Futurist Jamais Cascio has over the past couple years been elaborating on an idea called Teratocracy, “the rule of monsters.” Specifically what he’s talking about, however, is the tendency for those who lose elections to question the legitimacy of the winning parties.
Here’s how he explains it:
Democracy is defined by how you lose, not (just) how you win.
The real test of whether a society that uses a plebiscite to determine leadership is really a democracy is whether the losing party accepts the loss and the legitimacy of their opponent’s victory. This is especially true for when the losing party previously held power. Do they give up power willingly, confident that they’ll have a chance to regain power again in the next election? Or do they take up arms against the winners, refuse to relinquish power, and/or do everything they can to undermine the legitimacy of the opposition’s rule? […]
Unfortunately, it appears that attacking the in-power opposition’s legitimacy may be an increasingly effective way to derail policy initiatives. When a substantial portion (at least 30%, perhaps up to 50%) of the Republican party, for example, believes that not only does Obama have bad policies, he has no legitimate right to be President, compromise and negotiation become difficult at best. Republican leaders willing to negotiate aren’t just compromising principles, they’re aiding and abetting a violation of the Constitution. And while this is currently a Republican problem, there’s nothing to say that Democrats — the political leaders, not just the activists — won’t learn the lesson that this is an effective way to fight once Republicans retake the Presidency.
Most of this is so much hot air, but as Cascio points out, it’s about the opposition party disrupting the winning party’s ability to govern. It’s about distraction.
The problem though is that our system is deeply broken — we have a two party duopoly, broken electoral processes designed to suppress the vote, etc. There were some on the left who questioned Bush’s legitimacy to lead as well, though I’m not sure these concerns were ever voiced as loudly as the Birthers’ claims.
The frightening thing is not that people are attacking the legitimacy of government, it’s a question of who is attacking it (ie, the very wealthy) and what sort of system we are likely to get in its place. Quoting Johnny Brainwash from my interview with him in 2010, which is worth a re-read:
The only way a movement could grow strong enough to take on the paramilitarized surveillance state backed up by an enormous and well-prepared military is if it recruits its own military power from the army and the police.
I don’t say this is unlikely- in fact, it’s a more valid concern than it has been in decades. But by drawing on the institutions of power, it guarantees that it will not be revolutionary in nature. Just a different set of goons on top, and no more hiding behind veils of democracy or what have you.