow of its patents because the firm has notoffered adequate evidence that they have a beneficial effect. Thefirm is also calling for massive changes in the country’s patentslaws (Monbiot, 2013, p1).
From the aforementioned examples,it is quite evident that international treaties of the same statureas the Trans-Atlantic Treaty has accorded undue power to largecompanies over sovereign governments. The most unfortunate thing isthat citizens cannot use tribunals constituted under such treaties todemand better protection from corporate voracity. Internationaltreaties made in secret without proper involvement of public havecreated what is referred to as ‘privatized justice systems forworld firms’. Such trade treaties threaten to substituteaccountable, independent and open courts with a closed, shady systemfull of conflicts of arbitrary authority and interest (Horton, 2011,p34).
Role of technology in creatingpost-democracies
Technological advancement is akey component used in promoting democracy and good governance aroundthe globe. However, if wrongly used, technology can createpost-democracy in democratic countries especially if privacy andother liberties are not guaranteed. Technologyhas led to the information revolution, which has given people therequisite power to fight against all kinds of oppressions (Mazrui,2010,p23). Egypt and otherArab countries are among the recent examples where technology such assmart phones, Facebook and Twitter,played a role in overturningrepressive dictatorships. The Internet can be used to promotecitizens advocacy, increase transparency and accountability of thegovernment and strengthen democratic processes. Citizens,non-governmental institutions, civil servants and politicians shouldemploy technology to enhance communication and improve their accessto important information (Morozov 1).
Technology however can powerfullyundermine democracy and civil liberties, such as the right toprivacy, which is enshrined in the United Nations as a fundamentalhuman right. Thanks to the revelations from the Americanwhistleblower Edward Snowden, the world now understands how the U.S,under the guise of fighting terror, has subverted the democraticrights not only of its citizens, but of every non-American on theplanet who uses a smart phone or the internet.Complex computeralgorithms has enabled the U.S to becomewhat is essentially a digitalpolice state. Their secretive National Security Agency (NSA) hasplaced the whole world under its all-seeingsurveillance leavinglittle scope for individuals to retain theirdigital privacy. The U.Shas even bugged the mobilephones of their closest European alliessuch as Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, who certainly cannot besaid to be a terrorist. It can be argued that the rise of the globalAmerican surveillance state is dangerous to the civil liberties ofpeople everywhere and foreshadows a possible Orwellian state whereindividual privacy no longer exists. Sadly but realistically, wealready live in such a post-democratic world because anyone using asmartphone or a laptop today can longer expect digital privacy. Thatfreedom has diminished.
The dysfunctional Americaninstitution is a solid indication that contemporary politics In theU.S is post-democratic.The political scientist Francis Fukuyama hasargued that American democracy has decayed into a vetocracy. Thismeans that no single institution, in this case, the executive organ,judiciary, and legislative bodies can wield enough power andauthority to make decisions and take effective charge (Orešković1). Compared to other mature democracies in the European Union suchas Britain, the American system appears too rigid to functioneffectively. In Britain any new public policy or regulationpromulgated by the incumbent government is subject to intensedemocratic debate and scrutiny by their elected Parliament. Incontrast,the gridlocked vetocracy in the U.S has increasingly ledsuch regulations to be made piecemeal via a non-transparent processby unelected judges who enjoy tenure of office (Orešković 1).Thepreponderance of unelected American courts in the passing nationalpublic policies is a succinct illustration howthe customary processof legislating and executing laws via a democratically electedCongress, Senate and executive branch is now dysfunctional.
This conundrum of vetocracycanbe solved through delegating as much power as possible to the localgovernments so that they can be able to carry out manyresponsibilities such as offering health care and taxation. Inaddition, it is paramount that the reorient the debate on importantpolicies around concrete and lucid outcomes that will involve thepublic.
From the afforestated, it isevident that there are numerous dysfunctional institutions amongstthe fully matured democracies of the world, such as the U.S and theEU. Ultra powerful global corporations manipulate nationallegislation, by allowing secretive jury of lawyers that destroy civilliberties among matured democracies. Additionally, there is continuedsurveillance on digital infrastructures, which infringes on citizenryrights to privacy, which evidences post-democracy in the U.S. andother fully matured democracy. In addition, wealthy individualscontinue to influence leadership fully matured democracies by fundingpolitical parties and campaigns. In the U.S, the Supreme Court made alandmark ruling, which allows unions and businesses fund huge sums ofmoney in campaigns to oppose or support different politicians,thereby influencing the political process. All these dysfunctionalinstitutions in fully democratic countries evidence their movement topost-democracy, where democracy is subverted.
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