This column by Martin LeFevre was written before Donald Trump became president in 2016. We feel it is fitting to re-run it at this moment.
Democracy works, in its imperfectly compromising way, when a given people are essentially aware and decent, and do not revel and roar in ignorance. But when a people are willfully ignorant and indecent, and when intellectuals refuse to see and address it, democracy degenerates into mob rule.
Now that Donald Trump has turned against the Republican Party that nominated him, even turned against democracy itself (calling the election “absolutely rigged” weeks before it takes place), the election has become a clear referendum on the American people and American democracy.
The problem is even if Trump doesn’t win and Hill-Bill return to the White House, we will merely have bought, at very high cost, a little more time before the old order collapses.
Socrates distrusted nascent Greek democracy, and when the demos ruled that he should be put to death for corrupting the youth and disrespecting the gods, he saw it as confirmation of his contempt for the crowd.
At 70 he accepted the decree that he drink hemlock, taking it as a good way to die, and refusing to beg for mercy from the mob, though the judges wished to let him go. As a modern commentator has said, “woe to him that teaches men faster than they can learn.”
Plato was raised as an aristocrat, but only became scornful of democracy when his beloved teacher was put to death. He rightly believed that democracy had become a mob and the mob had killed Socrates. That’s why for the rest of his life Plato sought the rule of the wisest and the best. But how to have that without creating an aristocracy, where power is explicitly in the hands of the few?
There is no equivalency between Trump and Clinton, but when Hillary says, “America is great because we are good” she too is twice lying to the American people.
The United States is only accepting 10,000 Syrian refugees, and most governors want to accept none. Germany, with a population one-quarter the size of the America, has given sanctuary to a million refugees. President Obama’s willful neglect of the Syrian humanitarian crisis is and will forever be a terrible blot on his presidency.
Democracy extends no further than national boundaries, and often not very far within them. And now, even in its most venerated lands, democracy is degenerating into mob rule, which inevitably gives rise to tyrants.
The world has become a single, chaotic, ungoverned and seemingly ungovernable society. All people now live in a global society, one utterly lacking global order and global governance. What is our response?
Geography no longer defines, much less determines peoples, cultures and nations. Climate change knows no borders, and is both the real and symbolic expression of man’s disorder.
Climate change not only represents a man-made threat to the man-made world, but it stands in for the man-made ecological crisis as a whole, which is actually the crisis of human consciousness.
The West reels, and the world spins out of control. In America, the late great “leader of the free world,” Donald Trump is the darkest manifestation of the worst in the American character, the rotting rump of the Enlightenment in the New World, presaged by Brexit and other nationalistic movements in the Old World.
Progressives are betting there’s enough decency and rationality left in the American people to defeat the tyrant Trump. That’s not only a very low bar; it does nothing to address the underlying realities that gave rise to him.
Obtusely, progressive pundits continue to ‘celebrate the progress we have made, for change is incremental.’ They don’t ask: Why do so many people want to burn everything down and start over?
They continue to believe that the worldview of Trump and his mob of millions is derived mainly from white supremacist and Neo-Nazi sources, rather than see it for what it is: a reaction to the nightmarish dystopia America has become socially and spiritually.
Their response to the underlying reality is to answer irrational emotion with rational statistics, as if mathematics ever won over the mob.
Their answer to Trump’s guttural cries from and for the rabble, that crime is running wild, inner cities are war zones, and hordes of violent immigrants are pouring across our open border, is to cite, “80% of Americans that are satisfied with their standard of living, and 55% consider themselves to be ‘thriving.’” That only incites people even more.
Though nearly a quarter of Americans suffer from a diagnosable mental illness in a given year—a conservative statistic, the truth is probably closer to half. Yet progressive mouthpieces for the status quo continue to insist, “we have many problems, but we’re hardly living in a miasma of despair.”
Is their willful blindness to the inner reality essentially any different than the distorted and externalizing projection of that reality by Trump and his mob?
Progressives refuse to look into the dark core of the American psyche, because that would mean also looking into themselves. They obstinately “believe in the resilience of liberal democracy, in the little man in the little booth.”
After all, we must “respect the intelligence of voters,” even when, very possibly or very nearly, the majority are utterly unintelligent.
Martin LeFevre is a contemplative, and non-academic religious and political philosopher. He welcomes dialogue. email@example.com
Published with permission of the author. All copyright remains with the author.
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