The problem with history

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The problem with history is that it is so hard to see while it is happening. It is difficult to recognize the nuances or even the macro paradigm shifts as they are occurring.

Usually it’s "too late" once we actually see the change. A great current example is the complete misfire by the Democratic Party in this election in missing the groundswell upheaval and the disenfranchisement from existing social and political norms in Middle America and in other segments of our country. It wasn't that they misread the situation; they didn't even see a situation to misread. Now, looking back at recent history, everyone is an expert on what the party did wrong and how to repair the damage.

Another example of failing to recognize history in the making — a historical one — would be the rise of National Socialism in Germany prior to World War II and its progeny — the fascism that would spread throughout Europe like a plague until Germany's defeat.

The abrupt collapse of the Soviet Union without a shot being fired in 1991 is another example of history no one saw until it actually happened.

I am not sure which reality is worse — the cliche that "those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it" or simply the failure to recognize "the big picture" macro trends in advance — when there is no history extant to teach us.

Today it doesn't take much of an intellect to recognize that we are in a period of great political upheaval — both world-wide and domestically. The assent of liberal democratic governments built upon foundations of rule of law, open societies, individual rights and functioning constitutions seems to have crested. Now parts of the world seem to be cycling in the direction of conservative authoritarian or military regimes characterized by diminishing individual rights, failing constitutions, nationalistic ideologies, usually the complete subjugation of independent news media and rule of force. Turkey, Russia, Iran, and Egypt come to mind.

Turkey, until about 10 years ago, was a beacon of light for democracy. Now it is the poster child of "democracies in trouble." In 2013 a failed military coup to overthrow the democratically elected government resulted in the jailing of thousands of members of the military, the judiciary, teachers, police forces and news media employees by Prime Minister — now "President" — Recep Erdogan. Turkey currently ranks as the No. 1 country in the world in terms of incarcerated journalists. Additionally, social media outlets including Facebook and Twitter and apps including WhatsApp are either blocked or are under heavy government censure.

Of note, during the upheaval Erdogan's ruling party — the AKP — exerted pressure on companies that wanted to do business with the government to purchase media properties that could be counted on to faithfully report news the government wanted disseminated.

The status of the news media post-coup is dismal. According to Turkish journalist Erol Oneeroglu, "There is no more critical journalism, 90 percent of the free press is destroyed directly or indirectly. Investigative journalism is considered treason. Journalism has been stolen by the government."

So history moves in cycles and the current cycle is not a good one.

The good news however, is that as long as the fundamental institutions of democracies remain intact — those that facilitate and maintain effective "rule of law" — the courts, the constitutions, the elections apparatus — then the political cycles will occur and fundamental rights and core viability of the democracy will survive. As long as there is a free and independent press, one that is trusted by the public, democracies can survive. As long as the public's trust and confidence in the veracity and credibility of its democratic institutions remains intact, democracy will survive political cycles.

History says democracies will make it thru this period intact. Time will tell.


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