After four decades the impacts of neoliberal governance are pretty clear. The message is that neoliberalism fetters or weakens liberal democracy. It surrenders vital aspects of state sovereignty essential to the health of liberal democracy to special interests, the private sector. It diminishes the bonds between the voting public and those they install in high office and the public is usually none the wiser. As those bonds stretch and slacken other interests manage to insinuate themselves between the electors and those whom they elect.
The United States is the poster boy of the neoliberal order. Lesser states, such as Canada, trail at a distance but are drawn in the same direction.
The American example illustrates that the neoliberal order is a process of political capture. It begins with legislative capture manifested in today's "bought and paid for" US Congress in which legislators are said to spend more time chasing campaign funding for re-election than dealing with the business of the nation. They know where to find that funding and they know what's expected of them to secure it. Those corporate and individual benefactors provide that funding in order to insinuate themselves between the legislator and the public they're supposed to serve. It's how they "capture" legislators and put them into serving the private interest, not the public interest. It's an act of blatant corruption.
Of course this sounds exactly like some conspiracy theory but it's not. It's absolutely true. That was documented in the 2014 report out of Princeton by Gilens (Princeton) and Page (Northwestern). The paper began with a few pointed questions: Who governs? Who really rules? To what extent is the broad body of U.S. citizens sovereign, semisovereign, or largely powerless?
The authors reviewed Congressional voting patterns over two decades on votes where the public interest clashed with special interests and found that special interests prevailed overwhelmingly, concluding that the US was no longer a democracy but had transformed into an oligarchy. The report was roundly criticized in the corporate media leading Gilens and Page to write a spirited rebuttal of their critics in the Washington Post.
These oligarchs don't seek to destroy government. They're not out to gut government. They seek instead to control it, to harness it into their service and to use the powers of government to enhance their prosperity which inevitably must come at the expense of the greater public.
The logical progression from legislative capture occurred during the Bush/Cheney era in the form of regulatory capture. This is the process by which regulatory boards and tribunals are stacked, rigged if you like, by allowing the boards to be dominated with appointees from those same regulated industries. We've had this experience in Canada when first Harper and then Trudeau indulged the energy giants by stacking the National Energy Board with industry insiders. Who can forget when Captain Listeria, Harper, allowed packing plants to become self-regulating? How many Canadians paid for that with their lives? Our governments elevate these parties, calling them "stakeholders" as some sort of quasi-partners in governance inevitably diminishing the public interest.
Theodore Roosevelt denounced this incestuous relationship in 1910:
...now the great special business interests too often control and corrupt the men and methods of government for their own profit. We must drive the special interests out of politics. That is one of our tasks to-day. Every special interest is entitled to justice — full, fair, and complete — and, now, mind you, if there were any attempt by mob-violence to plunder and work harm to the special interest, whatever it may be, that I most dislike, and the wealthy man, whomsoever he may be, for whom I have the greatest contempt, I would fight for him, and you would if you were worth your salt. He should have justice. For every special interest is entitled to justice, but not one is entitled to a vote in Congress, to a voice on the bench, or to representation in any public office. The Constitution guarantees protection to property, and we must make that promise good. But it does not give the right of suffrage to any corporation.
...There can be no effective control of corporations while their political activity remains. To put an end to it will be neither a short nor an easy task, but it can be done.
What follows from legislative and regulatory capture? In the United States there has been the evolution of a corporatist Supreme Court that gave rise to such outrages as the Citizens United decision that bestowed political rights on corporations.
What remains? Oh yes, the executive branch. Executive Capture. This is where special interests assume the executive power. Appointing Scott Pruitt, an industry lawyer who for years battled the EPA on behalf of major polluters, to head and to dismantle the EPA is a telling example. So much for the greatest threat facing America, climate change.
This is how we have allowed our national sovereignty and, with it, our liberal democracy to be degraded from within. I had great hopes that, in the wake of Harper, Trudeau would move quickly and effectively to implement democratic restoration so badly needed in Canada. You might have noticed that, once enshrined in power, Slick lost his taste for that sort of thing. Whether it was electoral reform or parliamentary reform or even the restoration of a free press in Canada, there's been no one in the wheelhouse. We won't be getting any of that from Trudeau which means the forces that stand to benefit from a weakened democracy will prevail.
This is how democracy has been attacked and weakened from within. What about the other attacks, the attacks from without? What about those foreign and private interests who work to skew our elections their way, to defeat the will of the public? What about these upset wins - Brexit, Trump? What about Aggregate IQ or Cambridge Analytica?
Facebook finally admitted that it was exploited by Russian interests to manipulate the November elections. We know that American billionaire Robert Mercer did the same. They've managed to scan and analyze your social media activity to discern your interests, your biases, your fears and prejudices and your vulnerability to messaging. It's a form of mind control and it's very effective. Why do they do it?
For billionaires the objective is plain - a more billionaire-friendly government amenable to their wishes. For Putin? What he's after is chaos. The hurdle the Soviets were never able to overcome was a broad-based, robust middle class. Now that we're dismantling that internally, they're ready and eager to exploit this Achilles' Heel.
According to experts in the matter, it's not the seeds of a political revolution the Kremlin wants to sow in the West - it's nothing less than chaos.
Moreover, in this blend of disorder, there is no overarching political idea to the influence campaigns.
Olga Irisova, of the Poland-based Intersection Project, says: "The Kremlin has no ideology to promote, since illiberalism itself is not the ideology, neither is it a certain system of values."
That's evident in Facebook's recent disclosure that Russian sources spent $US100,000 on ads that "appeared to focus on amplifying divisive social and political messages across the ideological spectrum".
"In general, we can see a promotion of an idea that liberal values can't confront modern threats," she says.
To be sure, that is a theme echoed by many Putin-friendly politicians, from Hanson - who has made alienating comments to Muslims - to Trump, who came to power declaring the US in decline.
Poisoning the Well of Democracy
Call it the "poison the well" approach.
Russian propaganda is "destructive, not productive", the Rand Corporation's Christopher Paul told Fairfax Media.
"They [the Russians] want to tear down truth, trust, credibility, discourse, and democracy," says Paul, co-author of the landmark "Firehose of falsehood" analysis, which details how high volumes of misinformation and fake news are used to distort and disrupt political debate.
"Sometimes they are seeking to create specific effects, but often they are just undermining the credibility of any and all information," he says.
Divide and Cripple
Rather than a longer-term strategic propaganda that relies on an alternative vision for the world, the propaganda effort today is more tactical, with the crosshairs moved to whatever controversy is likely to divide and confuse citizens.
The internet lowers the bar for entry to anyone with the will to use controversy and division to deceive and demoralise.
But unlike communist times, there is little to no alternative positive future to the messages promoted by Russia about democracy.
Instead, it is a relentlessly negative vision of the present, with citizens who need unity in the face of political challenges being constantly divided.
It may be too late for the United States where democracy is reduced to a fairy tale conveyed to grade school children but we may still have time to implement a democratic restoration in Canada. It would take a prime minister capable of perceiving the threat and with the vision and courage to respond to it in time. I wish the current prime minister had that stature and courage but what we've seen from him so far gives no cause for optimism. To suggest alternatives could be seen as counselling sedition so I'll go no further, not yet.