A Certain Fatalism Sets In

Democracy is fragile. Here's how we can protect it.

Since the beginning of time, humans have been inventing stories to make sense of the world and our place in it. Many stories have tried to imagine the beginning of time itself. Others have endeavored to unravel the secrets of life itself. As our species has increased in knowledge, stories of ever greater complexity have endeavored to join the dots between these fundamental mysteries. But despite all our knowledge, the story of the current moment in history is one that seems beyond our collective ability to understand.

In this story, a massive tsunami of wealth has swept aside the boundaries of economic common sense, carrying with it a handful of financial actors who wield power over the livelihoods of millions. This tsunami is the tool of a desperately sick patient, whose symptoms are treated by ever-increasing doses of opium. The patient is told they are well, and the doctored data proves it, but the patient slowly dies regardless. This is the neoliberal project which has enveloped the heart of the global economy, and which has stealthily propagated itself across the world. It has turned democracies into ghost towns and led to the normalization of obscene and violent rhetoric.

In the context of this dangerous and unpredictable world, the next US presidential election in 2024 is shaping up to be a contest between a corrupt, vengeful, and stupidly ambitious would-be dictator, and a boring and thoroughly compromised status quo. No matter which of these opposing flavors of neoliberal poison wins, the outcomes for democracy are grim. The best case scenario is that a new and more sensible course can be plotted after the wreckage is cleared up. But there is also a realistic possibility that the next US election could be the last one that is even marginally free and fair. What can be done to protect democracy in the next US election?

In an excellent piece in the Wall Street Journal, Peggy Noonan mused on the prospects of a Trump victory in 2024: “Trump pressed oil executives to give $1 billion for his campaign, people in the industry say”

The piece argues that Trump’s appeal to the oil industry is based on his belief that businessmen with wealth are inherently more intelligent than politicians. This is a theme running through many of Trump’s speeches. He often argues that politicians are incompetent and corrupt while businessmen are skilled and upright. This is why, according to Trump, elite educational institutions should be dismantled, and why politicians should be forbidden from becoming billionaires.

The idea that businessmen are inherently superior to politicians is a common one in some circles. After all, it is argued, businessmen build things, create jobs, and make decisions in the real world. Politicians mostly only make empty promises and fart around in the bureaucratic mud. In the neoliberal era, this belief has only intensified, with businessman-politicians seen as purifiers of the corrupt political world. That’s why Boris Johnson, a blustering and bumbling man-child, was welcomed as a strong and competent leader. It’s also why Trump, a corrupt and stupidly ambitious megalomaniac, is seen as a shrewd and honorable businessman-president.

In reality, of course, businessmen are mostly incompetent when it comes to running countries. The scandals unleashed by the Trump administration are too numerous to list here, but they range from the emoluments clause violations, to the hundreds of thousands of jobs lost due to his pointless trade wars, to the murder-suicides caused by his gutting of healthcare provisions. If businessmen were so great at running countries, then why do the countries they run, such as the UK and the US, perform so badly on so many indices of human well-being?

The idea that businessmen are competent and politicians are not is just a comforting story told by people who don&#

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