In an attempt to not be labeled an alarmist, I wish to posit a juxtaposition: might there be a corollary to the famous concept of “The Decline of Civilizations” entitled “The Decline of Democracies”? Let’s face it: modern democracy hasn’t been around too long, and so cannot be said to have yet passed the test of time (in a meaningful, 500 year-old civilization-historical sense). Three events have sprung to mind just recently bringing this idea to mind in an urgent manner. I’m not saying the three are equally important and perhaps they’re not significant at all (but I suspect they are). I’m sure all three are resultant from many things, but most especially the “War on Terror.”
In sum, these are some initial thoughts on some immediate events that have eroded US democracy, and I’m curious as to 1) what you all think about them specifically (they each deserve their own treatment of course, but we’ll start with this) and 2) if they could be translated into a wider theory of “The Decline of Democracies”?
1) I’ll begin with the one that I’m the most unsure about, but interested in nonetheless: the development of the media, particularly the news media. It would be an amazing irony if the news media, once thought of as one of the protectors and fosterers of modern democracy, was an aspect that led to democracy’s decline. In this grouping I’m thinking more of the expansion of the media’s scope: 24-hour news channels able to hit specific demographics so as to narrow the discourse and the options along with an internet that has seemingly catered to individual preferences and whims rather than expanding horizons (but that’s perhaps my grumpy old man tendency). Fox News is of course el rey supremo—of this, we all know. But, other corporations are similarly large and narrowing. Rhetorically, when news organization can at once say so much while actually saying nothing of consequence (you know, the things that make you think afterwards, “That doesn’t mean anything…”), I wonder if democracy is in trouble. For example, when Fox-supported political candidates can at once scream for “more freedom and liberty” while being controlled by a massive, multi-national corporation owned by one white male who has none of their interests at heart, weird things are going on.
2) Now to more specifics, TSA Photos: a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request led to the release of a large number of photos of the body scans of private citizens which supposedly were not being saved.
Now, this is, I admit, a smaller point than the either two things I’m bringing up (and is thus wedged in here in the forgettable middle). But, it nonetheless speaks the larger points as well. It links to larger notions of double-speak and simple governmental lying to its citizenry whom it is supposed to be representative of. It is supposed to be “for and by the people” as it were, right (to dabble in clichés for just a moment)? In relation to the larger postulate, how many of these “smaller” events (of this general kind, not specifically TSA body-scan photos) can occur before a democracy finds itself in trouble?
3) Guantanamo Bay “Test Case”: so, in case you haven’t had time to check this out, it is ridiculous. On November 18 the first man (or “terrorist” as we apparently call them without them having been tried in court) from the US’s Guantanamo Bay extra-legal prison Ahmed Ghailani was tried in a civilian court in New York in what is being called a “test case.”
The “test” is to see if it “works.” In the twisted rhetoric of the “War on Terror,” success would only be a conviction that, in the phrasing of one official, would prove that these test cases can handle—that is, convict—the “terrorists.” This is absolutely absurd. The very idea of a test case in this rhetoric is inherently oppositional to a rational legal system. Success should not only be achieved if the defendant (i.e. “terrorist”) is convicted and sentenced to death/life in prison. Success in a modern legal system is dictated about the proper functioning of the court for a legal system relies on proper procedure. Without it, it’s not a legal system. It’s just arbitrary. A case is instead a “success” if it follows its procedural rules. Thus, I wonder to what degree modern democracies rest on proper, procedural, neutral legal systems. Once “success” has been twisted to mean its opposite in relation to a democracy’s legal system, a democracy is challenged, no?