Why Democracy: For 2024 & Beyond

Please Share PromotingDemocracy.comIf MAGA Republicans retain control of the House and take back the Senate and the White House, they have been very clear that they intend to repeal the Inflation Reduction Act, with its critically important measures to fight climate chaos, as well as to undo, reduce, and refocus several of the other accomplishments of Biden and the Democrats. Specifically, they would likely cut back the CHIPS and Science Act, which in its current form will lower costs, provide well-paying jobs with benefits, and make our economy less reliant on foreign suppliers who could use our dependency against us. Another key piece of legislation which MAGA and far-right Republicans would likely reduce and refocus is the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. This Act, with its current provisions, would help with the sustainability transition by stimulating important improvements to our electricity transmission grid, improve the condition of community water utilities and transportation facilities, and build up a more just, functional, and globally competitive economy.

If Republicans in the current mold were to take both houses of Congress and the Presidency in 2024, it is impossible to predict when a functional government might be restored. Any number of specific scenarios could unfold, but they would likely result in insurmountable obstruction for attempts to seriously address our most pressing problems – not just now, but for at least the rest of the 2020s.

This lost decade would mean:

We would not act to ward off the worst impacts of the climate crisis, or to prevent the wholesale destruction of the world's oceans, forests, and species, until it would be too late to prevent a massive disruption of the planet's most fundamental life support functions. Innumerable species would be driven to extinction. The consequences would be as deadly as they would be predictable.

We would not fix our tax and economic system to prevent the rich from getting an ever-larger share of everything, and to protect the rest of us from having to divide our declining share of everything amongst a growing population. Inequality would worsen, and over time, become even more damaging and painful than it is today.

Policies and programs designed to protect individuals and communities would be under threat, including Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Obamacare, FEMA, OSHA, Unemployment Insurance, Children's Health Insurance, the Consumer Product Safety Commission – the list goes on and on. Tens of millions would be exposed to hardships and suffering from which they had been protected before budget cuts made that protection unaffordable.

We would be forced into an extended battle to protect democracy from Republican efforts to guarantee themselves secure long-term minority rule. If Republicans lock their dominance into election rules, it really won't matter what the rest of us may want or need.

This lost decade, this squandering of the 2020s, would very likely lead to a long slow slide into decline for America in the decades that follow (and that, in turn, could drag the world along).

Many people who understand in detail the urgency and seriousness of the threats we confront are fond of fancy-talking. They are intellectuals and have large vocabularies. Some have even acquired a taste for grandiloquence. They talk of the collapse of democracy, the collapse of civilization, dystopia, existential threats, and so on. One pictures the Twin Towers collapsing into a pile of rubble filled with bodies. Memo to all you smart folks: this language isn't working. It may even be counterproductive.

On "our" side, this has become the same old tired mantra that no longer moves us. On "their" side, words like these have become signifiers that we are "them" – those arrogant elites who think they are better and smarter and believe they are entitled to tell ordinary folks how to live their lives. In detail.

Systems collapses, the collapse of the economy, the collapse of our democratic system or of natural systems are what intellectuals worry about. When such collapses could be concurrent and mutually reinforcing, thinkers worry that the result could be the dramatic collapse of our civilization as a whole. So they say exactly that. To ordinary people, this can sound like overly dramatic nonsense from people with too little life experience in the real world.

All this raises a critical question: What would a collapse-scale decline look like and feel like to the great masses of ordinary people who would, after all, have no choice but to live through it (or try)?

If this future comes to pass, it would be a long-slow slide into dystopian conditions (punctuated by downward lurches both on a local level and at a larger scale). Communities would become gradually more and more run down, with swaths of abandoned structures, with neighborhoods burdened by crime and disease, and with gangs effectively sharing power with ineffectual authorities.

Many communities would evolve slowly into these conditions, and they would attempt to adapt to them. But recall the story of the frog in a pan of slowly heating water, and make no mistake about what to expect the outcome to be. If the future that actually materializes is the one that a full and sustained democracy failure would make almost certain, we are looking into a century of misery.

We need to tell people the truth about this, but in down to earth plain language that tracks with their direct experience. We are already into the leading edges of this degenerative process, and we can see the outlines of what a bad future would look like beginning to emerge before us.

Our "go-to words" to describe the future we are trying to avoid should be down to earth: dirty, rundown, polluted, abandoned, jobless, homeless, burdened by crime and gangs, unsanitary, plagued by diseases – these are the words and phrases that directly name what ordinary people are already experiencing.

We should, in most cases, avoid much less helpful, less descriptive, and less communicative words and phrases such as dystopia, existential threats, collapse of civilization, end of democracy, and so on. We need to cut back on the fancy language in favor of simple words and sentences. We need to replace fancy talking with plain speaking.

A Decline With No Bottom

Step back from the above narrative about the risks we face and understand that there would be no bottom to this potential process of decline. If it is allowed to get going in earnest, it would feed on itself. As recent experience shows, society is fissuring into warring camps with alternative explanations for what is happening, what it means, and what we ought to be doing about it. This produces paralysis in society's efforts to adapt to emerging threats and changing circumstances. Paralysis at this juncture could push us past tipping points and into a process of accelerating decline.

What would a "no-bottom future" look like? Here are six driving contributors. There could be many other contributors as well.

1. Communities would continue to experience abandonment by mass employers. To avoid abandonment or to attract replacement employers, communities would continue to give tax concessions that make communities poorer while making the rich owners richer.

2. The rich would lose hope for and faith in society-wide solutions to our major problems and instead attempt to use their wealth to create personal solutions while the larger society is left to crumble. Our elites could "solve" threatening problems by protecting themselves and leaving the rest of us to suffer the consequences.

3. There would be more and more wildfires, floods, severe winds, tornadoes, hurricanes, droughts, dust storms, and related local disasters. In coastal areas and adjacent low-lying river valleys, impacts would be compounded by accelerating sea level rise. Over just a few short years, these losses could become a major economic burden. After that, costs would grow relentlessly. We should understand this as the fabled "death of a thousand cuts." Enough local disasters (cuts), and the entire body of society would be in mortal danger.

4. Government response and recovery assistance would become progressively less and less adequate to replace losses. Communities would increasingly be left to recover and rebuild with less help, and many would prove unable to recover or rebuild adequately as a result.

5. The insurance system, politically regulated and compromised as it is, would be depleted and reduced in its capacity to finance recovery and rebuilding.

6. Compassion fatigue would undermine public national budgetary support for local recovery. Since any one community may experience disaster only occasionally, mutual aid may seem less attractive if it becomes much more expensive.

Even though the above factors would feed upon themselves and each other in self-reinforcing feedback processes of considerable complexity, the end result seems clear. Communities, sustaining catastrophic losses they could not replace or recover from without help, would become "failed communities" (somewhat like "failed states"). They would become some local version of poor, dirty, rundown, polluted, abandoned, jobless, homeless, burdened by crime and gangs, and plagued by widespread endemic diseases (alongside failing health care systems).

That's what the "collapse of civilization" would look like, so that's probably how we should talk about it.

Instead, we want communities that are:

Thriving, not poor.

Clean and attractive, not dirty and defaced by graffiti.

Well-maintained, not full of rundown and falling-apart buildings, roads, sewers, and storm drains.

Free of significant pollution, not full of health hazards.

Full of good-paying employment opportunities, not leaving people needing jobs to despair and growing homelessness.

Safe, not crime-ridden.

Gang free, not plagued by gangs in schools and neighborhoods.

Largely free of endemic diseases, not overwhelmed by them.

Only democracy can allow us, working together, create the communities we want. Without democracy, our unaddressed problems could overwhelm us, and we would get instead the communities we fear.

Without vision, the people perish. The Bible tells us so, and it is true. Without democracy, the people would descend into misery, and many would indeed perish. Reason tells us so, and it is true.

Published: August 2019
Revised: July 2023

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