Democratic Crack-Up Boom

The Washington Post is riffing on a common theme: the plummeting popularity of democracy as a form of government. Most people agree that this is a deleterious trend, and a lot of people have been writing about what it "means."

Before we jump the gun, though, I wanted to consider a possibility that people aren't talking about at all. What if the data isn't telling us what we think it's telling us.

Years ago, I had a friend who told me her mother used to feed her candy made of carob instead of chocolate. But here's the kicker: her mother told her that the candy was chocolate. So, for years, was not particularly fond of "chocolate," because what she thought was "chocolate" was actually carob. When she finally tasted real chocolate for the first time in her life, she loved it. And she's loved it ever since.

Now consider the modern political landscape, where elections seldom result in any kind of measurable change, where the candidates who win the popular votes don't end up in office, where all the real power is had by the bureaucracy, not the elected officials, and where it seems that no matter what the law says, governments mostly just serve their well-connected friends, business partners, and other insiders.

And consider that this landscape is what is known to most people as "democracy." If top-to-bottom corruption, staged elections, media propaganda, and kangaroo courts are what is currently known as "democracy" in this day and age, might young people's opinion of democracy reflect what everyone keeps telling them democracy is?

In other words, isn't it possible that people are losing faith in democracy because our institutions are corrupt and are no longer democratic? Isn't it possible that people now see how ineffectual their system is, and so they are rejecting it, whatever it happens to be called?

I think this is a possibility that ought to be ruled out before we write democracy's obituary.