By Mohammad Mazhari

Republicans’ moves to restrict voting is troubling sign for U.S. democracy: professor

June 16, 2021 - 13:47

TEHRAN – A professor of government at Georgetown University in Qatar says that Republicans' attempts to restrict voting is a troubling sign in the long term.

 "Right now, in Republican states especially in the southern U.S. – Georgia, Arizona, Texas, and others – there are serious moves to place limits on people's ability to vote," Mehran Kamrava tells the Tehran Times.

 "This is a very troubling sign for U.S. democracy in the long term."

Some observers have warned that Republicans' acts after the 2020 election in which Trump accused Democrats of stealing the election threaten U.S. democracy.

In fact, Trump showed that democracy is not an everlasting shape of governance, and even people who come to power through democratic mechanisms can put it in danger.

"The assumption that democracies are permanent, and that they will always retain a uniform feature, has been challenged by the rise of the neofascist right in Europe (in France, Italy, Netherlands, and elsewhere), by the rise of right-wing populist nationalism (in Britain, Hungary, and the U.S.)," Kamrava argues.

Following is the text of the interview:

 Q: How do you assess current U.S. democracy? Is it an ethical democracy or just a plutocracy influenced by money and media?

A: I am not sure there is ever such as thing as an "ethical democracy". There are different criteria used to call a system democratic, from minimalist definitions that only require elections to democracies in which there is representation, accountability, and transparency. The American democratic system has all these three ingredients – representation, accountability, and transparency. However, since democracy is not a "natural" system and needs to be actively observed by individuals, there are always individuals who want to circumvent its rules and limitations. Donald Trump is one such individual who saw the limitations imposed by democracy as inconvenient and did whatever he could to go around them or ignore them. 

In relation to your specific question, the media have always played an outsized role in all democracy, including especially in the U.S. And, given the enormous expenses involved in running in elections and the tremendous role of lobby groups, one has to have a lot of financial resources, or the backing of wealthy individuals or corporations, to take part in the American democracy as an elected official. So, currently, the U.S. has a democracy that has representation, accountability, and transparency, in addition to great influence by the media and the wealthy.

Right now, in Republican states, especially in the southern U.S. – Georgia, Arizona, Texas, and others – there are serious moves to place limits on people's ability to vote. This is a very troubling sign for U.S. democracy in the long term. We have to wait and see what the consequences of these current efforts to limit political participation are.

Q: Why does the U.S. prefers to support Arab monarchies rather than democratic states in West Asia?

A: First, there are no democracies in the Middle East (West Asia) to support. Also, the U.S. has always been a realist actor in international relations, even if some of its politicians, especially those from the Democratic Party, voice their realist policy objectives in liberal idealist terms. All states base their policies based on their self-interests, and American interests in the Middle East (West Asia) revolve around the continuous flow of affordable oil, unconditional support for Israel regardless of crimes against humanity such as the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, and compliant regional partners who support American objectives and its military presence. These objectives are better achieved by the U.S. through non-elected, non-accountable, non-transparent dictatorships rather than democracies. The real question is why the U.S. would support democracies, not why it supports dictatorships.

Q: Some scholars say that the American election system is outdated. Instances are electoral colleges and the winner-takes-all system. Don't you think that these rules written in the 1700s need to be updated?
A: It is no doubt that the U.S. election system is out of date. The four-year term for elected officials is far too short, especially given that there are elections in the U.S. every two years and that elected officials are constantly, from the day they first get elected, run for re-election. So, the first problem is the length of the term for elected officials. Also, the electoral college system is very much out of date and needs to be changed, making the system either based on proportional representation or direct elections of winner-take-all.

Q: Do you think America is able to go through different versions of democracy, or that liberal democracy is the end of history? 

A: There is no end to history. All political systems, including democracies, change and evolve, and they do so in directions that cannot be predicted. The assumption that democracies are permanent and that they will always retain a uniform feature has been challenged by the rise of the neo-fascist right in Europe (in France, Italy, Netherlands, and elsewhere), by the rise of right-wing populist nationalism (in Britain, Hungary, and the U.S.), and by other developments that we could not foresee before (widespread disenchantment of the "average" voter, the rise of racism and xenophobia, etc.). So, we will continue to witness changes and evolutions in the inflections and emphases of democracies around the world.

Q: How do you evaluate Trump's presidency? Could he represent a movement beyond the two-party system? 

A: Trumpism represents a real development in the U.S. among conservative Americans. It is highly nationalistic, placing the U.S. and its interests before other considerations. It represents an important ideological development within the Republican Party, and currently, there is an intense ideological soul-searching within the Republicans over how to come into terms with what Trump represents. The last time this happened was in the 1980s when Ronald Reagan represented a real ideological challenge to the U.S. conservative establishment. Reaganism became the norm. Now the ideological challenge among U.S. conservatives is between Reagan Republicans and Trump Republicans. We have to wait and see which way the Republican Party goes.

The Democrats have had their own ideological challenges, as represented by the "mainstream" on the one side, which is centrist, and the liberal left as represented by Bernie Sanders. Twice now, in 2016 and 2020, the Democratic establishment ensured that the ideological current that Bernie Sanders represents is marginalized and does not have the opportunity to attract more followers (as represented in the Party's platform). So, for the moment at least, the Democrats appear to have a more cohesive ideology than the Republicans, which are in the midst of deciding on the ideological soul of their party.

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