From America to Israel to the EU: Liberal Democracy Is in Distress

In America, Israel, Britain and throughout Europe, a political-economic agenda that has ceased to function is causing an outbreak of forces that undermine the social order.

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, speaks during the final day of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, U.S., July 21, 2016.
Carolyn Kaster, AP

The battle over America 2016 is different from all the battles fought since World War II. This time many Republicans – from the wealthiest decile – will remain at home, or even vote for the Democratic candidate. This time many Democrats – from the poorest percentiles – will vote for the Republican candidate. For the first time ever, highly educated people and minorities will vote out of a sense that American democracy is in danger. For the first time ever, white men will vote as a threatened, mobilized minority group.

This time two different Americas, which dont understand each other and dont listen to each other, will vote out of a conviction that they are in a war for survival.

The American crisis is based on two developments. On the one hand, the uncontrolled, unbridled capitalism of the global era cannot provide the minimum social justice required to preserve a free, coherent, stable, functioning society. The American dream has been shaken. The principle of social mobility has been worn down. The status of masses of workers in American society is much worse than it was at the time of Dwight Eisenhower or Richard Nixon. The middle class no longer has confidence that tomorrow will be better than yesterday and that their children will have more than they do.

On the other hand, the current generations discourse of rights and identity politics create an unrealistic expectation of equality. The feeling of entitlement is stronger than the sense of duty. Theres zero tolerance for any form of social stratification. The spirit of the time is one of resistance to any power, privilege, hegemony or hierarchy. As a result, almost any other is seen as a stranger, as someone threatening and aggressive.

Between these two developments there is a built-in contradiction. When reality points to one pole and consciousness to another, the air fills with gaseous fumes, which turn into a real blaze due to a third development – the social networks.

The ability of hundreds of millions of people to express their frustrations daily creates a deepening mood of disquiet and discomfort. The new regime of virtual direct democracy, based on a permanent referendum, restricts the ability to govern. When the lack of social justice and the demand for social justice meet the constant storm of the social networks, the result is a political tsunami. The result is Bernie Sanders on one hand and Donald Trump on the other. Angry black men and angry white men, angry women, angry youth, angry adults and all-encompassing anger. The center is crumbling, society is torn apart, the state is weakening and losing the capacity to direct a responsible, rational policy.

The crisis isnt only American. In Israel, Britain and throughout Europe, a kind of Western Spring has taken hold. A political-economic agenda that has ceased to function has led to an outbreak of forces that undermine societal order. Because of this, liberal democracy is in distress. Because of this, rationality is in crisis. Theres a growing attack on the political freedom that failed and on the economic freedom that failed and on reason itself. Political clowns become stars. Inciters and demagogues become heroes. The viruses of the reality-show culture are attacking society and turning the public arena into a circus ring.

So when Hillary Clinton heads out to the battle of her life in Philadelphia tonight, she will also be heading out to the battle of our life. The question of the next 100 days will be neither personal nor ideological. The question will be whether the Clintonite elite, which didnt do a bad job running the world and gave it peace and prosperity, will be able to recognize its mistakes, fix them and thereby defuse the rage. Also, whether the wealthy and well-educated will have the wisdom to stretch out their hand to the large, widespread population of the under-capitalized, the under-educated and the victims of globalization.

Only if the Democrats become attentive again to the distress and pain of the majority will they be able to save democracy.