Potential Solutions to the Polarization Problem

Originally published 10/31/2018 on Arc Digital

There has been great interest among the chattering classes concerning the degradation of our democracy. The topics by now are familiar: political polarization, media fragmentation, the culture of outrage and demonization, conspiracy theories, election meddling, tribalism, populism, fake news, echo chambers, incivility, and so on. In many respects, these are overlapping and intersecting maladies. But by far the most significant effect of our polarized moment is the diminishing ability of Congress to address national challenges.

Some of the commentary on this issue is alarmist; some is purely analytical. Only occasionally are solutions actually suggested, such as legislative proposals, partisan crusades, or attitude adjustments. Let us evaluate a few of the solutions—though, fair warning: skepticism is merited.

Facebook
Twitter
LinkedIn

Alternatives to our “Zombie Democracy”

A Review of
How Democracy Ends (Author: David Runciman)

David Runciman is a bit scornful and pessimistic about contemporary democracy, though not without good reason. And he is Head of the Department of Politics and International Studies at Cambridge University, so his new book How Democracy Ends is no mere journalist’s screed. Thankfully, he does not believe that US democracy is about to be overthrown by coup or fascism (a thesis that has helped other recent authors sell a lot of books.) Rather, he foresees democracy as ineffectively bumbling on, in a kind of “half-life” democracy that could continue existing for a long time.

Runciman does admit to risks of what he refers to as “executive aggrandizement,” where public passivity enables an elected strongman to chip away at democracy by bullying democratic institutions, while still paying lip service to democracy. (Turkey’s Tayyip Erdogan is an example that comes to mind.) Of our current passivity, Runciman writes:

Facebook
Twitter
LinkedIn

Populism in the Social Media Era

A Review of
The People vs. Democracy: Why Our Freedom Is in Danger and How to Save It (Author: Yascha Mounk)

Yascha Mounk explains that elites have too much power, and the populists are trying to oppose it by all possible means, even if it might mean authoritarian government and sweeping away of minority rights.

He enumerates modern decision-making institutions that exclude voter input:

  • bureaucratic agencies
  • central banks
  • the courts
  • international organizations/treaties

Facebook
Twitter
LinkedIn