On the anniversary of the assault on the United States Capitol, the author reflects on the future of democracies in the liberal order. The gaps that must be closed are three: gender, geographic and generational. All this in a framework in which the difference between truth and lies is blurred.
It marks the first anniversary of the assault on the United States Capitol, a day of infamy in recent United States history.
In the light of those events, it is worth reflecting on the future of democracies in the liberal order. Before pointing out threats from authoritarian or illiberal regimes, democratic countries must examine their internal weaknesses.
I observe three great gaps that I call the three G’s of the crisis of democracy. Namely: gender, geography and generations. To these, we must add a fourth transversal idea, which is the battle for the facts, in the correct expression of Maria Ressa, journalist and Nobel Peace Prize 2020. Let’s see the gaps.
The first gap is gender. Equality policies have been installed in democracies and serve to correct structural problems in different areas.
Significant progress has been made in the last twenty years. Now, however, we must broaden the perspective and think that individual identities, the way we have to be and perceive ourselves, is part of the political heritage.
Protecting identity consists of the right to be different in public space and feel recognized as a citizen. Public policies must be promoted that allow everyone to be in the real or digital public arena, exercise the right to vote, lead social initiatives and balance representation in political institutions. A democracy of white men, with higher education and good jobs, expresses a very poor vision of the world today.
The second G refers to geography. Inequality between territories is growing: there are first-rate and second-rate cities, as well as urban centers and rural areas. The concentration of goods and services creates economies of scale (employment, wages, political representation) and relational inequality (access to education and culture).
Without countermeasures, the territorialization of inequality will have effects on infrastructure (mobility, education, hospitals, water, waste collection), on the effective organization of power in the last mile (social solidarity networks or mafias) and on electoral behavior (populist and anti-globalization vote).
In this challenge, demography, urban geography and social cohesion policies converge, three pillars of the political economy that deserve attention in parliament.
The third dimension G is generational. Young people enter the labor market late and in poor conditions, delaying their social and emotional maturity. Disaffection with the democratic system grows, as it does not offer solutions to their immediate problems.
At the other extreme, digitization leaves behind groups of older people who cannot or do not know how to handle themselves in the new environment. Without digital skills, they are dependent on their children to perform basic tasks (bank, supermarket, healthcare).
And while, in between, those over 50 are old for the job market, but young for retirement. They have difficulty retraining professionally and are not there to embark on entrepreneurial adventures. Without opportunities, the political project of Trumpism seduces them with an offer that amends the whole.
In the absence of an integrating political project, democracy and elections seem like a whim of urbanites; they are good jobs, a devastating tsunami of coexistence.
The battle for the facts
The fourth gap does not start with G, but is substantial to the political nature of democracies. If there is no consensus on what is true and what is false, the factual reality vanishes. Alternative facts, post-truth, fake news, and echo chambers are new names for lies.
What is new is that many of the liars hold public office, are journalists or work in the public sphere. They are paid professionals of lies, a booming industry.
“In dubio, pro dubio” does not consist in falsifying reality, but in creating new foundations to confuse reality, desire and emotion. Risk poses threats and objectives at the cognitive level (diffusion of ideas, institutional erosion, discussion of pluralistic values) and attitudinal judgment (practices contrary to open societies, contempt for minorities, tendency to homogenization). McIntyre explains that, in the absence of a factual reality, “politicians can challenge the facts and pay no political price for it.” It is the path of dictatorship.
In short, contemporary democracies need a review of institutional keys, norms, and political culture. Without the resolution of internal problems, it will be difficult to face a transformation agenda for the challenges of current globalization where, there, yes, democracies have predators lurking.
This article has been published in The Conversation
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Anniversary of the assault on the Capitol: three gaps in democracy