Reviews | We stare at our phones, full of rage over ‘the other side’ – Reuters

For democratic countries, Lorenz-Spreen and his colleagues continue,

the evidence clearly indicates that digital media is increasing political participation. Less clear, but still suggestive, are the results of digital media having positive effects on political knowledge and exposure to different views in the news.

On the negative side, though

The use of digital media is linked to the erosion of the “glue that holds democracies together”: trust in political institutions. The results indicating this danger converge from one method to another. Furthermore, our results also suggest that digital media use is associated with increased hatred, populism, and polarization.

Their conclusion: “Our results are worrying. In addition to the positive effects of digital media on democracy, there is clear evidence of serious threats to democracy.

The destructive power of polarization is not limited to social media. Consider the case of laws and regulations that require transparency in government procedures to enable the public to fight corruption and the influence of particular interests.

In “Transparency’s Ideological Drift,” a 2018 article in the Yale Law Journal, Columbia law professor David Pozen wrote:

Transparency (or publicity) was, in short, an explicit center of the progressive agenda to breathe new life into and professionalize the government while strengthening economic competition and justice. Combined with their dissatisfaction with the plutocracy of the golden age and their insistence on state solutions, progressive lawyers, activists, journalists and politicians embraced transparency as a way to curb the excesses of private companies and government officials tasked with overseeing them.

Since then, Pozen has written via email,

Partisan polarization has been both a cause and a consequence of the disappointing transparency record. Rising levels of polarization have exacerbated the negative effects of transparency by increasing the cost to politicians of being perceived as deviating from party political manuscripts.

Pozen clarified:

Transparency mandates, in turn, have exacerbated polarization by creating a less favorable climate for concluding agreements in Congress and strengthening the extremes within each party coalition. Because the contemporary Republican party is much less legislatively ambitious and much more content with traffic jams, this dynamic hurts Democrats more than Republicans.

Or look at another pillar of American democracy, federalism. In “Laboratories of Democracy,” published in 1988, David Osborne, a journalist and senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute, described how state governments had become engines of innovation and beneficial change. 34 years later, Jacob Grumbach, professor of political science at the University of Washington, has a very different perspective in “Laboratories Against Democracy: How National Parties Transformed State Politics.”

Grumbach argues that polarization has, in effect, turned state governments into “laboratories for democratic regression.”

That’s what Grumbach writes in his book

Instead of initiating democratic responsiveness, social harmony and economic prosperity, the shift in policy-making from national to state level since the 1970s has coincided with the weakening of democratic institutions, the sharp rise in economic inequality and growing polarization and mass dissatisfaction.

In fact, Grumbach argues, “contrary to Louis Brandeis’ hopes, state governments may not be ‘the laboratories of democracy’ but laboratories against democracy.”

In an email, Grumbach described his book’s dissertation:

The main argument in “Laboratories against Democracy” is that party politics has become completely national – national networks of activists and interest groups, national media, national fundraising and voter attention focused on identities and conflicts. So now we see groups, especially on the Republican side, using subnational institutions for national purposes.

NYU law professor Richard Pildes described how polarization and the Internet have interacted to make small dollar contributions an instrument of biased division and bigotry:

With cable television and social media, individual members of Congress – even in their first few years in office – can now reach out and create their own national constituency. When Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was first elected, she had more than 9 million followers on large platforms; the next Democrat was speaker Pelosi with more than two million, while no other House Democrat had more than 300,000. Even in their first year in office, these numbers could affect political culture (if not legislation), which has never been possible before.

In addition to this, Pildes continued,

The Internet now allows its members to raise large sums outside the party structure through small donations from across the country. And the funding of small donors via the Internet is driven by the same toxic dynamics that drive social media more generally: outrage and extreme attitudes attract attention, triggering a stream of small donations. When Marjorie Taylor Greene was stripped of her committee duties shortly after taking office, she quickly raised over $ 3.2 million in that fundraising quarter from more than 100,000 donors. Individuals who donated an average of thirty-two dollars – breaking the fundraising record. in the first quarter of a year without elections.

In a soon-to-be-published article in the California Law Review, “Democracies in the Age of Fragmentation,” Pildes writes:

The challenge that the communications revolution poses to democracies, in my opinion, goes beyond the now familiar questions of misinformation, misinformation, or amplifying outrage. Even if these problems could be solved in one way or another, the very nature of the age of new technologies could, by their very nature, undermine the capacity for widely accepted, legitimate and enduring political authority.

Technology-driven change, Pildes continued,

mean that the party leaders no longer have such a great influence on their ordinary members. Being part of specific committees is less critical than before. Climbing the ranks is no longer necessary for visibility or money. He also disagrees with the party leaders’ assessment of what attitudes are in the party’s interest as a whole. The party leaders thus have fewer effective tools for dealing with differences within the party.

In a November 2019 commentary published in the Yale Law Journal, “Small-Donor-Based Campaign-Finance Reform and Political Polarization,” Pildes briefly described the upheavals that have taken place over the past decade:

In a first wave of romantic enthusiasm, the revolution of social media and communication was meant to herald a brave new world of empowered citizens and mediated participatory democracy. Yet a few years later, we have shifted to dystopian anxiety over social media tendencies to boost political polarization, reward extremism, encourage a culture of outrage, and generally contribute to the breakdown of civilian discourse on politics.

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