Thu. May 26th, 2022

WHEN Joseph Schumpeter argued for representative democracy, he enumerated several conditions that must be present in order for it to succeed.

In order for representative democracy to work, the human material of politics, referring to both citizens and politicians, must be of sufficiently high quality.

The effective range of political decisions must not be extended too far where many decisions should be made by competent experts instead of elected politicians. Thus, this requires a dedicated and professional bureaucracy that must have its own power.

There must be political maturity and rationality, manifested in citizens and politicians, who must be morally resistant to corruption and must exhibit self-control in their criticism of government. And since politics is a contentious domain, there must be an assurance that political contestations are accompanied by tolerance for differences of opinion.

We are now facing a political landscape that, for all intents and purposes, fails in everything that was enumerated by Schumpeter. The quality of the human material for politics is by no means of high quality and in fact, is ridden by political illiteracy, irrationality and mediocrity not only among citizens, but among many elected officials.

The power of bureaucracies is being usurped by elected people who are unfortunately nonexperts even as bureaucracies are also infected by corruption, inefficiency and lack of professionalism. Corruption is widely rampant not only among politicians, but also among the citizenry as they enable and feed this corruption.

There seems to be no self-restraint in the way people exercise their free speech rights when they criticize government, as this is based more on irrational partisanship rather than on rational dialogue. This renders into the political landscape a fatal level of toxicity where people end up being bigoted, idolatrous and intolerant of political differences.

The onset of the coronavirus disease of 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic has provided the backdrop for enabling and enhancing the global unraveling of democracy. Political divisions among people were further heightened on the polarizing issues of mask and vaccine mandates.

Reveling in a discourse of rights and on the existence of limited government, many citizens fail to confront the seriousness of the fact that the enemy is not their governments, but an invisible virus that does not respect political preferences and has no political party. In countries where governments rely on science, and where elected officials cede the ground for decision making to medical and public health experts, political partisans instigate ordinary citizens to doubt science.

Meanwhile, in other countries, elected officials defy science to issue populist directives to please their citizens.

The very concept of democracy is indeed now unraveling in the face of a global pandemic. In the United States, a majority of the people are blaming President Joseph Biden for things that are caused by the pandemic, such as its impact on the supply chain and consequently on inflation.

Yet, the conservative side of America is fueling the recalcitrance of people in getting vaccinated and practicing safety measures, such as the wearing of masks, spurred by the very same people who now lead the charge against Biden, the Republicans.

And you have a conservative Supreme Court that just denied Biden his vaccine mandate initiatives for corporations.

In Europe, you have protests against strict vaccine mandates riding on the grounds of being assaults on human rights, at a time when record infections are threatening the social and political order.

These anti-vaccine demonstrations, even leading to riots directed toward the government, are propelled by citizens who assert their right of choice even if the free exercise of such right would have serious consequences not only on themselves, but on the health of others, as well as on the public health system.

And the anti-vaccine mandate debate has slowly entered the Philippine political landscape, with the resistance not only of politicians, particularly those running for office, but also of ordinary people toward the government policy of prohibiting the unvaccinated from going out and riding public transportation.

This was seen in the curse-laden rant by that woman captured on tape, launching an irrational tirade against government, but definitely spurred by her strong opposition to the vaccine requirement.

What is lost in this debate is that while everyone has a choice not to get vaccinated, the government has a constitutional duty to protect itself and the people from threats, which at present take the form of a viral pandemic.

There is an overemphasis on rights of individuals, without looking at the collective good and the public interest, and to ensure that more people get vaccinated to reduce the risk of severe disease and hospitalization that in turn becomes a burden to the capacity of the public health system.

Science is now being sidelined to benefit a populist agenda, hoping that it would resonate with voters, in the same way that conservative Republican senators like Rand Paul pander to their base in the US by attacking scientists like Anthony Fauci.

The US is actually becoming a perfect exhibit for the unraveling of democracy. I cannot but be dumbfounded by the utter irrationality of US mainstream and so-called independent voters.

President Biden and the Democrats cannot pass legislation, such as the social infrastructure and voting rights bills that are good for the people and are supported by a majority even in red states. This is because Republican senators oppose them, and a couple of conservative Democratic senators enable them by opposing a change in Senate rules.

Now, these independents, and even some Democrat-registered voters, are blaming Biden and the Democrats and want to punish them in November during the midterm elections by electing Republicans, the very same people who are opposing these pieces of legislation, and the very same party that enabled the big lie that led to the insurrection that nearly toppled US democracy.

It has been said that revolutions devour their own children. But it seems that in the pandemic-disarticulated world of the present, it is democracy that is unraveling, imploding and is devouring itself.

Democracy EQ and IQ

Simply put, democracy deficit exists when supposedly democratic political institutions fail to perform in the way they are supposed to perform, while illiberal democracy exists when despite having elections, the people are alienated from the governing structures that are supposed to represent their interests.

These are structural deficiencies that are used to describe political systems that are not authoritarian but end up woefully undermining the ability of government to serve and advance public interest.

I offer as definition of democracy emotional quotients (EQ) as the capacity of citizens to understand, use and manage their emotions in relation to the existence of political difference and conflict. A positive democracy EQ would be characterized by being able to communicate and empathize with those who have different opinions and positions.

On the other hand, I define democracy intelligence quotients (IQ) as a measure of an individual’s ability to reason and solve political differences and conflict. It is political literacy overlaid by a robust understanding not only of the theoretical and conceptual but also of the practical and operational dimensions of power and power relations.

It is closer to being street smart in dealing with political questions, and less about having knowledge honed from armchair scholarship and having an ivory-tower doctorate.

And it is here that I will posit that our problem in our politics is not only because we have democratic deficits or that illiberal democracy reigns. It is also because there is an overabundance of citizens with inadequate or unhealthy levels of democracy EQ and IQ.

Not only that, democracy IQ is undermined by low levels of political literacy among ordinary citizens, but also by the inability of those with high levels of knowledge about political institutions and processes to translate these into practical and authentic solutions.

More fatal is that we have a citizenry that is predominantly unable to handle differences of opinion, thus diminishing their democracy EQ.

One only has to read the ongoing political discourse in social media channels to witness the level of political illiteracy among people. But more depressing is when those who are politically literate are trapped in our own echo chambers and ivory towers, as we continue to offer textbook explanations and jaded or outdated theories and frameworks, further undermined when we are deeply engaged in our own partisan biases, which many of us would conveniently deny or hide.

Perhaps in a veiled attempt to spin hope for a preferred candidate who is languishing at the bottom of these surveys, what is ignored is the financial effects of pre-election surveys in the commitment of funds to candidates, and the psychological effects it offers to people, many of whom decide on the basis of winnability.

It is not surprising that analysts who are feigning objectivity, despite their partisan leanings, would continue to believe in the convenient narrative that early leaders are doomed to lose steam, thereby ignoring the changing technology of political campaigning and marketing.

It becomes more depressing when one is confronted by the level of democracy EQ, or the lack of it, among citizens when they interact with those who disagree with their political choices. In an ideal democracy, people are supposed to vote for the best candidates of their choice, and it is the job of candidates to convince voters that they are the better choice, and for their supporters to convince others that their choice is the better one.

Key to this is respecting differences, and staying away from vitriolic, ad hominem tactics.

Read: 35 percent in May 2021 to just 8 in December

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