Italy is now a poster child for the three big trends that are undermining democracies around the world:
First, the erasure of the informal norms of behavior.
Norms aren’t laws, which is the problem when somebody — Trump, Bush before him, Lee Atwater before them — figures that out and don’t give a fuck no more.
Second, the loss of faith in the democratic system. As Yascha Mounk writes in his book “The People vs. Democracy,” faith in democratic regimes is declining with every new generation. Seventy-one percent of Europeans and North Americans born in the 1930s think it’s essential to live in a democracy, but only 29 percent of people born in the 1980s think that. In the U.S., nearly a quarter of millennials think democracy is a bad way to run a country. Nearly half would like a strongman leader. One in six Americans of all ages support military rule.
It’s almost like 60 years of Republican howling that government blows, amplified by the likes of Brooks and his fellow Very Serious People, had some effect on those who grew up listening to it.
Also, a system of government is only good insofar as it benefits the people under it, so maybe the problem isn’t so much Kids Today not reading Plato as it is Kids Today being broke as hell.
Third, the deterioration of debate caused by social media. At the dawn of the internet, people hoped free communication would lead to an epoch of peace, understanding and democratic communication. Instead, we’re seeing polarization, alternative information universes and the rise of autocracy.
One of my favorite ongoing Things is discussion of polarization that completely ignores Fox News. Look, the majority of Americans do not sit on Twitter all day yelling at their relatives. They watch Fox clips in their podiatrist’s office and yell at their relatives in person, via the voting booth.
Polarization was not invented by Facebook. It was created by Republican operatives and funders who found it effective and lucrative, and spent eight years screaming about anti-American traitors who loved terrorists, and then another eight screaming about the president being born in Kenya.
Back when there was no social media, in the glory days of Internet 1.0, you had all of cable news debating whether Bill Clinton and Hillary murdered Vince Foster and HEY WE’RE JUST RAISING QUESTIONS, so yeah, it’s Snapchat that’s the problem here.
But don’t forget, BOTH SIDES:
The underlying message is clear. As Mounk has argued, the populist wave is still rising. The younger generations are more radical, on left and right. The rising political tendencies combine lavish spending from the left with racially charged immigrant restrictions from the right.
“Lavish spending” aka teaching children to read and curing diseases, versus banning all Muslim immigrants and deporting people who’ve lived here for 60 of their 61 years on this earth, those are the same! Polarization! Millennials! It’s dumbfuck bingo!
This is among the laziest of Brooks’s outings recently. If you want an equal opposite of Trump’s Muslim ban you need to make the case that liberals want completely open borders, and cherrypick some Reddit anarchists to support that contention. Fully funding the operations of public schools is not the example you go with.
I don’t see how he can lament the death of democracy when he’s so fucking confused to begin with about what it even is.