Fears of demagoguery are provoking a frightening swing in the other direction
By Matt Taibbi and cross-posted from Rolling Stone
The “too much democracy” train rolls on.
Last week’s Brexit vote prompted pundits and social media mavens to wonder aloud if allowing dumb people to vote is a good thing.
Now, the cover story in The Atlantic magazine features the most aggressive offering yet in an alarming series of intellectual-class jeremiads against the dangers of democracy.
In “How American Politics Went Insane,” Brookings Institute Fellow Jonathan Rauch spends many thousands of words arguing for the reinvigoration of political machines, as a means of keeping the ape-citizen further from power.
He portrays the public as a gang of nihilistic loonies determined to play mailbox baseball with the gears of state.
“Neurotic hatred of the political class is the country’s last universally acceptable form of bigotry,” he writes, before concluding:
“Our most pressing political problem today is that the country abandoned the establishment, not the other way around.”
Rauch’s audacious piece, much like Andrew Sullivan’s clarion call for a less-democratic future in New York magazine (“Democracies end when they are too democratic“), is not merely a warning about the threat posed to civilization by demagogues like Donald Trump.
It’s a sweeping argument against a whole host of democratic initiatives, from increased transparency to reducing money in politics to the phasing out of bagmen and ward-heelers at the local level. These things have all destabilized America, Rauch insists.
It’s a piece that praises Boss Tweed’s Tammany Hall (it was good for the Irish!), the smoke-filled room (good for “brokering complex compromises”), and pork (it helps “glue Congress together” by giving members “a kind of currency to trade”).
Rauch even chokes multiple times on the word “corruption,” seeming reluctant to even mention the concept without shrouding it in flurries of caveats. When he talks about the “ever-present potential for corruption” that political middlemen pose, he’s quick to note the converse also applies (emphasis mine):
“Overreacting to the threat of corruption… is just as harmful. Political contributions, for example, look unseemly, but they play a vital role as political bonding agents.”
The basic thrust is that shadowy back-room mechanisms, which Rauch absurdly describes as being relics of a lost era, have a positive role and must be brought back.
He argues back-room relationships and payoffs at least committed the actors involved to action. Meanwhile, all the transparency and sunshine and access the public is always begging for leads mainly to gridlock and frustration…