Of american democracy

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  • Browder’s Thesis of American Democracy (summary):

“America is changing in ways that are important and unsettling for the future of

American democracy. We are undergoing a democratic metamorphosis that, for

better or worse, is transforming our nation and the world; therefore, we owe it to

coming generations to deal constructively with these challenges.”

  • Central Questions for 21st Century America:

(1) “Can our nation—a people of growing cultural diversity with increasingly

divergent ideals, values and governance principles, in a constrained systemic

environment—continue to sustain our collective pursuit of freedom, equality, and

justice through the traditional framework of limited, representative government?”
(2) “How far can America pursue the Great Experiment without succumbing to the

inherent, destructive tendencies of democracy?”

(3) “Is America dying?”

  • California is an unsettling vision of America’s uncertain democratic destiny:

While California is not perfectly analogous to broader America, its trending size,

diversity, politics, and governance are worth noting as we assess similarly

developing pressures on our national democratic experiment. Apparently the

Golden State is going through inevitable systemic challenges slightly ahead of

the rest of us; and Californians seem to be struggling—pretty distemperately—in

that process. The analogous dynamics of the contemporary California political

system raise particularly tricky questions and provide some useful points of caution

about important developments—the delicate, difficult, dangerous interplay among

diversity, divergence, dissentience, and democracy—in future America.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

“America”: A national experiment in democratic ideals.

“American Democracy”: The mix of people, politics, and government whereby

we have pursued democratic ideals through limited, representative government,

fairly progressively and effectively, for the past two centuries.
“Democratic Ideals”: A dynamic, evolving array of noble principles and practices that

comport with the general ideas of freedom, equality, and justice. These ideals are

somewhat fuzzy, sometimes inconsistent, and often unrealistic; but they fit

comfortably within the American democratic experience and mindset.

“The Great Experiment”: American democracy as called and described by Alexis de

Tocqueville in Democracy in America (1831).

“Conventional Democratic Orthodoxy”: An almost religious belief in the indomitable,

permanent, progressive destiny of American democracy; this orthodoxy (built on

the notion that the cure for America’s ills is always more democracy) severely

limits our capacity for critically examining the Great Experiment.

“National Democratic Distemper”: A fundamentally deranged and disorderly

deterioration of our national experiment in democratic ideals.

“Dying”: The rhetorical proposition that our Great Experiment may be experiencing a

process of terminal degeneration, partly through systemic change and partly

through the inherently destructive tendencies of democracy itself.
“Systemic Model of Transforming America”: A conceptual framework for assessing,

theoretically and graphically, important and unsettling propositions about

changing American democracy.
Proposition #1 (“Systemic Environment”): America’s favorable systemic environment

(an originally open, natural frontier and the subsequent popular expansion of

national public authority) has disappeared.
Proposition #2 (“Philosophical Civil War”): We have entrapped American democracy

within a divisive struggle over democratic ideals, cultural values, and principles of

governance, i.e., over “what America ought to mean” and “how America ought to

Proposition #3 (“No Longer Works”): American democracy no longer works the way it

has in the past. The American people are losing their civic virtue; the political

machinery of American democracy is broken; and American government is

functioning in unacceptable manner.
Proposition #4 (“Tiring”): America seems to be tiring of its historic Great Experiment.

The American people evidence mixed commitment to their national democratic

endeavor; and the American polity increasingly inclines toward alternative ideas

about governance.

“Centrifugal Democracy”: After two centuries of popular national centralization,

contemporary power and energy, and activity are devolving, spinning out and away

from traditional elites, institutions, and governance to other elements of the federal

system, most importantly, to “the people” wherever and however they choose to

live their lives.
“Subculturalism”: Trending patterns of social diversity, societal divergence, and political

dissentience that strain the capacities of the historical Great Experiment.

“Neopopulism”: Growing tendency toward direct democracy initiatives, newly

empowered through the technological revolution.

“Electronic Democracy”: The increasing use of technological progress to alter

dramatically traditional relationships between the people and their government;

advancing techno-politics promises full, participatory, direct democracy (but it also

threatens both the substantive and representative nature of American democracy).

“Traditional America-versus-Emerging America”: America is bifurcating into two

distinct cultural societies and political personalities—evenly balanced and each

with legitimate but starkly different and demanding visions of our national destiny.

On one hand is “Traditional America”—an historically-dominant white society,

rooted in rural, small town, middle regions, which subscribes to religious

convictions, community values, and conservative government. On the other hand

is “Emerging America”—a growing, eclectic society of relatively progressive,

minority, and historically-disadvantaged citizens in urban and coastal areas who

are inclined toward social diversity, moral tolerance, and liberal government.
“Alternative Scenarios for American Democracy”: Disintegration (“Death of America”),

Deformation (“Amerika” or “USSA”), Transition (“The American Federation”),

and Transformation (“Trans-America”).
“The American Federation”: Browder projects that, if we mindlessly proceed on our

current course, then America by 2050 will be a shifting feudalism of federal

democratic disorder instead of national democratic ideals.
“Trans-America”: Browder recommends that we engage in pro-active transformation

that accommodates fundamental change in the American system, including real

public dialogue (through structured forums) about the future of American

democracy and more popular, deliberative, direct participation (initiatives,

referenda, etc.) in our national democratic experiment.



What is America?

What is an American; and are we a nation?
How has America changed fundamentally—positively and negatively—over the course of its history?
After two centuries of zigzagging but progressive democratization, is contemporary America a more constrained democratic system (in terms of restricted opportunity and our mixed attitudes toward expansive national government) than has been the case in the past?

Is American democracy trapped in a Philosophical Civil War over “what America ought to mean” and “how America ought to work”?

Does American democracy still work?
Does anybody care? Or are we tiring of the “Great Experiment” of American democracy?
Is the current argument over community-versus-diversity a legitimate concern for the “Great Experiment” or simple two-way racism; is the argument over historic republicanism-versus-direct democracy a legitimate democratic debate or simply crass politics?
Is it possible, in a future America of ever-increasing cultural diversity, for “Traditional America” and “Emerging America” to extend the “Great Experiment” without substantively corrupting our national experiment in democratic ideals, without succumbing to the inherent, destructive tendencies of democracy?
Is it possible, in a future America of ever-increasing direct-democracy initiatives, for us to extend the “Great Experiment” without procedurally corrupting our historic representational system, without succumbing to the inherent, destructive tendencies of democracy?
What will America look like—if we continue our current course—in 2050?
Is America dying?


Is California an apt analogy for America?

How does California reflect the fundamental challenges to our nation (systemic constraints, philosophical struggles, social diversity, societal divergence, political dissentience, centrifugal democracy, etc.) as identified in this discussion about American democracy.
How do these challenges play out in contemporary California politics (“Traditional California” versus “Emerging California”, immigration/taxation/lifestyle issues, direct democracy, the recent recall effort, and upcoming initiatives/referenda)?
Is there anything that California can do to deal, successfully, with its challenges?
What might California/California democracy look like in 2050?
What does California say—positively and negatively—to America?
Is California the fate of American democracy?


What about CSUDH—is CSUDH an analogy for the future of California and America?

What special challenges (both opportunities and responsibilities) confront CSUDH regarding the fate of California and American democracy?
What message does this school have for the fate of democracy in our state and nation?
Is CSUDH the future of California and American democracy?

In summary, a two-part question:

  1. What can we–the entire group of us in this forum—agree on and disagree on about America, California, CSUDH, and the fate of American democracy?

  1. And what should CSUDH, California, and America do to enhance the future of our Great Experiment?

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