An elitist assault on people power is on the way. It must be resistedby Tom Clark / January 19, 2017 / Leave a comment
Published in February 2017 issue of Prospect Magazine
A frail old lady walks into a church hall, marks a cross on a bit of paper, and a government falls. That is democracy’s promise—and, when you stop and think about it, what an improbable promise it seems. The ballot box has only ever been able to rule because it has been buttressed by all manner of supports: social, institutional, even ideological. As Barack Obama put it in his farewell address, the US constitution promises self-government, but it is “just a piece of parchment. It has no power on its own. We, the people, give it power.”
Obama very deliberately used his final oration to discuss democracy because the supports on which it rests have been slipping in many parts of the world. Illiberal populism is in the ascendant in many places, with Hungary—from where we report this month—being one instructive case. Indeed, although Obama was too graceful to mention it explicitly, democracy’s underpinnings also visibly slipped in the election that made Donald Trump his successor. Des King and Rogers Smith set out how Republican state governments used various tricks to discourage poorer and minority voters from casting their votes. The extra ID checks and reduced polling station access was, they say, on a scale which could have plausibly swung the result in some states. This is an almighty scandal, which will get worse if the Trump regime is disinclined to police federal voting rights. But it has not had the attention it should have had, as an even more eye-catching political assault arrived over the internet.
America’s combined int…