As we comfort each other at this time of great loss, let’s be kind. It’s not our fault. We always recognized that our form of government was America’s “experiment with democracy” — a choice of words that suggests the ongoing possibility that the experiment might not turn out so well.
It didn’t. To make sense of why it failed, ponder the nature of democracy. Pure democracy is nothing more than cheap tyranny of the majority. So America tried to fine-tune pure democracy by adding Thomas Jefferson’s improvements. Jeffersonian democracy relied upon having a society’s best and brightest in positions of power where they can act as valves or dampers to control the raging passions of the masses.
American democracy’s slow degradation is now followed by a rapid one. The Klan, the Neo-Nazis and white supremacists are the beneficiaries.What happened to our best and brightest and their role in a Jeffersonian democracy? Couldn’t our best and brightest have stopped this? Surely they’re brighter than the Klan, right?
It might have something to do with technology. When history is written about America’s final decline leading to Trumpism, there will be a chapter about the immediacy of the electronic age. Such instantanaity had the effect of short – circuiting what historically had been a deliberative legislative process where cooler heads usually prevailed.
As a lobbyist for public defenders for over a decade, I watched legislators increasingly glued to their email and twitter feeds as they faced tough decisions. By responding so quickly to constituents’ whims, they allowed themselves to become dumb tools, mere scribes — not deliberators — and certainly not the best and brightest of Jefferson’s design. Thoughtful debate became a relic of the past as tweets increasingly gave voice to constituents’ baser urges.
Civility diminished. The tone changed. Our best and brightest started heading for the exits as those willing to rage and scream took greater power. Our country was ripe for a demagogue who could effectively coalesce the resentments of the underclass, as demagogues do. The demagogue arrived and dangled false promises and outright lies before a frightened and dimwitted electorate … again, as demagogues do. It worked. Donald Trump is now America’s president-elect.
The cancer will kill its host. America’s death will come a lot faster than anyone realizes. Because we’ve been raised on a false diet of American exceptionalism, we just haven’t seen it coming. The oligarchs will make out like bandits — they always do — when the government falls, but the rest of us will face privation at the very least.
I pledge allegiance to a set of ideals — inclusivity, equal opportunity, generosity. It’s been a great run while my home country mostly embraced and sometimes just flirted with these ideals. That’s over now, and people will rise up against craven fools in power — in the White House, in Congress, and the Supreme Court.
My allegiance will remain with the ideals, not the flag and not the country.
Robert Sykora, 11 November 2016, Suphanburi Province, Thailand