Francis Fukuyama: “It’s not too late to reverse America’s political decay”

10:30 05.03.2024 •

Pic.: The Financial Times

American institutions have been decaying steadily for some time, and are now at a major crisis point, writes the famous political scientist Francis Fukuyama at ‘The Financial Times’ from London.

Political decay occurs when a society’s institutions fail to adapt to changing circumstances. This has been going on for a generation, and is now culminating in an enormous crisis that will play out over the next eight months. The US system is built around a complex set of check-and-balance institutions that make it easy for minorities in politics to thwart the will of majorities. When these institutions are combined with extreme political polarisation, they create governmental paralysis and an inability to perform basic functions like passing a yearly budget.

Some of these rigidities are built into the US constitution. The electoral college dramatically over-represents inhabitants of smaller states while the Senate is a huge source of unequal representation. Wyoming, with a population of less than a million, gets two senators, as does California with almost 40mn residents. Routine legislation requires supermajorities to pass, meaning that 40 out of 100 senators can block anything they don’t like.

In today’s polarised America, Maga Republicans are inclined to veto simply for the sake of undermining the other side. They have been pushing for stronger security measures on the southern border for months. Biden essentially gave in to their demands in order to get funding for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan through, at which point Trump, still only a candidate, intervened to veto the deal because he didn’t want the president to get any credit.

Several other aspects of the American political order have contributed to polarisation. Presidentialism locks in the winner for an unalterable four-year term, and that person can be turned out only through impeachment, which is an extraordinarily difficult process. One of Trump’s biggest advantages today is Biden’s age and general unpopularity. In a parliamentary system, the party elite could move to replace a failing leader with someone more electable, but this can’t happen in the US.

All of these problems could be solved through reform. States could require electoral votes be allocated on a proportional basis. Plurality voting could be replaced by rank-choice voting that would require voters to specify second- and third-place preferences and facilitate the emergence of third parties. The country could place stronger restrictions on campaign finance, and the requirement for 60-vote supermajorities in the Senate could be abolished. This list doesn’t even touch on major constitutional reforms, such as abolition of the electoral college or changes to the power of the Senate, For now, these lie in the realm of fantasy.

Frustrating as these problems are, they are only the tip of a much larger iceberg. While Trump has been an extraordinarily skilful demagogue, what is driving this turn to the hard right are the voters themselves. There are many “normal” Republican leaders who understand why populist policies are bad for the country, but they nonetheless support them because they live in fear of their own base.

One of the biggest transformations that has occurred in US society over the past decade has been a revolution in the moral evaluation of the country itself. For most of the country’s history, its people believed in some version of American exceptionalism according to which the country would be an inspiration to oppressed peoples around the world.

This used to be particularly true for conservatives, but today Maga Republicans believe that their country is pervaded by moral corruption. Belief in US democracy has been replaced by admiration for strong men and authoritarian governments overseas. Trump praises China’s Xi Jinping and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un for ruling their people with an iron hand.

The Republican party has returned to its pre-1941 isolationism, but it is isolationism with a difference. Back then, isolationists believed that America was pure and shouldn’t be tainted by association with foreign countries. Today, they believe their own country needs purification.

The Democrats have a lot of work to do to wake people up to the magnitude of the challenge the country faces. If that happens, there is a possibility that, rather than eking out another narrow victory, they will win decisively. If that happens, they can begin to think about reforms that will reverse the process of decay. Believers in a classically liberal America need to reduce the ability of political minorities to stymie majorities, and streamline our impossibly complex processes and procedures to make government more effective. But first, they need to win.

…One gets the impression that this publication in the English press is a direct interference in the American elections on the part of England, which provided its newspaper for such an article. Isn’t it?


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