Changing Political Power through Redistricting and Gerrymandering
Postmodernity has run out of steam – the paradigm was probably just a late 20th century reflex to the waning of European Enlightenment. Are we entering a period of political realism that comes in the form of a new paradigm, Post-Democracy? The term was introduced in 2000 by Colin Crouch (Post-Democracy after the Crises.) He describes nations that have the semblance of democracies, when in reality they are run by a small elite. Crouch writes:
A post-democratic society is one that continues to have and to u, ae all the institutions of democracy, but in which they increasingly become a formal shell. The energy and innovative drive pass away from the democratic arena and into small circles of a politico-economic elite…We are not living in a post-democratic society, but we are moving towards such a condition.
Post-democratic societies seem to have fully operating democratic systems with elections, an occasional change of political leaders, and a constitution that guarantees rights like freedom of speech. In reality, however, decisions are made by small groups of people operating behind the scenes of democratic institutions. Nations transform into state-sponsored capitalist systems masquerading as democracies. We are moving towards a post-democratic political constellation for a variety of reasons:
Populations increasingly fracture along economic, ethnic and political lines. There is also a divide between rural areas and urban centers, and it exists in almost every country. The liberal urban middle-class is connected across nations, but alienated from their own rural backyards.
The elections in the US get decided by a few swing states, and the candidates focus strongly on a small percentage of uncommitted voters in these states. Whoever does this best, wins.
A broad political dialog becomes unnecessary in order to decide elections. In reality, there is not much choice between candidates. Public debates are not about the exchange of ideas and the struggle for better arguments, but about television posturing. Campaigns are based on polling and advertisement, and they use marketing and messaging experts to promote their candidates. The person is now a product, and elections become intense to the degree to which they are personalized. For many people, politics is just a television show with entertainment value.
Large trade agreements and multinational treaties are not subject to direct democratic control, and as a result, people feel disempowered. The power of nation states gets hollowed out by globalization, which brings the rise of trans-national corporations, the formative power of large-scale political blocks (EU, African Union, ASEAN, UN, etc.) These organizations have the power influence or avoid domestic regulation and local controls. The backlash are nationalist and populist movements like Brexit and Trump.
The leaders of the EU, the United Nations, or China, are not elected by the people but chosen in a secretive process behind closed doors. This is even true to some degree for the US: people do not directly elect the President, and Electoral College intervenes, and the Senate certifies it, or not. The basic argument: Political actors like the US, Europe, China, or India may have become too big for their own good: They cannot be very democratic any more.
There is increasing entanglement between political and commercial interests. Elections require large amounts of money, and corporations are keenly interested in influencing the legislative process. Politicians transform into lobbyists, and the political process becomes a business. What happens to the overarching interests of the society as a whole when democracies become heavily monetized?
Markets penetrate public goods: Neoliberal economic policies have argued in favor of privatization, and as a result, public services have been eroded in sectors like education, health care, city management, or the military. The primary goal of these companies is to make a profit, not to protect the welfare of the communities they serve.
The private sphere is being transformed and eviscerated through social media. New technologies allow the formation of political opinion like never before. Information is used to shape opinions, not for the discovery of facts. The public sphere is not free, and public discourses are not about the truth. Political belief systems become fortified opinions that defend and hide deeper economic and technological interests. We understand now that politics is not about addressing the facts, it is about the creation of facts. This is the magic of power: People will believe that something is true when it is repeated often enough by their leaders.
A constructivist view of politics prevails: political communication is a variant of show business and follows the logic of the medium in which it takes place. From this perspective, the political world is reconstituted according to the conventions of the medium in which it comes to exist; it is constructed as ‘reality’ by media that present and report it, and in this reality, politics becomes a game of appearances and surfaces. Identity politics takes over, and people drape themselves with the American Flag, or paint their bodies with various symbols: Body politics in a new slogan-driven format.
What we consider to be natural political categories, like ethnicity, nationhood, the will of the people, or democracy, are themselves only impermanent political constructs.
There is an undeniable desire to burn things down, but we have to keep in mind that it is easy to destroy, but hard to build new structures. Revolutions force us to change, but the real change is evolutionary. New challenges arise quickly for societies, and political systems often find it difficult to keep up.
In addition, the process is somewhat dialectical in nature: American politics swings between progressive politics and conservatism, between nationalism and international engagement. Populists like Trump energize movements on both sides. He was the unintentional catalyst for a reaffirmation of the American political system: smarter and more confident democratic movements are emerging. Feminist groups, African Americans, but also groups like Indivisible, the ACLU, and traditional unions are re-invigorated. This can also lead to a resurgence of political expressions around the world. The protests that I have seen are playful and creative, more like festivals with many young people and echoes of the Sixties.
Trump burned himself down politically and created a catastrophic collapse of his own movement. His political self-destruction manifests the deeper sense of powerlessness which has been common across the political spectrum. The outrage, powered by a sense of victimization, creates identifications with the leader and converts into grandiose political gestures which ultimately fail. Isn't this the fundamental dilemma of politics? Throughout history, social groups have struggled with the expression and exercise of political power. This can also be expressed in ritualistic form. How else do we explain the popularity of festivals like the Burning Man? Every year, people come together for a week of celebration in the Nevada desert. People express their freedom through creativity and imagination, and a new communitarian social order takes over. The high point of this event is the burning of the giant statue of a man: he represents patriarchy, the system, or anything that is oppressive to us.
Copyright @Jürgen Braungardt, 2021