2016

11 May 2016: Election shows democracy is eroding

The deed is done. Donald Trump is the face of the Republican Party. Is this then the beginning of the end of what I call “the once venerable Republican Party”? More important, does this signal the unraveling of the American experiment? Am I being apocalyptic in either case?

The unraveling of both major parties, as we have known them, seems more imminent. The Republican Party, populated by dutiful souls endowed with father-knows-best, authoritarian leadership complexes, found itself no match for today’s P.T Barnum.

From the left, Bernie Sanders seems hell-bent on doing in the Democratic Party, where party loyalty is as flaccid as it is chiseled granite in the erstwhile grand old party. He calls it a “political revolution.” Others, not so kind, see his quest as a hostile takeover of a party with which he had never been a member in lieu of riding the Socialist or Green parties that would have been more suited for his message.

Our constitutional republican form of government has served us well for over two centuries, even in far darker times than we’re in. But we’re not the tough and hardy souls that forged a nation or preserved it during times of crises. When it comes to the defense of our liberty and personal freedoms, we’re evolving into a soft, fearful people, an entitled, privileged caste that expects life to come as easy as micro-waved meals, 24-hour cable sports and news, and cell phone coverage. Too many eschew reading and, therefore, thinking, opting instead to immersing themselves into and becoming addicted to fantasy sports and “reality” shows that serve as a narcotic.

Like others in denial, they refuse to accept reality or ownership of personal culpability. Like the boy in the public service advertisement who calls his disabled grandmother from his cell while playing video games to ask her to bring him another grape soda, they don’t want to do the heavy lifting requisite in maintaining a strong and effective polity. Instead, a sizable number has turned to a snake charmer or to a messiah to slay perceived enemies and to solve their woes.

Governance in a representative democracy intrinsically depends on moving to the center and compromising. But since the Republican rebranded itself as the Party of No, America has experienced a void in that most crucial area. And, like nature, governance abhors a void.

On the left, as the state of affairs descends into hell, judgment and prescription, in turn, ascends into the moral realm. Wall St. is evil. Big banks are evil. Gas, oil, and other extraction industries are evil. The one percent is evil. Speech that offends, smacks of injurious to others’ well-being is censored. For the left, they’re the root of the problem.

As religious fundamentalists despise moral relativists more than other fundamentalists, so too political ideologues feel about pragmatic, willing-to-compromise leaders. In such a fevered arena, character assassination and guilt by association rule as essential and effective strategies.

In The Crucible, a play about the McCarthy Era set in context of the Salem Witch Trials, Arthur Miller succinctly describes such platitudinous postulating.

“Political opposition, thereby, is given an inhumane overlay which then justifies the abrogation of all normally applied customs of civilized intercourse.

“A political policy is equated with moral right, and opposition to it with diabolical malevolence. Once such an equation is effectively made, society becomes a congeries of plots and counterplots, and the main role of government changes from that of the arbiter to that of the scourge of God.”

Plots and counterplots. Note too that an atheist or agnostic can be a scourge of God.

Columnist Andrew Sullivan in an extensive and thought-provoking piece in New York magazine argues America, right now, has become a breeding ground for tyranny. While that might be inconceivable, political philosophers have shown since antiquity that democracy contains the seeds of its own destruction.

When a democracy becomes too democratic, a sum of all its myriad now-equal parts—race, gender, economic classes, social, ethnic and religious subgroups—lacking a centering cohesiveness that forms the foundation of a viable commonweal, it becomes ripe for the pickings of a magician in the form of a gifted orator who can sway and swoon the masses, who promises to right the ills, punish transgressors, and through a fiery ordeal of revolution create an Eden in America.

Is American democracy on the shoals?

Close, but we’re not there…yet.

To be continued.

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