In the narrative of the Do’s and Don’ts of governing, Democracy stands as the shining hero and protagonist, as it was designed to give power to citizens, overrule tyrants, and promote equal well-being within a nation. Being the champion of order against chaos, it is hailed as effective, and has spread across the globe, as people are given more solidarity over their political views, who they choose to elect, and what laws are passed. However, Democracy carries within it a fatal flaw, that has been increasingly forthcoming in times of polarization, toxic contestation, and higher stakes in the preservation of world order while ushering society, technology, and culture forward- Populism. The author’s examination of cynicism as fuel to the fire that populists stoke within their voting constituents rings true, but the author misdiagnoses cynicism as the main cause of democratic degradation. Instead, cynicism is a category of public perception and something that populists can exploit as part of an overarching series of small, tactical moves to aggrandize power. In summary, while I am in agreement with the author’s investigation into cynicism as a cause of democratic failure, I disagree that it is the cause of democratic failure, and I rather identify it as part of the public consciousness that is used as a tool to stir resentment as a part of populist efforts to accumulate power and influence.
The post articulates how dissatisfied voters have become with politicians and with democracy in general, citing a Pew Center study indicating how 70% of French and American citizens feel that democracy isn’t properly functioning. The post goes on to mention how populist leaders, such as Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban, use cynicism “to sneer at elites, even if they themselves [the populist leaders]are rich and powerful”.n The author then proceeds to discuss how cynicism undermines legitimacy, and uses Britain’s ideological divide over Brexit as an example of how legitimacy becomes undermined, as members of both ideological sides think of the other as fundamentally immoral. Following the analysis as to why cynicism indicates incoming disaster for democratic institutions, the author leaves off on a final message of hope for the future, as they articulate how younger generations and those who are unwilling to settle with failing democratic processes have taken up the mantle to protect Democracy from failure and renew the parts of it that have succumbed to cynicism and corruption.
The author is correct in their analysis on cynicism and its effect on Democracy. The post examines how cynicism erodes at political norms and institutions and why people feel that the government is ineffective and doesn’t pay attention to the average citizen. Despite this, the conclusion that cynicism is the root cause of democratic decay is incorrect, as the author mentions in the article that populist leaders use cynicism to sow seeds of dissent between the population, which illustrates how cynicism isn’t the sickness to democracy itself, but rather a symptom that becomes exacerbated. The sickness is Populism, and it acts as a hidden danger within Democracy, as William Galston argues, that is why it is such an intrinsic threat to it, as populists can only exist within a democracy. The exploitation of public cynicism against politicians and established political norms and institutions is part of the populists’ attempt to separate themselves from political institutions and the elite-leaning right into the Antipluralist authority and anti-establishment tendencies of populist leaders, according to Jan-Werner Müller.
In the post’s final statement, the author mentions how the youth are to be the new protectors of democracy, and have taken the charge to seek out restorative justice for crumbling democratic integrity in places across the globe, such as Hong Kong. While this is true perhaps for the Eastern youth, young adults in Western nations are more disillusioned with democracy, as its failings have become more apparent to them through more transparent and accessible information regarding the government. This coincides with the cynicism that the author examines in their article, as younger generations have moved beyond skepticism to their political leaders, but are now so distrustful of the government that they no longer see democracy as the only source of legitimate government available for western society. This once again transitions back to where the author’s argument falters in naming cynicism as the root cause of democratic degradation. Cynicism serves as a symptom of populism, a more intrinsic problem that is built into democracy.
Another example of how cynicism factors into a failing democracy rather than being its failure comes in the form of a lack of institutional forbearance (the exercise of restraint in the use of institutional power out of respect for functioning political norms and institutions) and mutual toleration (recognition of the legitimacy of opposition and/or minorities). People become cynical towards politicians and the government in part because of term-defining roadblocks that politicians, coalitions, and/or parties place on different policies to prevent them from becoming law. The post animates this concept through citing President Trump’s treatment of opposition, writing how “Trump endorses his voters’ contempt for Washington by treating his opponents as fools or, if they dare stand on honour or principal, as lying hypocrites”. The clear disdain for opposition and libel attempts against veteran politicians displays how the President disregards mutual toleration, and lacks institutional forbearance, which circles back to how populists unveil the true existential threat to democracy that is exacerbated by public cynicism.
Ultimately, the author’s examination into how cynicism proves problematic for Democracy is accurate and well put, yet it misses the mark on its true fatal flaw-populism. Their analysis of cynicism in public consciousness and how politicians and world events fostered this sentiment further shows Democracy’s fall from grace, as populist leaders and actions have prompted it to lose its shining armor, and expose its fragility.
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