What it takes for both parties to avoid harming democracy at a time of dramatic power shift. Tip: Democrats shouldn’t take their cues from “V for Vendetta.”

I was one of the all too many from overseas to whom the ascent of Donald Trump has been a reliable source of anguish. After the Brexit referendum came down with its close polls and last-minute plot twist, what remaining prospect we had for a respite had vanished. Though many of us feel shattered now, feeling what should’ve been the glass ceiling instead, no one can afford to postpone a soul-searching for very long.

According to The Atlantic’s David Frum, it was in large part our disengagement from our small-d democratic customs and institutions that allowed Mr Trump to slip through all the stages of the selection process. Amid the harsh noise and political machinations of the campaign season, these “guardrails” were abandoned to such a degree that they were unable to fulfill their functions anymore.

Now that the GOP retains control of Congress, and soon secures a clout over the Supreme Court, there’s a real possibility that disgruntled Democrats — just as many supporters of Mr Trump have — will start railing against the public institutions.

That’d be badly missing the point however.

We need not a wholesale repudiation of the system that gives the very underpinnings of our democracy but rather an increased political engagement within it. Ms Clinton’s principal opponent throughout the primaries, Senator Bernie Sanders made the same plead to his supporters when he urged them to seek offices at the local and state level.

Granted, the laundry list of issues that need to be fixed is long. The problems include gerrymandering and the dramatic disconnect that is between the popular and electoral votes. Also, we may even need to codify some of those broken guardrails so that they become dependable parts of our political immune system again.

Faced with such a tall order, it may be much too tempting to give in to a sense of indignation and go full “V for Vendetta” on the system. The brave thing to do however is to keep their composure and start rolling up their sleeves. Suddenly they have a lot more work cut out for them than they previously did.

On the other end of the bargain, Republicans also have to check their impulses.

With the prospected appointments to the Supreme Court comes a clear control of all three branches of government. This will make it much too tempting for them to slip into a zero-sum mentality. Self-restraint though isn’t just virtuous but also is a long-term investment in a political system that the GOP itself is a part of.

A history rich in Congressional obstructionism may not give us much ground for optimism here. What sliver of hope we have left nonetheless lies with the fact that Mr Trump didn’t get to pick the down-ballots himself. Congress therefore still has the capacity to act as a guardrail against the more erratic aspects of his leadership. Perhaps the last one still standing.

Read All

 

In Europe, we have a periodic history of finding out how the worst possible answer to social anxiety is electing a bully.

 

A common theme in U.S. and European politic​s that runs deep yet we tend to overlook.

Throughout history, there has been a debate on the desirable level of governance on both sides of the Atlantic. In the U.S. the tussle has manifested itself in the competing notions of “Federalism” and “States’ rights” whereas in Europe it comes in the flavor of “integration” versus “sovereign nation states.” Much like with the campaign for Brexit soaking in the admiration of Europe’s far-right, we often see this sort of debates pitched around the word ‘liberty.’ The go-to rhetorical tool for stirring the emotions.

While we can find all the ingredients for a bona fide debate here, there is a point beyond which relaying more power to lower levels of government might open the door to ​political favoritism of certain constituencies over the others. This gives rise to the paradox in which more liberty at a lower level (closer to the individual) could end up leading to more disparity at the level of the individual. Case in point here is what has been the cauldron of Reproductive rights v. Religious freedom in the U.S.

Part of what helps sustain this paradox is the relative ease with which lower levels of governance are capable of staying under the radar of public attention even as they pursue discriminatory policies. On the flip side however, involving stakeholders and observers from a broader sphere helps steer our proceedings toward the admission of higher ethical standards. A U.S. example here is the tendency how before the “New Federalist” shift it was the ruling of the Supreme Court that would put the final nail in the coffin of repressive state statutes. An example from Europe is the induction of ex-Eastern bloc countries to the EU in 2004 and 2007. This required that they undergo “Law Harmonisation” which included stronger Human Rights provisions.

Perhaps speaking to the paradox the most is the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948—arguably the pinnacle of humanity’s collective political achievements. “Yet, in this first decade of the twenty-first century, there still remains a long way to go in order to achieve the plenitude of the international protection of human rights,” argues Antônio Augusto Cançado Trindade, former President of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, where “the advances of the international protection of human rights depend nowadays, to a large extent, on national measures of implementation.”

None of this is to suggest that all power be exercised at the highest possible level. Not only does it historically run the risk of the abuse of such a centralized power, it would also be a great loss in flexibility not to mention a hindrance to innovation at the local level. Somewhere in between there lies a sweet spot all right, but there is more to this. What makes this balancing act even more delicate is the psychological phenomenon which has us feel losses more intensely than gains. This is something that renders humans risk-averse. Shifting therefore too much power to the more capricious lower levels of governance might just be at odds with the very notion of individual well-being.

Momentous decisions such as the Brexit referendum call (or alas should have) for a cool head. One can even make a convincing case against subjecting such decisions to the whim of the voter. Even so whenever faced with one, we ought to take a detached look at the arguments of the ones who shriek ‘liberty’ the loudest. Especially when they happen to be coming from those who make entire careers out of conflating it with actual individual liberty.

Read All

 

Picking the best U.S. presidential candidate from a markedly global perspective.

Being a spectator from over the other shore of the Atlantic to all the antics that the U.S. Presidential campaign tends to bring out of an uncomfortably large portion of the candidates is admittedly an entertaining way of killing some time. Come Iowa tomorrow though, the mood is about to get more tense and solemn as events to be unfolding from there on are likely to bear primary importance with far-reaching implications for both the parties and the country.

However, the very moment we fully grasp the stakes that this whole show entails, quickly evaporates what little fun is left to make generous accommodation for despondence. After all, Americans are about to elect one of these people to be President of the Earth.

President of the Earth!? Isn’t it way too pompous and arrogant to say that?

Oh, please. Just lean back and let a couple of facts give you a taste.

Read All

 

 

What it takes for both parties to avoid harming democracy at a time of dramatic power shift. Tip: Democrats shouldn’t take their cues from “V for Vendetta.”

I was one of the all too many from overseas to whom the ascent of Donald Trump has been a reliable source of anguish. After the Brexit referendum came down with its close polls and last-minute plot twist, what remaining prospect we had for a respite had vanished. Though many of us feel shattered now, feeling what should’ve been the glass ceiling instead, no one can afford to postpone a soul-searching for very long.

According to The Atlantic’s David Frum, it was in large part our disengagement from our small-d democratic customs and institutions that allowed Mr Trump to slip through all the stages of the selection process. Amid the harsh noise and political machinations of the campaign season, these “guardrails” were abandoned to such a degree that they were unable to fulfill their functions anymore.

Now that the GOP retains control of Congress, and soon secures a clout over the Supreme Court, there’s a real possibility that disgruntled Democrats — just as many supporters of Mr Trump have — will start railing against the public institutions.

That’d be badly missing the point however.

We need not a wholesale repudiation of the system that gives the very underpinnings of our democracy but rather an increased political engagement within it. Ms Clinton’s principal opponent throughout the primaries, Senator Bernie Sanders made the same plead to his supporters when he urged them to seek offices at the local and state level.

Granted, the laundry list of issues that need to be fixed is long. The problems include gerrymandering and the dramatic disconnect that is between the popular and electoral votes. Also, we may even need to codify some of those broken guardrails so that they become dependable parts of our political immune system again.

Faced with such a tall order, it may be much too tempting to give in to a sense of indignation and go full “V for Vendetta” on the system. The brave thing to do however is to keep their composure and start rolling up their sleeves. Suddenly they have a lot more work cut out for them than they previously did.

On the other end of the bargain, Republicans also have to check their impulses.

With the prospected appointments to the Supreme Court comes a clear control of all three branches of government. This will make it much too tempting for them to slip into a zero-sum mentality. Self-restraint though isn’t just virtuous but also is a long-term investment in a political system that the GOP itself is a part of.

A history rich in Congressional obstructionism may not give us much ground for optimism here. What sliver of hope we have left nonetheless lies with the fact that Mr Trump didn’t get to pick the down-ballots himself. Congress therefore still has the capacity to act as a guardrail against the more erratic aspects of his leadership. Perhaps the last one still standing.

Read All

 

In Europe, we have a periodic history of finding out how the worst possible answer to social anxiety is electing a bully.

 

A common theme in U.S. and European politic​s that runs deep yet we tend to overlook.

Throughout history, there has been a debate on the desirable level of governance on both sides of the Atlantic. In the U.S. the tussle has manifested itself in the competing notions of “Federalism” and “States’ rights” whereas in Europe it comes in the flavor of “integration” versus “sovereign nation states.” Much like with the campaign for Brexit soaking in the admiration of Europe’s far-right, we often see this sort of debates pitched around the word ‘liberty.’ The go-to rhetorical tool for stirring the emotions.

While we can find all the ingredients for a bona fide debate here, there is a point beyond which relaying more power to lower levels of government might open the door to ​political favoritism of certain constituencies over the others. This gives rise to the paradox in which more liberty at a lower level (closer to the individual) could end up leading to more disparity at the level of the individual. Case in point here is what has been the cauldron of Reproductive rights v. Religious freedom in the U.S.

Part of what helps sustain this paradox is the relative ease with which lower levels of governance are capable of staying under the radar of public attention even as they pursue discriminatory policies. On the flip side however, involving stakeholders and observers from a broader sphere helps steer our proceedings toward the admission of higher ethical standards. A U.S. example here is the tendency how before the “New Federalist” shift it was the ruling of the Supreme Court that would put the final nail in the coffin of repressive state statutes. An example from Europe is the induction of ex-Eastern bloc countries to the EU in 2004 and 2007. This required that they undergo “Law Harmonisation” which included stronger Human Rights provisions.

Perhaps speaking to the paradox the most is the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948—arguably the pinnacle of humanity’s collective political achievements. “Yet, in this first decade of the twenty-first century, there still remains a long way to go in order to achieve the plenitude of the international protection of human rights,” argues Antônio Augusto Cançado Trindade, former President of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, where “the advances of the international protection of human rights depend nowadays, to a large extent, on national measures of implementation.”

None of this is to suggest that all power be exercised at the highest possible level. Not only does it historically run the risk of the abuse of such a centralized power, it would also be a great loss in flexibility not to mention a hindrance to innovation at the local level. Somewhere in between there lies a sweet spot all right, but there is more to this. What makes this balancing act even more delicate is the psychological phenomenon which has us feel losses more intensely than gains. This is something that renders humans risk-averse. Shifting therefore too much power to the more capricious lower levels of governance might just be at odds with the very notion of individual well-being.

Momentous decisions such as the Brexit referendum call (or alas should have) for a cool head. One can even make a convincing case against subjecting such decisions to the whim of the voter. Even so whenever faced with one, we ought to take a detached look at the arguments of the ones who shriek ‘liberty’ the loudest. Especially when they happen to be coming from those who make entire careers out of conflating it with actual individual liberty.

Read All

 

Picking the best U.S. presidential candidate from a markedly global perspective.

Being a spectator from over the other shore of the Atlantic to all the antics that the U.S. Presidential campaign tends to bring out of an uncomfortably large portion of the candidates is admittedly an entertaining way of killing some time. Come Iowa tomorrow though, the mood is about to get more tense and solemn as events to be unfolding from there on are likely to bear primary importance with far-reaching implications for both the parties and the country.

However, the very moment we fully grasp the stakes that this whole show entails, quickly evaporates what little fun is left to make generous accommodation for despondence. After all, Americans are about to elect one of these people to be President of the Earth.

President of the Earth!? Isn’t it way too pompous and arrogant to say that?

Oh, please. Just lean back and let a couple of facts give you a taste.

Read All