[FRIAM] Democracy & Autocracy

Marcus Daniels marcus at snoutfarm.com
Tue Aug 15 18:14:26 EDT 2023

I spent most of the evening last night watching MSNBC’s coverage of the indictments.   What I keep noticing is how these (MSNBC) legal analysts talk about how some of these defendants could really go to prison!  Like how terrible and devastating for them!  [..ahem, for a white-collar person]
Wait.  Martha Stewart really went to prison.   If anything, her reputation is even bigger!

From: Friam <friam-bounces at redfish.com> On Behalf Of David Eric Smith
Sent: Tuesday, August 15, 2023 2:39 PM
To: The Friday Morning Applied Complexity Coffee Group <friam at redfish.com>
Subject: Re: [FRIAM] Democracy & Autocracy

I think your points are correct, Jochen, while to me there is also another important thing that I want to be able to frame, and find that I cannot in any satisfying way.

Having lived under trump et al.’s (and it is a big et al.) daily degradation and violation of every aspect of decent or even sane life for years, I along with many others feel almost frantic wanting somebody to DO SOMETHING TO STOP ALL THIS!!!  But the slowness, incompleteness, and partial resignation we see in the legal response reflects to me the fundamental problem of democracy as the people practicing it think they understand it.  They appreciate that the de jure institutions of a law can be employed by autocrats and other corrupt actors as readily as by the polity as a whole.  They also understand that a significant wing of a populace can become fascist, at which point it is not a counterweight to the corrupt, but an enabling resource for them.  So they are trying, on one hand, to use the law to exercise force to counteract and contain the abusers, but they are hoping to do so in such a way that the precedents within that use of the law are as hard as possible to hijack by the authoritarian elements that clearly intend to do that wherever they can find strategies for it.

The interesting question for me is whether their efforts to use law in this way are really making a difference.  It will be great if they can pound some of these bad actors, and it is a good division of labor that the federal case is narrow for the sake of being very robust to prosecute, while the Georgia state case takes on a _much_ more complicated and difficult prosecution for the sake of acknowledging more of the scope of the wrongdoing.  But at the end, will they have created legal precedent that better holds off fascist abuses going forward?  How will we decide, since we have only this run of the tape as it is playing out?  One wants to use empirical validation to update one’s views of how causation works, but for these situations that are so large they are effectively sui generis, it is hard to set up a protocol to do so.


On Aug 16, 2023, at 5:44 AM, Jochen Fromm <jofr at cas-group.net<mailto:jofr at cas-group.net>> wrote:

The countless indictments against Trump remind me of the innumerous indictments against Navalny in Russia. The indictments against Trump look to me totally justified. He tried to undermine and to destroy the democratic system by all kinds of lies and deceit and treachery, by the things that Ruth Ben-Ghiat calls the authoritarian playbook - by violence, corruption, lying, election fraud. Now the democratic system is strong enough to protect itself and strikes back.

The indictments against Navalny on the other hand are similar in magnitude, but they are clearly fabricated. Again we have a system - this time an autocratic and authoritarian one - which defends itself. In Navalny's case we can observe a deceitful autocratic system that fights against an opponent by using unjustified indictments and deceitful accusations. In Trump's case we can observe a democratic systems that defends itself against a deceitful opponent by using truthful and justified indictments.

What's interesting to me is that democracy and autocracy as a system are apparently both resilient and resistant to change. If the system is threatened, then it tries to protect itself. This could be observed also in the protests in 2020 in Belarus after the election and in the protests in 2022 in Russia after the invasion that have been squashed by mass imprisonments. The protests in Iran in 2022 have been silenced by mass imprisonments and capital punishments as well.

Democratic backsliding can happen, but it doesn't have to as long as the democratic system is able to defend itself. Similarly a collapse of an autocratic system is not happening if the system is able to silence protests by mass imprisonments and capital punishments. This blog article from last year still seems to fit.


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