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Political Decay
How to Reverse the Degradation of Our Politics

To fix democracy globally, we must first address toxic partisanship and polarization here at home. A promising electoral experiment in Maine might show the way.

Published on: November 10, 2017
Larry Diamond is Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. He coordinates the democracy program of the Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law (CDDRL) within the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies (FSI).
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  • America ships China $900 million to $1 billion each and every day. You love China and the Chinese Communist Party. I mean the common man does not. But Republicans and Democrats agree on outsourcing and helping China:) It makes them and their elite friends a little richer at everyone else’s expense. Now who has bad government? Get over yourself. Here’s a bible verse for all the christians from Timothy.
    “But if any one does not provide for his own, and specially for those of his house, he has denied the faith, and is worse than the unbeliever.”
    That’s on YOU. You don’t really believe in free trade. You don’t really believe in America first, or good jobs, or any of it. You don’t take care of those in your own house in America first.

    • FriendlyGoat

      China does the shipping and ships $950 million to $1.1 billion worth of goods to America every day which is why slightly less money is electronically transferred from America back to China every day. The value of what China sends here is greater than the value of the money returned to China. This is why this trade occurs. American corporations make more sales and more profit by selling Chinese goods here than by buying and selling things made in America. Not only that, American consumers are perfectly happy with the goods they buy from China and many other countries—–due to the prices and value involved. I’m not trying to be sarcastic or smart aleck with you, but we need to all be honest about why all this takes place. For all the faux carping one might hear, the common man here actually does like China fine. That’s why nearly every one of them buys things from China.

      • The 900mil to 1 bil per day is the surplus. Imagine you come to my house and I sell you some vegetables from my garden and some junk from my garage and then you give me the keys to your car and your tablet. That’s the nature of the US-china relationship 🙂 that’s why China has such near a billion per day surplus. American consumers don’t really get a choice in the matter. Are you really trying to blame people with no money and no power? I thought you pretended to be the liberal guy here?

        Did American consumers have a choice when Chinese Lenovo bought very good IBM electronics parts manufacturing jobs and over the next two years ship them out of America and fired so many Americans?

        • FriendlyGoat

          I understand it’s the net surplus, but the reason it is taking place is the same. Corporations here are making money off of what they buy from China (and other countries) and resell.

          I am a liberal guy here, but I try to be honest as all liberals should. If people and companies—-IN CAPITALISM—-did not think they were getting their money’s worth with Chinese goods, they would not buy them. Before we can solve the balance of payments issues or the jobs issues, we need to know what drives the whole boat.

          • I don’t know if you are. You sound like a standard Democrat or Republican loving international corporations. You talking about international companies. What’s good for them is not necessarily good for Americans. Losing well paying jobs in manufacturing and instead having to take a lower wage retail job because the factory near the home where they have a mortgage on closed. You must be one of the least liberal, liberals that I know lol. You’re trying to tell us that corporations are better indicators then Main Street, and that a yearly outflow of cash is OK.

          • FriendlyGoat

            It’s not a matter of what I “sound like”. Commerce takes place because two sides engage in it. For the most, it is not the United States government buying from China. It is free enterprise buying from China. We have to face the fact that “free enterprise” itself (and the global economy, for that matter) does not care whether jobs are in the USA or in China. Liberals have to be smart enough and honest enough to operate inside such realizations. Only gullible conservatives in this country—–being played for votes—– think we can give international corporations THE MOON and control them at the same time. Walmart, Dollar Tree and Harbor Freight Tools will most likely be rewarded with tax cuts and deregulation by the Party which tells people it will “bring the manufacturing jobs back” to America.

          • AnonymoussSoldier

            That’s all a function of national policy making. It has very much to do with government. Free enterprise? Is it free enterprise to have a Chinese state backed firm buy up a private American company and dismantle it and send jobs back to china? No. no it’s not. That’s what he’s telling you with the Lenovo-IBM example.

          • FriendlyGoat

            Do you think I’m not talking to real leader of China here? I mean, that name is the real deal (just reversed for deep cover), no?

          • AnonymoussSoldier

            It’s just westernized with the family name last. Really we have no idea. Could be him. I could be Xi.

          • FriendlyGoat

            You too? Wow!

          • Anthony

            FG, TAI has been inundated with both Bots and Thread movers; use that intelligence capably.

          • Tsk. You talking about intelligence? This piece opens by scaring the reader about some anti democratic countries and their influence. AMERICA. Say it again. AMERICA and EU and AUS support Saudi and China and Russia and Vietnam and many other non democracies. So the whole premise is WRONG. Got it 🙂 ?

          • Anthony

            Jinping Xi (if you are indeed a real human and not a paid troll), the Pacific region could well benefit from your observations/contributions more than TAI’s subscribers.

          • Uh huh. That sounds kind of like a yes. I think you got it:) good. Just please, Anthony, do your part and make sure to call out authors like this one when the premise is made in error.

          • Anthony

            Calling out all my life Xi!

          • seattleoutcast

            See your comment below. Notice how this doesn’t relate to the authors premise?

          • Anthony

            Res ipsa loquitur.

    • Gary Hemminger

      Please remove the post above. It has nothing to do with the subject at hand. As for the subject at hand, I have my doubts that anything done in Maine is going to help with our political polarization. The reason for my doubts has nothing to do with Maine and everything to do with the American electorate. I have never witnessed a more hostile, uneducated, bigoted electorate in all of my 57 years of life. The electorate in this country does not deserve democracy. They deserve what they get, which is zombie politicians of the far left and far right that are capital S stupid. There is no way with an electorate like this that any solution is going to produce the results we would like. The people deserve the leaders they get. I give up on American’s. They have no knowledge of their own unique history and culture.

      • It has everything to do with it because the premise is wrong. Glad I could help you

      • FriendlyGoat

        In this comment section, it’s no longer terribly important whether posts are exactly on topic or not. As for our electorate, not too much is wrong except that religious people recently went crazy embracing every mean thing but truth on most subjects.
        Pull their heads out of the ditch and we’ll muddle through/

        • seattleoutcast

          Do you mean the religions of Marxism, of Extreme Environmentalism, of Social Justice and of Hyper Globalism? If so, I agree with you.

          • FriendlyGoat

            No. But “good morning” to you too.

          • Anthony
          • FriendlyGoat

            Thanks.

            1) For the Roy Moore problem, I’d accept “whatever works” to avoid him and even flip a seat to Dem in the Senate. But, I’m not particularly confident that Alabama will not elect him anyway—–in spite of the current flap. Or, I’m not particularly confident that the Republicans will not otherwise find a way to delay the seating of a Dem senator, even if one is elected.

            2) We gotta think Donald Trump is now saying to himself, “I TOLD those idiots to stick with Luther Strange”.

            3) As for the gist of these two articles, you know that I’m short on patience with what evangelicals have recently done in politics. Whether it is helpful for “the left” to try to paint them as backward hillbillies in the sexual realm is—-in my mind—-questionable.
            It will sell to some readers (who are already left-leaning), but dissing the fervent is only a workable idea if you know you can bring enough other voters out of the woodwork to overcome them in elections. In the event that might not work, I’m more of the mind of looking for ways to move Christians from political right to political left just for the sake of honesty about issues.

            4) Personal note. I never had any sisters and I never had any daughters. I was married young (barely 20) to a girl my own age and we just passed the 46th anniversary. Since I have no experience with dating younger women or raising younger women, I just leave those subjects to other people.

          • Anthony

            Yes, you informed me about your family (marriage) situation years ago – a very happy and productive arrangement if I recall (inclusive of goats). I not sure either referenced articles are attempting to shame any group particularly rather than shed more information on a little know practice among some perhaps. Who ever really knows what current occupant thinks relative to our constitutional arrangement. There’s no Roy Moore problem but a Character problem as I referenced in response to Larry Diamond’s essay.

            Finally, my two takeaways from both articles are: 1) everyone assumed this was an isolated, fringe issue, it isn’t; 2)Donald Trump may be an adulterer and a heathen, but evangelicals stuck by him even after the Access Hollywood tape for a reason… that he is ultimately more one of their own than a liberal, culturally decent man of the cloth.

          • FriendlyGoat

            Evangelicals stuck (stick) with Trump—-IMHO—-for the same reason they stick with John Wayne or Chuck Norris or Clint Eastwood. They are looking for someone bigger or tougher than themselves to kick the asses of their enemies on their behalf. The fact that lying on every subject is involved does not bother them anymore.

          • Anthony

            You mentioned Chuck Norris and brought to mind a very dear friend grew up with him when he owned a restaurant in MidWest). That aside, your point has been made elsewhere: “so many people in so many other areas of the country watch with dismay and existential alarm Trump’s Twitter hijinks, his petty feuds, his penchant for butting into areas where the president has no explicit, policy-relevant role. All of that only animates his supporters here. For them, Trump is their megaphone. He is the scriptwriter. He is a singularly effective, intuitive creator of a limitless loop of grievance and discontent that keeps them in absolute lockstep.”

            Reference the above quote and this to your point (and recognize parallel): https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2017/11/08/donald-trump-johnstown-pennslyvania-supporters-215800

          • StudentZ

            I know I’m not your intended audience, but I enjoyed the last Washington Monthly article you posted on Appalachia. I can’t remember where you posted that link, though, so I thought I’d just mention it here. Thanks for sharing.

          • Anthony
      • seattleoutcast

        I personally believe that the zombie electorate came about when Washington decided to hand out the spoils to their favorites. If the job of your representative is to loot the treasury for your personal cause/belief/bank account, then you will vote based only on that instead of any common sense. Just my two cents.

    • Unelected Leader

      Of course standard, corporatist Republicans and Democrats are but two sides of the same coin. But that’s not the direction the country is moving politically. The guy, whether it’s truthful or not, railing against more international trade deals, talking about tariffs, talking about trade deficits won the election. This was coming from both the right and the left. Small wonder because it has hurt everyone no matter what they feel about hot topic social issues like abortion and guns.

      • I have no doubt that you’re right about that with the people. But you think Trump even told half of the truth? Donald loves China and so does his daughter. They make their stuff here. Ivanka teaches the kids some Mandarin. Perhaps the most important thing is Kushner:) he made one of the worst real estate deals in history buying the building in manhattan for more than its worth….and right before the crash hahaha. He’s hoping for some Chinese finance.

        We were going to do it too via Anbang and overpay. But Chinese pulled out because it was just so corrupt and looks bad. You know we do care about our image, us Chinese, now he cannot service the debt on this terrible deal.

        • Unelected Leader

          I agree with you completely about Kushner. It’s really just a matter of fact. However, the jury is still out on Trump. I’ll be the first to criticize him three years from now in 2020 if he has flip-flopped and done next to nothing on Trade other than kill the absurd TPP. Unfortunately, even if all we get from Trump was the killing of absurd TPP and the unbelievably ridiculous pile of feces called the Paris Climate Accord then it was worth it. That’s just how horrible the corrupt DNC was. HRC loved both of those things.

  • Anthony

    “The American crisis (degradation of our politics) is, at it root, a crisis of character. Yes, many other forces and phenomena are in play: the crash of 2008; technologically driven changes to the economy, gerrymandering and sociological divisions between coast and heartland, urban and rural life, cultural clashes over the norms of marriage, drug use, and religious liberty; wars that have not gone well; the splintering of national media into vehement electronically bound communities of self-righteousness, the decay of the political parties as instruments for integrating and reconciling differences; poor national-level leadership and the accidents of personality. But it is character that remains the issue….” (Eliot Cohen)

    In fact and to Larry Diamond’s point, the challenge is not just Maine promising electoral example but a reclaiming of the virtues that make free government possible – beginning with character (a fundamental how to in reversing our degrading politics).

    • seattleoutcast

      Much of this comes from the notion that a small area on the east coast can somehow manage the economics and culture of 300 million people. Those urbane San Franciscans think they know what’s better than rural Kansans, and vice versa.

      The wise course is to allow each state to have more autonomy. This will add flexibility to our ossified institutions.

      • Anthony

        Your comment is self-justifying and not referencing Larry Diamond’s premise. But, thanks anyway.

        • seattleoutcast

          I am replying to your comment. I guess that isn’t allowed in your rule book.

          • Anthony

            You have a grievance, carry it elsewhere.

          • CosmotKat

            Anthony at what time do you cease being such a haughty pr*ck? It seems you cannot tolerate an opposing point of view especially if that POV is in response to your commentary. These cites exist to spur debate, but due to your intellectual cowardice this is often where spirited debate goes to die. It is equally repugnant that your preferred response is to dismiss those who challenge you and then to accuse thoem with pernicious accusations of harassment and stalking. Perhaps it’s you who should cease and desist from putting your narrow minded thoughts on your keyboard and stick to reading in silence.

          • Anthony

            Out from under that “proverbial rock” , huh, internet stalker (rhetorical question, so disappear without answering though improbable). Vanish!

          • CosmotKat

            Thanks for once again proving my point.

          • Anthony

            You make same point across internet, get a life stalker (Troll) – Importantly, I have “by passed your commentary deliberately” and reply (sometimes) only when you unceasingly harass Me. Again (for umpteenth time), Vanish!

          • Tom

            If you don’t want people to reply to your comments, don’t post them in a public forum. This is not a difficult concept.

          • Anthony

            Tom, I’ve been patient with you because of your youth (you’re about 28/29) but don’t reveal both your immaturity and pique so ridiculously. By the way,I write when and where I choose – many have sacrificed for that privilege – but to quote FriendlyGoat you can block and not be bothered if it matters to extent you felt compelled to issue a picayune, empty statement. You’ve been well over your head here for years but the farsighted (and civil) graciously that fact due to your inexperience. I have taught young adults your age regularly.

          • Tom

            Of course you write when and where you choose. That is your right as an American and a human being. However, you seem to be distinctly unenthused about permitting others the same right to write when and where they choose. That is what I was pointing out, no more and no less.
            That you seem to regard replies to your comments that are not in enthusiastic agreement as either “stalking” or “trolling” is not a sign of broad-mindedness or maturity. However, if you wish to reside in an echo chamber consisting of yourself and FriendlyGoat, that is also your right.
            Finally, permit me to say that, given your constant descents into unwarranted condescension, I am glad that I do not meet with your approval.

          • Anthony

            Yeah, O.K. Tom. Bye.

          • Tom

            So…I’m blocked, I guess. Bye.

          • Anthony

            You’re irritable but not of the blocking sort – live life as I suggested once (and give these chat boards a respite); there’s a lot ahead of you (hopefully).

          • ——————————

            Is Anthony around? Hmmm…All I see is “This user is blocked”….

          • Psalms13626

            Um, usual stuff from him.

          • Anthony

            Why ask unless you want to give yourself attention (this user is blocked). That African trip changed very little (despite lie told) but 60 year old men with rigidly formed perceptions are quite predictable, hmmmmm.

          • Psalms13626

            I mean handle CosmoKat is right. You are an annoying pretentious kock who thinks people expressing ideas he doesn’t like should be dismissed out of hand. The problem most people have is that they actually take you seriously. A mistake I thankfully don’t make.

          • Anthony

            Go back to trolling at Bloomberg View; your hands are full there irrepressible emigre (and do yourself a favor, write to object of your support, irrepressible emigre).

          • Psalms13626

            Is that it Anthony? You follow me around and now you make fun of my first-generation immigrant background? I’m a marginalized victim class whose rights are trampled on by cis-gender white men just like you. Do you often find yourself trying to silence voices from vulnerable communities?
            Are you always so hostile to people who disagree with you? Why do you think that is? Come on, we are reasonable adults, we can talk it out.
            Please note how polite I am to your insults, despite you a privileged white man silencing my marginalized voice.

          • Anthony

            Bye JR (irrepressible emigre). Your schlock/routine amuses only the quasi self-identified disaffected or quasi self-pitying aggrieved. Here’s some advice: immerse yourself in Country’s Great History (all of it) before you believe you have something to contribute. Again, Bye (as Pait admirably says, let the Troll have the last word, if he chooses – have at it).

          • Psalms13626

            I dunno Anthony. It appears that in terms of taxation I’m contribution plenty. I’m an American Dream made flesh. completely assimilated immigrant family in the 1% percent. You like apples Anthony? how do you like them apples?

          • Fred

            And after all this time, even my blocked comments still hit a nerve. Never change Anthony; the juxtaposition of your enormous ego and diminutive intellect, expressed in that wonderfully pompous and nonsensical style of yours never ceases to amuse.

          • Fred

            He doesn’t quit being a haughty prick. He can’t; it’s all he’s got. How else could he try to cover the fact that he is utterly unable to construct, defend, or respond to an argument?

          • CosmotKat

            See below………..

  • Tom

    While finding Mr. Diamond a tad hysterical and his tendency to focus on Republicans as the source of America’s current political climate obnoxious, this actually isn’t a terrible idea–especially if applied to the primaries, instead of just the general election.

    • StudentZ

      Would you have primaries if you had rank choice voting? We don’t in Minneapolis, but we don’t really have parties in the same sense. Most candidates are DFL or they make up their own party affiliation, such as the “Rainbows Butterflies Unicorns” party (I’m not kidding). I would get rid of the primaries and have two rounds of voting like the French. I think rank choice voting is a tough sell (both parties would see it as a threat to their power and they would argue it’s too confusing for the average voter). The Minneapolis race is not really a two-party race to begin with, so there is no reason for either party to object to rank choice voting there. The presidential races, however, reliably shift power between parties every few years, fostering a kind of strange equilibrium despite the superficial bickering. That equilibrium seemingly perpetuates the concentration of wealth in the hands of an increasingly smaller minority of the population, though, while the government is able to accomplish less relative to the amount of time and money invested in politics, so I wouldn’t say it’s a functional equilibrium

  • Proud Skeptic

    I think the tendency these days to focus on Trump’s “coarseness” as the primary driving factor of our current low level of political discourse does not recognize that this deterioration has been happening for over a decade…it was going on when GWB, a nice man and standard politician, was in the White House and, most notably, during the eight years of the Obama administration. President Obama had many, many flaws but the ability to use seemingly palatable constructions in his rhetoric is often regarded as unmatched in modern times.

    Yet, even with his wonderful words, Barack Obama oversaw (and personally contributed to) a steady and steep decline in the American political tone. People may prefer nice sounding words, but they also know when they are being condescended to and divided, no matter what tone is used to convey the message.

    I am in no way supporting or defending Trump and his personality. But let’s keep an eye on the big picture here.

  • Jonathan Dembo

    In my opinion, this analysis is well-intentioned, as most such proposals are, but misses the point. It does not explain why we are drifting away from democracy and becoming more antagonistic to one another. It simply reacts to what the author observes without explaining why it is happening. Because of that it does not offer any practical solution. Let me offer a causation: government takeover of civil society. Our democratic form of government worked best when it did did very little that impacted the lives of Americans. When it mattered less, there was less to fight over in general, and the battles were more specific- like slavery versus abolition – than generic, permanent, and ideological. Today, as government at all levels takes over more and more of civil society – education, social welfare, economic activity – and regulates more and more minutely, more and more of everything it does not control directly, the battles have become more intense, the combatants (politicians, journalists, educators, businessmen, religious leaders, and voters) have more and more at risk, individually, and as representatives of wider communities. At the same time, the fantastic growth of governmental bureaucracies in recent decades has so weakened the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government, that these traditional and constitutional sources of power and authority have became me virtually useless. Congressmen do not even have time to read the bills they are voting on before they have to vote. The bureaucrats can get Congress to vote almost any way they want. Everyone else feels powerless and every battle seems to result in some new form of defeat, not a resolution of problems and a restoration of justice because of this. The cost of creating bureaucracies to administer our retirements, healthcare, environmental, educational institutions, businesses, is that they now overshadow and run roughshod over the rest of the government and the people. The President can propose, Congress can legislate, and the Courts can rule, but the FBI can leak unsubstantiated rumors of foreign entanglements to hurt presidential campaigns, can allow foreign countries to hack American political parties, can start and stop and start again political nvestigations of presidential candidates during election campaigns, can name as special prosecutor a former FBI director, to investigate the President, and to protect a dismissed FBI director, who is a close friend; the NSA can illegally release the names of Americans accidentally captured during their tapping of every electronic contact of every American; the IRS can hold up the applications for tax exemption status, of suspected “conservative” organizations for blatantly political purposes; and the EPA can seize control of any piece of land in the country that has water on or near it on the grounds that the Constitution gives to the federal government control of “navigable waters”. This spreads disrespect of the system on the part of anyone. The problem is endemic. Nothing is going to reduce the rising political conflict in America, until we get these bureaucracies under control, to reduce their heavy-handed control of daily life, and to give confidence back to people that they can actually have control over their governments.

    • StudentZ

      The ultimate irony, of course, is that the people could actually take some responsibility for their own government. However, the average voter would rather hand over power to corporate interests who stoke their egos and keep them happily distracted while plundering their bank accounts. Don’t buy the deregulation narrative. We should be cracking down on conflicts of interest and vested interests disenfranchising the public sector, which has some obligation to cater to voters, however whimsical and reactionary they may be. Don’t blame it all on the bureaucrats, some of whom are bipartisan, possess actual knowledge, and had to earn their positions. Don’t ignore the idiot at the helm (officially, anyway) who likes to undermine his own administration while the world’s leaders and (perhaps the more competent members of his party and administration) play him like a fiddle.

  • Angel Martin

    The Western political elite think that they can maintain their incompetent rule by ballot manipulation and election trickery

    Be careful what you wish for !

    In the early 1950s, in British Columbia, both the Liberal and Conservative Parties were in long term decline against the leftist, pro union CCF party. In order to extend their rule, the Liberals/Conservatives implemented a transferable ballot.

    In an “unexpected” result, the beneficiary of this change in voting was the right wing populist Social Credit Party. WAC Bennett became Premier and ruled for the next 20 years, crushing both the Liberals and Conservatives, and becoming the alternative to the CCF/NDP.

  • Trajan Fanzine

    “Since 1947, the voting record of the average Republican in Congress has
    moved dramatically to the right, the average Democratic voting record
    has moved less dramatically but still significantly to the left,”

    Uh yea, peace out dude,enjoy your Soma….

  • Trajan Fanzine

    “Since 1947, the voting record of the average Republican in Congress has
    moved dramatically to the right, the average Democratic voting record
    has moved less dramatically but still significantly to the left,…”

    Uh huh, peace out dude and enjoy the Soma

  • Attila_the_hun

    “Since 1947, the voting record of the average Republican in Congress has
    moved dramatically to the right, the average Democratic voting record
    has moved less dramatically but still significantly to the left”

    What a crock. America has been leaning toward socialism since the beginning of the 20th century. According to the writer when American people try to get back to traditional center right individualism. Is a problem. WOW !!!!!
    I guess this writer missed physics 101 in high school. Every action generates equal opposite reaction. If committed closet socialist Wilson and FDR didn’t try to make The USA in the mold of USSR may be The Republicans would go far to the right.

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