Alberta’s right doubtless dismayed as The Economist boots the U.S.A. off its list of ‘full democracies’

Posted on January 26, 2017, 2:50 am
7 mins

PHOTOS: Democracy has been downgraded in the U.S.A. … (Azerbaijan Press Agency photo). Below: A recent copy of The Economist, U.S. President Donald Trump and Wildrose Alliance Leader Danielle Smith in her political heyday.

Hmmm… The venerable Economist Magazine’s research arm yesterday booted the United States off its list of “full democracies,” demoting Ronald Reagan’s “shining city on a hill” to a mere “flawed democracy.”

This happened in the wake of the election of Donald J. Trump as President of the United States. However, the impeccably right-wing British magazine’s Economist Intelligence Unit generously concluded, it was not because of it.

That is to say, the researchers for the pretentious newsmagazine for people who wish they were rich didn’t blame the decline in American democracy on Mr. Trump. They blamed Mr. Trump on the decline in American democracy.

Canadian readers will be relieved to note that Canada remains on The Economist’s shrinking list of full democracies – which now includes only 19 countries and 4.5 per cent of the world’s population, down from 8.9 per cent in 2015 thanks to the loss of 300 million or so Americans.

According to Democracy Index 2016, entertainingly subtitled Revenge of the ‘Deplorables,’ the Land of the Free was turfed from the full-democracy category because popular trust in the institutions of democracy there has fallen to “extremely low levels.”

“This has been
 a long-term trend and one that preceded the election of Mr. Trump as U.S. president in November 2016,” The Economist declared. “By tapping a deep strain of political disaffection with the functioning of democracy, Mr. Trump became a beneficiary of the low esteem in which U.S. voters hold their government, elected representatives and political parties, but he was not responsible for a problem that has had a long gestation. The U.S. has been teetering on the brink of becoming a ‘flawed democracy’ for several years.”

Actually, this situation has been apparent to many observers of the American scene for a while now, although lots of us might attribute it to flaws in the U.S. political system other than merely the trust deficit identified by The Economist.

Yesterday’s development seems not to have been covered by Canadian media with as much enthusiasm as the frequent press releases from the Vancouver-based Fraser Institute declaring that Canada in general and Alberta in particular are in decline on its risible “freedom indexes.” Perhaps this is because The Economist’s effort doesn’t reinforce the narrative of insufficient Americanism favoured by the folks who run the mainstream media in this country.

Regardless, it seems to me The Economist’s gloomy assessment of the state of U.S. democracy presents a problem for the Canadian right, and in particular right-wing political parties here in Alberta, which have a long history of holding the United States up as the sine qua non of democracy for Canada to imitate.

Bad American ideas like an elected Upper House based on regional representation, fixed election dates and term limits for politicians have all been championed enthusiastically by Alberta’s right – despite the fact the sclerotic money-dominated separation-of-powers system they spring from is a fundamental cause of the deep democratic malaise afflicting U.S. voters.

Surely having the reliably right-wing Economist of all publications giving the Republic to the south the bum’s rush from its very short list of properly functioning democracies – all of them parliamentary systems similar in principle to Canada’s, interestingly enough – cannot help those Canadian political parties that normally sound like the chorus from West Side Story in their praise for America.

It didn’t used to be like this. Who can forget the days when The Economist optimistically held up Danielle Smith, the Wildrose Alliance’s then-new leader, as the very model of a modern market fundamentalist?

“Her calls for smaller government are popular with Albertans, whose views often align more closely with American Republicans (of the tea-party persuasion) than with eastern Canadians,” The Economist’s scribe panted in 2010 during what was obviously a quick pass through Alberta. “Many also like Ms. Smith’s unabashed defence of exploiting the tar sands (she argues that it is not clear that human activity causes climate change).”

Ah, those were the days! A time so innocent the Tea Party was still quaintly respectable, the Wildrose Party was “soaring in the polls” with government in its high beams, and there was no need for the PR department to come up with new euphemisms for bitumen that didn’t sound quite as grubby as tar.

Only seven years later we have a social democratic NDP government in Edmonton, a mildly progressive Liberal one in Ottawa and a president of the United States who is not very likely to sell many Canadians or even Albertans to the benefits of the “flawed democracy” to the south.

Well, flawed or not, thankfully the United States is still rated a democracy, at least according to The Economist’s flickering lights.

There are still two more Economist categories our neighbours can stumble into: “hybrid regimes” like Turkey and Ukraine, and “authoritarian regimes” like Zimbabwe, Russia and North Korea.

With Mr. Trump at the helm, who’s to say our American cousins won’t be there soon enough?

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

10 Comments to: Alberta’s right doubtless dismayed as The Economist boots the U.S.A. off its list of ‘full democracies’

  1. Elizabeth J

    January 26th, 2017

    I feel the need to point out that although the song America from West Side Story may be co-opted to sound like a puff piece for the United States, the actual full song from the musical bitingly mocks the failure of the US to deliver on all its shiny promises and highlights the prejudice faced by immigrant communities.
    https://youtu.be/Qy6wo2wpT2k

    Reply
    • Val

      January 26th, 2017

      ELIZABETH, as an immigrant myself i can assure you, immigrant’s problems arises in hosting country not because “failure of the (put your country here) to deliver on all its shiny promises” but from too high expectations, many immigrants expect to get, upon their arriving. particularly ones, from third world countries.

      Reply
      • Elizabeth J

        January 27th, 2017

        Hey VAL, I’m not going to try to convince you that racism exists in North America if you are already holding a firm belief that it doesn’t.

        I was merely pointing out that the version of America from West Side Story that David linked to is missing a lot of the lyrics that the original song has, for example “????Life is all right in America, if you’re all white in America????”

        I highly recommend the movie version of West Side Story. A great musical score and engaging story with a clear underlying theme that racism results in tragedy.

        Reply
        • Val

          January 27th, 2017

          ” not going to try to convince you that racism exists in North America”

          you don’t need to. i have lived in several countries before settled here and in fact to some degree more/less racism exists everywhere, so nothing new in it. just life as it is.
          another things – demands from some categories of immigrant for exclusiveness.
          if i recall correctly statistic, in Canada the biggest diaspora represented by the germans, followed by ukrainians but you never heard anything from them or about them. instead there are always plenty of noise comes from middle eastern, south-east asian minority groups.

          Reply
          • Elizabeth J

            January 28th, 2017

            Hi VAL, You may not be aware of this history, but Ukrainians have also faced harsh racism in Canada in the past. In fact, during World War I Ukrainians were placed in internment camps in Canada. One of the camps was in what is now Jasper National Park and you can see a plaque of remembrance there.

            Sadly, each new wave of immigration is often accompanied by racism against the newcomers.

            You can read more about this history of Ukrainian Canadians here http://ww1.canada.com/home-front/dark-memories-endure-of-canadas-internment-of-enemy-aliens
            Or just google it.

  2. political ranger

    January 26th, 2017

    One should not be too complacent that “we have a social democratic NDP government in Edmonton, a mildly progressive Liberal one in Ottawa”. Only a few short months ago we had an intelligent, articulate and liberal POTUS who was a Nobel Peace Laureate. How quickly the ship can tilt!
    On how far we can tilt consider Rachael Maddow’s report last nite regarding a 1,500 page omnibus bill passed last spring in the great down-below. On page 1,404 was an amendment that removed a 7-member Board of Governors overseeing the ‘Voice of America’ radio station and inserted a CEO appointed by the President. Trump has appointed 2 RWNJ 20-somethings to manage this $800 million per year operation.
    Two points are apparent from this. Omnibus bills only support the decline of democracy; if you can’t say it in 3 or 4 pages you’re lying or hiding something. I notice harper was frantic to pass as many of these omnibus bills as quickly as he could.
    Secondly, you cannot have a truly effective “authoritarian regime” without control of the media. Contrast the utter degradation and humiliation of Trump’s (less than) 1 week rule with Putin’s and al-Assad’s decades long celebration.

    Reply
  3. David

    January 26th, 2017

    It’s is not a good sign that the US is now being labelled a flawed democracy by a internationally respected publication. Of course that is just their opinion, but there is much truth to it and as pointed out it was something that has been happening for a while. I agree Trump is not the cause, but the symptom of a dysfunctional system that relies on enormous amounts of money to attain political success. One of his strong points was he argued he was already rich, so unlike most of the others he could not be bought and he could mostly finance his own campaign.

    As also pointed out Presidents come and go so perhaps in several years the Trump era will be over, some regret will have set in with the US electorate and they may decide the experiment with being a failed democracy was not such a great idea so they will try to be a more functioning one again. I am hopeful this will happen and that while some of the leaves are wilting the roots of US democracy are still there.

    This all poses a great dilemma to Canada and the rest of the world. We will have to be somewhat like Switzerland. Will will have to be very careful not to offend the US and we still have still to work with them and cooperate, but we don’t want to go down the path they are. Sometimes right wingers in Canada think we should just copy everything from the US, even though they have a different history and a different system. When we do this, we often end up a pale imitation, not a very good copy and in the present situation I would say also from not a very good original.

    I think the rest of the functioning democracies in the world will have try carry on without or in spite of the US. It may now be up to countries like Canada and Germany to carry the torch for a while and the perhaps US may find to their surprise the world can and will carry on without them. Wouldn’t it be ironic if the one lasting result of “make America great again” was the diminishment of American power and the end of the era of the US being the superpower.

    Reply
  4. jerrymacgp

    January 27th, 2017

    One of the under-reported weaknesses of the American political situation is the irrelevance of the Democrats between the coasts. If you look at the November electoral map, you see blue Democrat states along both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, and red Republican states across the entire rest of the country. Hillary Clinton got a popular majority where she didn’t need it, in New York, California, and a few other populous and somewhat less conservative states, but didn’t win enough other states to get the necessary Electoral College votes to win. Democrats need to ask themselves why that happened.

    One might expect the hollowed-out manufacturing sector of the American workforce to be a natural constituency for Democrats, who are normally more friendly to labour than the GOP. But rank & file union members voted in droves for Trump, even against their own best interests. How do Democrats recapture those voters in 2018 (mid-terms) and then hang onto them for 2020 (Presidential)? How do Democrats speak to those disgruntled and frustrated voters? Those are existential questions that the Democrats need to spend the next year or so figuring out, before they have to once again start into the seemingly endless American election cycle.

    Reply
    • Val

      January 27th, 2017

      most likely democrats will take on wait and expect the Trump’s approach discredited itself. after all their leadership crisis isn’t lesser than among the republicans.

      Reply

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