A common protest chant of the Occupy Wall Street crew and other radicals is “This is what democracy looks like!” – a trite, rhythmic expression of self-congratulation layered over an implication that they represent the true will of the people.
Yes, these protests are examples of things that can happen in a democracy, but not because they are a shining example of democracy in action. These expressions of unfocused rage, with their rampant criminality; their demands for simultaneously iron-and-ham-fisted government actions for and against certain segments of society; and the violent, revolutionary rhetoric surrounding the idea of “occupying” cities, are merely the sorts of authoritarian politics that liberal democracies must tolerate. They are also features of illiberal democracies – etymologically, the original tyrannies – that lack the rights and limitations of their more just cousins, where 51% can vote to eat the other 49% and politicians are glad to oblige.
It is because we are a liberal constitutional democratic republic that Americans play along with the protesters’ power fantasies about occupying American cities and let them fancy themselves true revolutionaries. Doing so is necessary to keep our interwoven tapestry of rights from unraveling, and the right thing to do regardless. But these protests are authoritarianism’s inadvertant tribute to liberal democracy, necessary evils that remind us of the good.
Shining examples of liberal constitutional democracy as it exists in the country are law-abiding, based in electoral politics, and respectful of individual rights. Here is a better example of what democracy looks like:
Those who shout “This is what democracy looks like!” unironically are virtually never good examples of what a well-ordered democracy sounds like. In every case I can recall hearing it, it was a good example of what an angry mob of ineffectual extremists sounds like, and judging from their demands, this group fits that bill.
(Tauntingly throwing the chant back at such people after they lose an election is a different story, and I can say from experience, a whole lot of fun!)