What is happening in America?

Is American democracy becoming less Western?

It is difficult to make even modest predictions at this point. Listening to Trump, one feels he will not quickly give up, but he may have limited legal means at his disposal, especially if he has to revert the final outcome in more states than just Pennsylvania.

I am more interested in considering what current developments already show about the current state of democracy in America. Some of what is taking place now is similar to the experience of the last four years. It is possible to imagine that, just as Democrats never reconciled themselves with defeat, so will Republicans continue to dispute the legitimacy of Biden as president. There was and will likely be a contrived element about this. The story of Russian involvement in the election was a useful tool. Allegations of electoral fraud could play a similar role.

There is a more fundamental change, however. In both instances, democratic procedures are being placed under unprecedented pressure. There are many kinds of democracy in the world. The United States seems to be moving away from the Western model, where rules and procedures stand above outcomes. What we have seen in the last two political cycles is a dramatic relaxation of those rules, with the concomitant acceptance of a much larger spectrum of behaviours. Democracy in America has become much rawer and more direct, at times resembling a street brawl where everything or almost everything is now admissible. Trump is only part of this evolution, more symptom than cause.

In just one word, American democracy is becoming less Western. It now resembles the Indian or Indonesian democracies much more than the Western European experience. If the consensus about rules disappears, no other model is possible. And yet, that resemblance is more apparent than real. In America the element of entertainment remains dominant. Everyone has some grasp of this. After four years of denouncing Trump as a fascist, Democrats are actually disappointed their likely victory is so narrow. If they really believed in the fascism myth, we should see them dancing on the streets, like in Paris after the Liberation. They know that fascism was, well, a dramatic contrivance.

As I write in my book:

“In the American liberal tradition, the office of the president is placed under strict constitutional limits created in order to constrain power and ambition. Once entertainment takes over, once politics becomes genre, all this is bound to change. If the purpose is to develop the kind of conflicts and drama that keep an audience hooked, limiting what each contestant can do is the last thing you want. Normalcy, regularity and procedure become hindrances to success. Contestants in a reality show are always told to be themselves, which means, the most extreme version possible of themselves. This is what Trump set out to be.”