By Robert A. Vella

Bones, the skeletal remains of dead creatures, can be a treasure trove.  To archaeologists and anthropologists, an important discovery of human bones can mark the height of one’s career.  Scavenger species, such as vultures, find sustenance by picking the meat off bones.  The mighty Komodo dragon is perfectly happy with a meal of nothing but bones.  And, gourmets will pay big bucks for a classic culinary preparation of bone marrow.

Unfortunately though, the bones of democracy provide no treasure nor any nourishment.  It is only the evidence of death.

Still, democracy isn’t like a single organism.  It is more like a species, having numerous individuals and regional variations.  Seeing the bones of democracy from time to time and from place to place is not out of the ordinary.  Democracy has had many fits and starts throughout its history.  Where it has died is always followed by a rebirth sometime or somewhere else.  Assessing its health is similar to assessing the overall health of any biological species.  All one need do is study the vibrancy and extent of its populations.  If its numbers and distribution are significantly declining, a species is typically considered as being threatened with extinction.

Democracy is now facing extinction.  Its bones are piling up everywhere.

In the Middle East, where less than five years ago emerged a region-wide democratic movement known as the Arab Spring, democracy is in shambles.  For all practical purposes, it is gone in Egypt, replaced yet again by a military-backed authoritarian regime.  Turkey, the essential key to Euro-Muslim harmony, parades its theocratic authoritarianism under the guise of a now hollowed-out democracy.  Today, it is Tunisia which stands alone as a truly pluralistic democracy in the Islamic world, yet the forces of sectarianism constantly seek to imperil it as would a highly infectious disease.

Perhaps the world’s most eminent expression of democracy, the United Nations, is currently under fire for violating its most sacred democratic precepts.  From Alfred de Zayas’ Human Rights CornerU.N. Manipulated by Transnational Corporations, New Study Charges:

UNITED NATIONS, Sep 22 2015 (IPS) – The United Nations, which is commemorating its 70th anniversary next week punctuated by a summit meeting of world leaders, is facing charges of being politically manipulated by big business and transnational corporations (TNCs) – some openly violating labour rights and environmental standards the world body so vociferously advocates.

A new study from Global Policy Forum (GPF), released Tuesday, warns that the United Nations is “embarking on a new era of selective multilateralism, shaped by intergovernmental policy impasses and a growing reliance on corporate-led solutions to global problems.”

“The changing funding patterns of the U.N. and its funds, programmes and specialized agencies reflect these alarming trends.”

Some of the key features, the study points out, include the growing gap between the scale of global problems and the (financial) capacity of the U.N. to solve them; the growing share of non-core contributions and earmarked trust funds in U.N. finance; increased reliance on the corporate sector; and the outsourcing of funding and decision-making to exclusive global partnerships.


Asked who should be blamed for the current state of affairs, Jens Martens, Director Global Policy Forum and co-author of the study, told IPS member States have failed to provide sufficient and reliable funding to the U.N. system.

“This situation is compounded by the insistence over many years of Western governments, led by the USA, on a doctrine of zero-growth to the U.N. assessed budget,” he said.

The result has been increasing reliance on voluntary and non-core funding, as well as a growing number of ad hoc and disparate partnerships between the U.N. and the business sector, Martens added.

The U.N. Centre on TNCs (UNCTC), which was established in 1975 primarily to monitor TNCs, was dismantled in 1992.

Some of the initiatives to hold corporations accountable to the public started in the 1970s, including discussions about a Code of Conduct for Transnational Corporations.

But this, and all subsequent efforts, met with vigorous opposition from TNCs and their lobby groups, and they ultimately failed.

And, while democracy remains functional in selected western nations such as Canada, Australia, Japan, and those in northern Europe, it has become quite shaky in its foundational countries – the U.S. and U.K. where citizen participation and voter turnout are in decline, and where the practice of corporatism has become the preferred method of governance.  In a cogent editorial this week, Matthew Yglesias described how the demise of democracy is manifesting itself in one of America’s two major political parties.  From VoxDemocrats are in denial. Their party is actually in deep trouble.:

The Democratic Party is in much greater peril than its leaders or supporters recognize, and it has no plan to save itself.

Yes, Barack Obama is taking a victory lap in his seventh year in office. Yes, Republicans can’t find a credible candidate to so much as run for speaker of the House. Yes, the GOP presidential field is led by a megalomaniacal reality TV star. All this is true — but rather than lay the foundation for enduring Democratic success, all it’s done is breed a wrongheaded atmosphere of complacence.

The presidency is extremely important, of course. But there are also thousands of critically important offices all the way down the ballot. And the vast majority — 70 percent of state legislatures, more than 60 percent of governors, 55 percent of attorneys general and secretaries of state — are in Republicans hands. And, of course, Republicans control both chambers of Congress. Indeed, even the House infighting reflects, in some ways, the health of the GOP coalition. Republicans are confident they won’t lose power in the House and are hungry for a vigorous argument about how best to use the power they have.

Not only have Republicans won most elections, but they have a perfectly reasonable plan for trying to recapture the White House. But Democrats have nothing at all in the works to redress their crippling weakness down the ballot. Democrats aren’t even talking about how to improve on their weak points, because by and large they don’t even admit that they exist.

Instead, the party is focused on a competition between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton over whether they should go a little bit to Obama’s left or a lot to his left, options that are unlikely to help Democrats down-ballot in the face of an unfriendly House map and a more conservative midterm electorate. The GOP might be in chaos, but Democrats are in a torpor.

How can this be?  With millions more Americans more inclined towards Democratic Party policies than Republican Party policies, and with two consecutive and convincing presidential victories to their credit, how could Democrats be so underrepresented at the state and local level?  The answer lays in the disproportionate impact of civic disengagement and voter apathy among the populace.  Liberal and progressive citizens have generally withdrawn from politics whereas conservative citizens have become increasingly energized.  The high national profile of presidential campaigns has mitigated this disparity somewhat, but it is unclear how much longer that might continue.  You see, the Republican Party motivates its base by speaking to it ideologically, whereas the Democratic Party generally refuses to do so.  In fact, Democrats don’t seem to have any discernible unifying ideology at all.  A penchant for technocracy appears to be the only common element among their leadership.

Take a look at this year’s upcoming general election in my blue state of Washington.  Of the 58 elected offices on the ballot in my county, 41 (nearly 71%) of the candidates are running unopposed!  Reading their bios in the Voter Pamphlet is like reading the bios of evangelical preachers at a Revivalist convention.  In other words, there isn’t much difference between them and none of them reflect my values as a progressive American.

The bones of democracy – there’s not much meat left to chew on these days, and there will likely be even less in the years ahead.


14 thoughts on “Picking through the bones of democracy

  1. Yet another really insightful, well-written piece! Keep it up! Just be glad you do not live in an Ohio County like ours where there is but ONE elected official who is a Democrat. All except the Probate Judge are Rs of the type of our CongressCritter, Jim Jordan. It is a context like ours that make me understand an apocalyptic hope. No, I don’t expect some Divine intervention, but it is quite easy to understand what John of Patmos must have felt like!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I don’t really understand the US voting system, it never seems to rise much above Jerry Springer mentality in a posh suit. Not that South Africa is a paragon of virtue – Sheesh!
    I thin what everypne really wants to know – especially down here – is what the hell is going to happen to ISIS and will anything be done by the Big Players to sort this crap out?


    • >>> “the US voting system… never seems to rise much above Jerry Springer mentality…”

      That’s apropos.

      The Middle East is a sectarian quagmire of biblical proportions (pardon the pun). What can the big players do to sort it out?


    • Thanks, Victoria. It’s a difficult and complex problem. The populist Left is so fractured, so narrowly focused on a wide array of individual issues, that it is incapable now of applying its vast potential political power. We can make noise from time to time, and we can advance singular causes, but that’s about it. This perfectly suits establishment interests who have gone to great lengths to keep us divided.

      Assuming no unifying calamity which would trigger widespread revolt or revolution (which will happen eventually, but which would serve no one’s interests), the only mechanisms available to solidify the Left are for it to rally around a charismatic leader (which I do not recommend) or a base ideology relatable and comprehensible to everyday people (which this blog has offered in “A Blueprint for the Left”).


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