One can be forgiven if they don’t realize that the word democracy has a range of meanings that are not necessarily clear upon a superficial reading. For most Americans, there is likely a general consensus on what it means to say that we live in a democratic society or that we prefer democratic government. At the very least, democracy means that citizens choose their government. In its more expanded definitions, democratic government includes things like the rule of law, equality before the law, and a high degree of personal, political, and economic freedom.
If you pay any attention to discourse coming out of the Left, you hear a lot of talk about democratizing this or democratizing that. For example, there are calls to “democratize” wealth, science, and education. Also, if you pay attention to discourse coming out of the Left, you realize that when the Left uses a word, you cannot be sure that they’re using it with the same meaning as the common usage. In fact, it’s not a stretch to simply note that Leftist, socialist, and Marxist theory intentionally obscures the meaning of words in order to both adapt it to their purposes and make it more palatable to the public.
George Orwell was well aware of how free societies were endangered by the corruption and misuse of language. In particular, he noted that imprecision and meaningless words were dangerous for political discourse. In other words, when the Left uses words like democracy in ways that are different from and often opposed to the public’s understanding, it’s possible that bad decisions will be made. In fact, it is my argument here that we are witnessing this very thing take place in the United States.
It probably goes without saying that I reject the meanings that those on the Left attach to the word democracy. By and large, those meanings boil down to the claim that something is properly democratized if and when power, influence, and wealth are transferred from groups who the Left claims are in possession of them and transferred to those groups who the Left claims are entitled to them.
As someone with conservative, classical liberal, and libertarian political and economic views, I describe democracy as largely procedural and institutional. That is to say that a society is democratic insofar as its procedures and institutions conform to basic democratic principles: the rule of law, equality before the law, and high levels of political and economic freedom. Someone on the Left, however, would typically describe democracy in terms of ends and outcomes. That is to say that, from a Leftist perspective, a society is democratic only insofar as it achieves the outcomes demanded by the various Marxist and Critical Theories.
Stated another way: I do not object to unequal outcomes when the procedures, rules, and assumptions by which those outcomes came about where free, fair, and equally applied. Taking that one step further, I reject predetermined outcomes as a standard for democracy because achieving them, by necessity and historical example, requires unfair and unequal coercion that goes against the rule of law. It is not possible for a society to be both free and committed to predetermined outcomes. One must by necessity give way to the other. We must choose to be either perfectly equal or perfectly free.
I’m not trying to write some treatise on the meaning of democracy here. Rather, I’m expanding on some of the things I said in my previous post about the nature of the gospel as a basic political presupposition. In that post, I noted that the most basic of conclusions from a gospel perspective is that the law must apply equally to both the ruler and the ruled. The law, if it is legitimate, must be universal, not particular. That means that a political theory derived from Christian principles, at the very least, rejects the Leftist definition of what it means to be democratized.
I bring all of this up because, in recent weeks, a few alarming trends have manifested in the United States. These trends are in direct opposition to the standards of a free democratic government as I’ve outlined it.
The first of these trends is the apparent, developing habit of the White House to cut off public access to what the President of the United States is saying whenever what he’s saying involves impromptu discussions or questions.
BIDEN: “Can I ask you a question?”— RNC Research (@RNCResearch) September 13, 2021
*White House feed cuts out” pic.twitter.com/YQ9I9u3r98
The most recent example of this behavior isn’t the first time the White House has done this, as documented in a brief analysis by Sky News Australia that was posted to YouTube.
That staffers in the White House think that they can and ought to control either what the public hears from the President and what the President himself says based on “targeted messaging” is concerning enough. What’s even more concerning is the fact that the what he actually did say after the camera was cut is not included in the official White House transcript of the meeting.
This willingness on the part of the executive branch to blatantly withhold from the public information that it is entitled to is not only shocking but dangerous. And it’s not done with redacted FOIA requests but in real time. This signals several concerning implications.
First, and perhaps most concerning of all, it implies that the elected, sitting President of the United States is not, in fact, the person governing the executive branch. If someone or some group believes that it can control what the President says and then pull the plug on a live broadcast when they believe he’s about to say something that isn’t pre-approved, then whoever that person or group is, by obvious deduction, possesses more power and authority than the President. This is a subversion of our constitutional system.
Second, this implies that all of the propaganda and rhetoric about voting rights, electoral access, and democratic elections coming out of the White House and the Democrat Party are nothing but, in Orwell’s terms, meaningless words. If someone other than the elected President is ultimately in charge of the executive branch of government, then any rhetoric about electoral democracy emanating from the executive branch is less-than-truthful nonsense. It’s nonsense because elections are designed to give the people–who possess ultimate political power in the American constitutional system–the final say.
The next troubling development is the evidence that Congress also sees the public as a dangerous menace who should be kept at a distance and in the dark. Over the summer, Capitol Police began installing military-grade surveillance technology that was used in places like Iraq and Afghanistan to keep up 24/7 surveillance, which allowed for the development of “pattern of life” intelligence on suspected terrorists. And if you’re tempted to call this an unfortunate necessity that can be blamed on the so-called insurrectionists of January 6, you should know that such upgrades began as far back as 2006 under the Obama administration. And, like the White House, Capitol Police are unapologetic about refusing to share information with American citizens on the premise that they’ve had to transition from being a law enforcement agency into an intelligence agency. It doesn’t take much reading between the lines to realize that the intelligence gathered will be about American citizens who are visiting the Capitol and, potentially, elected members of Congress and their staffers.
Adding on to these already troubling developments is the now-rescinded order by Biden’s FAA that banned news media from flying camera-equipped drones over the U.S.-Mexico border in order to document the growing crisis of potential illegal immigration. Regardless of one’s opinion on the desirability of immigration–illegal or otherwise–American citizens have a right to know the conditions that exist on an international border. At the very least, they have a right to know in order to develop those opinions–whatever they are–and deliver them to the elected officials who will develop and implement immigration policy.
None of this paints a pretty picture of the United States insofar as it claims to be a leader in democratic freedom. Withholding unclassified information unrelated to national security is antidemocratic. Removing access to the places where public forums are being held is undemocratic. Surveillance of citizens while in the mere vicinity of the legislature is undemocratic. Preventing the media from reporting on a developing situation at the border is undemocratic.
That is unless you are an ideologue of the Left.
Recall that the White House’s explanation for putting limits on Biden’s public remarks is in part to preserve “carefully crafted messaging.” Also recall that the spread of Leftist agendas is accomplished by a disingenuous and specialized use of language. If the elected government of the U.S. is truly democratic, then it has nothing to fear from the public hearing what its elected officials have to say because the messaging of the White House generally and the President specifically will reflect a majority of the voters. At the very least, this explanation by White House staff suggests that the President’s personal message at least some of the time conflicts with what those staffers have carefully crafted. That means that the carefully crafted message is reflective, not of the President who was elected, but of someone else.
None of the behaviors that I’ve documented in this post are democratic. They are the opposite. None of these behaviors are the kinds of things that democratic governments in free societies do. Conversely, they are precisely the kinds of things that repressive, totalitarian nations–nearly all of which are of a Leftist orientation–do on a regular basis. They, too, have their own “carefully crafted messaging.” The question that has to be asked is whether or not this means the U.S. is in trouble on a level with those other nations.
I believe that it is.
I am not saying that the U.S. is totalitarian. I am not saying that the U.S. is no longer an open democracy governing a free society. I am saying that the democratic institutions of the U.S., primarily the executive branch, have been captured by people who subscribe to ideological positions of the Left. These people are not elected but appointed. Many of them are embedded within the vast federal bureaucracy. Almost all of them are members of the Democrat Party, an institution that itself has been captured by the Left. Many if not most of these people are genuine. They honestly believe that their ideologies are directed at the so-called “greater good.” Unfortunately, these ideologies are by nature and necessity totalitarian. Therefore, when they are implemented on a large scale, their totalitarian tendencies unavoidably manifest themselves.
Let me be clear. I am not talking about liberals. I, in the strict and original sense of the word, am a liberal. However, like G.K. Chesterton, I must lament that I believe in liberalism but have moved beyond the “rosy time of innocence” when I could honestly believe in liberals. Today, there are only conservatives and leftists. What in the past would have been called liberalism has remained constant–a commitment to that general consensus of what it means to be an open, free, and democratic society. But as the elite institutions of the U.S. have shifted ever leftward under the guise of progressivism, the constant position of liberalism has come to appear on the Right. Consequently, in an environment where one pole is constantly shifting, there can be and is no Center.
What we’re witnessing is the manifestation of the inevitable products of all centrally-planned, Left-oriented policy, what F.A. Hayek labeled The Road to Serfdom. For now, our society still remains free and open. However, what the events of the last two years have demonstrated in quick and quickening succession is that the window of opportunity is closing and faster than any of us can realize until it’s too late.
But it still isn’t too late.
In light of the push to not only mandate vaccination against COVID-19 but to create some sort of passport system for travel, business, and just generally living a normal life, we should think hard about the undemocratic behaviors our government is exhibiting. Can anyone honestly believe that a government that withholds information from its citizens in service to a “carefully crafted message,” that spies on its own citizens–not just openly but in secret–and that prevents an independent media from attempting to expose information it would otherwise not have you know really be trusted when it tells us that vaccination and vaccination passports are not meant to punish but prosper the nation? Can a government that is not behaving like a democratic one in all these other instances be trusted to do so in just this one instance?
Our society is still open, for now. That I can click “publish” on this blog post without any fear of punishment or recrimination testifies to that. But what, I ask you and myself–and what I ask you to ask yourself–are we going to do with that openness? That freedom?
One last remark about one last piece of evidence. This week, it came to light that the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, made secret phone calls to the top general of the Chinese army after Donald Trump’s loss in the 2020 election. The claim is that these calls were made to calm Chinese fears about American instability. However, in that call, Gen. Milley told his Chinese counterpart that he would give advance warning were President Trump to order some kind of military strike against China. Obviously, these calls were made without the president’s knowledge. Regardless of what anyone thinks about Donald Trump, the objective fact that the highest ranking military officer in the United States promised a foreign adversary advance knowledge of any military strikes is criminal. However, the Biden administration has expressed support of Milley’s actions. The narrative developing around these revelations is that the General’s loyalty to the Constitution led him to prevent the sitting president from making a bad decision. At the very least, however, this undermines the constitutional doctrine of civilian control over the military.
Of course, the Constitution is not the only thing to which General Milley is loyal. He is also loyal to those who keep him in power, as evidenced by his defense of teaching Leftist theories to American soldiers. Our armed forces have been–in the words of the Left–democratized.
The typical critique of such things is expressed by asserting that the military should be non-political. However, as an institution of government, it cannot help but be political. What it must not be is partisan. Unfortunately, there is every reason to believe that this last bit of evidence of America’s slow slip away from democracy reveals that the military–like the other permanent departments of government–has been taken in by an ideology that may, one day, force it to turn not just its soldiers’ minds but the barrels of their guns against democratic principles.
In my last post I said that a Christian view of law is one that sees the fair application of laws to be so universal that God, through the crucifixion of Jesus, applied that same law to himself. Today in the United States, that is not the view of law taken by our leaders. Our cultural and political elites see law and the government that through coercion enforces it as a tool to achieve ideological ends. It is a do-as-I-say and not-as-I-do system. This is evidenced not just by the ironic wearing of a dress that says “Tax the Rich” to one of the most exclusive (and wealthy) elite events but in the refusal of the government to apply the same rules to itself that it applies to the public.
The evidence of danger is right in front of us. It would be unwise, even perhaps suicidal, to ignore it.