U.S. democracy and the age of American impotence

U.S. democracy has devolved into a kabuki show. No real reform, no matter how pressing, ever gets done.

By Stephan Richter

Published November 19, 2019 4:59AM (EST)


This piece originally appeared on The Globalist.

U.S. democracy is a very curious beast. In U.S. democracy, it doesn’t matter how big the calamity is. It also doesn’t matter how many politicians urgently call for reform — or how loud the public outcry is in the media.

In U.S. democracy, the law of inverse proportions applies: The louder the public outcry, the more one can be sure that nothing will happen to remedy the actual problem.

This perverted politic logic applies from the Facebook scandal and regularly occurring police killings of African-Americans to all those school shootings. Donald Trump’s tenure in the Oval Office makes all this only more deplorable.

A while ago, there were those who believed that the youth protests after the high school shooting incident in Parkland, Florida would transform the political landscape. This time would be different, they said. They learned soon enough that they were kidding themselves — if they didn’t know it all along.

Later on, there was the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, and now the school shooting in Santa Clarita, California. And yet, nothing much will change on gun “control” in the United States — even though the needed solutions are entirely commonsensical. Such solutions can only prove so elusive in ideology-driven countries. Meanwhile, Donald Trump and the Republicans still resort to blaming mental health issues for any shooting.

The cynical U.S.

Under those circumstances, it is hard to escape the conclusion that the United States represents the most cynical country in the history of Western thought. Nowhere is the gap between self-laudatory statements and political realities bigger.

The preferred modus operandi is to operate what might best be termed as “fake government.” Such a government engages for the most part in pretend actions.

In their unbridled cynicism, Republicans rely on the chronically short attention span of the American public. They count on the fact that any calls for reform, often bombastically presented to satisfy the needs of public arousal, will soon enough fizzle and/or be forgotten.

And the Democrats?

As for the Democrats, they at least try to pursue some reforms, but they ultimately know that they aren’t going to succeed. For that reason, in some ways they are actually the more frustrating party. They raise the public’s hopes and expectations for change — and then can’t deliver.

As a result, policymaking in the United States has degraded to the level of one gigantic kabuki show, resolving nothing.

Congressional hearings featuring Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg are further evidence of that. The Republicans, eager to turn Facebook with its political advertising power into an ally of the political right, only go through the motions of demanding change from the internet giant.

Notwithstanding the efforts of Elizabeth Warren and AOC, even many Democrats are conflicted, not just by being on the take for campaign contributions from Silicon Valley firms. In the past, they have also often been the chief promulgators of the supposed global “soft power” of the U.S.-based Internet giants, pretending those were a force for good.

Meanwhile, the Silicon Valley firms continue to operate as uncontrolled control freaks that ruthlessly explore any conceivable angle of human behavior and existence with their search algorithms.


A country where democracy is rendered so dysfunctional, where Republican politicians mostly act as shameless cover-up artists, as well as deniers, aiders and abetters of corporate malfeasance, is really a nation that lives in the permanent state of impotence.

In such a nation, bringing about the common good — if it occurs — is a matter of happening purely accidentally, not the consequence of serious policymaking.

In such a nation, it is also no surprise that Donald Trump is getting away with so much. The 45th U.S. President is frantically working 24/7/365 at bringing out the basest of instincts in the American public. Congressional Republicans will see to it that nothing stops him. That’s just another sign of American impotence.

This article is republished from The Globalist: On a daily basis, we rethink globalization and how the world really hangs together.  Thought-provoking cross-country comparisons and insights from contributors from all continents. Exploring what unites and what divides us in politics and culture. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.  And sign up for our highlights email here.

Stephan Richter

Stephan Richter is the publisher and editor-in-chief of The Globalist, the daily online magazine, and a columnist in newspapers around the world. He is also the presenter of the Marketplace Globalist Quiz, which is aired on public radio stations all across the United States. In addition, Mr. Richter is a keynote speaker at international conferences -- and the author of the 1992 book, “Clinton: What Europe and the United States Can Expect.” Follow him on Twitter @theglobalist.

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