Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Hard To Establish And Easy To Destroy


Alexis de Tocqueville was impressed with the new United States of America. One wonders what conclusions he would reach today. Gerry Caplan writes that American democracy has always been fragile:

Way back during the Great Depression, an American writer named Sinclair Lewis wrote a novel about the fragility of democracy in the United States and how easily the country could end up being run by a fascist dictator like Italy and Germany. Most Americans scoffed at the possibility, which is why Mr. Lewis ironically titled his book It Can’t Happen Here. In his plausible and chilling fable, it did happen. In real-life 1930s America, it came perilously close.

And, today, that democracy is threatened in the person of Donald Trump:

The crazier Mr. Trump’s statements, the more outrageous, provocative, sexist and bigoted, the more he is embraced by tens of millions of Americans. And not just loyal Republicans. It’s true, according to a recent poll, that 76 per cent of Republicans feel that the values of Islam are “incompatible with the American way of life.” More appallingly, a majority of the general public, 56 per cent, agree. A dangerous sickness has taken hold across the United States and Mr. Trump is its main beneficiary and its embodiment.

The woman who will probably be his Democratic opponent is very vulnerable:

Ms. Clinton has always been on the very edge of landing in deadly quicksand, almost deliberately tempting fate to see how much she could get away with. We can take for granted that in the election campaign she will have great quantities of mud thrown at her every single day, deserved or fabricated. While much of the media seems mesmerized by Mr. Trump’s shamelessness, many loathe Ms. Clinton with a bottomless passion. That is why she has a very good chance of being defeated. Indeed, what many of us have refused to understand is that the very shamelessness of Mr. Trump is what attracts so much support.

Lest we get too smug, Caplan reminds Canadians that they have met Mr. Trump in another guise. His name was Rob Ford:

Canadians, at least, should grasp this phenomenon. We’ve been through the identical syndrome with former Toronto mayor Rob Ford. Everything that most readers of this column hated about Mr. Ford made him a winner to countless Torontonians. So it is with Mr. Trump. It’s precisely his recklessness, his outrageousness, his bigotry, his ignorance, his indifference to reason and evidence that have made him a hero to tens of millions of Americans, enough to make his election as president perfectly plausible.

Democracy is hard to establish and easy to destroy. All it takes is one person -- and ignorant citizens.


Lorne said...

Those are chilling observations indeed, Owen. Our own flirtation with darkness, both federally and municipally, should teach us a couple of things: one, we are not by any means immune to demagoguery; two, democracy is something that needs to be constantly nurtured and cherished by an informed and engaged electorate.

Owen Gray said...

Thomas Jefferson is one of my heroes, Lorne. Not because he wrote the Declaration of Independence -- which I admire -- but because he founded the University of Virginia, a public university. Jefferson knew that democracy would die unless it was supported by an educated citizenry.

Scotian said...

How many times have I made the point that democratic systems of government are of a "use it or lose it" nature? I've lost count, and this is yet another example of the truth in that belief. I would though submit that there is a slight difference between the municipal and federal levels of a nation's chief executive, especially that of a mayor of a Canadian city and of the USA which is still the single largest power in all senses of the term on the planet with the nuclear ability alone to extinguish human civilization and possibly even the species entirely should it chose to. Which makes what we have been watching from in the USA over the past few decades that much more horrifying. Trump and Trumpism didn't just magically appear, it was a direct result of how the GOP from the beginnings of the moral majority movement in the 70s became the political party of the religious, of faith over reason, of the vast liberal culture war and media myth, and that path has inevitably led to this result.

Some of us have seen this coming for a long time and wept for it, Rob Ford may also be a symptom of it, but that sort of hard right populist/demogogic crazy I would argue is a direct spillover effect into Canadian politics, and not one by accident either. For several decades now the same forces of money and extremism that have been helping the political right in American change the dialogue to the language they want have been working to do the same here, because they cannot afford to have a working model of all they claim cannot work on their doorstep. Their hatred of our medicare system in particular being one example, which is why the NCC and Harper in particular managed to enjoy such warm reception down in the USA whenever he went a visiting back in the day.

The main reason I always watched American politics closely was because I understood how powerful the ripple effect into ours was becoming along with the media tools like TV. It was bad enough growing up in the 70s hearing people talk about being protected by things like the Fifth Amendment around here and actually believing it, and I understood even in Elementary school that was clearly wrong (the joys of being born into a family full of lawyers, doctors, and politicians, thankfully Dad was a black sheep and was an engineer, sanity...LOL), but it underscored the increasing power of TV as the source of information as opposed to actual proper learning, and it made clear to me this could apply and ripple farther and farther. Which as I aged I saw that it did. So I watched the rise of the religious right and the pandering the GOP made to it as a worrisome sign. I saw them in the early period believing they could keep them in check and that they had no real power at the highest levels of policy beyond tokenism. Then came first Reagan and then the Gingrich Congressional revolution of the 90s, and you could see that really changing. Then GWB happened, and watching the 2004 Presidential election and the concept of gay marriage/rights being used openly to win it for Bush showed just how close we were getting to what we are seeing today.

This was a long pattern of development within the GOP, and watching the establishment GOP trying to disavow it and be aghast at it now has been a source of bitter amusement and fury for me. They made this beast possible, nay probable for years on end to gain and hold power at the State and federal levels, and yet now they want to act all shocked when the monster they raised and promised red meat to but rarely if ever delivered broke free of its chains and went on a rampage? If the consequences were not so serious for not just the US but the planet itself I'd be enjoying this sight, but I am anything but.

Owen Gray said...

I agree that Trump as president is much more dangerous than Ford as mayor, Scotian. But the roots of each man's success are the same. When a nation's citizens choose faith over reason, that nation is in trouble.

Anonymous said...

You are looking too far down the tree when you look at Ford. Steven Harper and his group at the PMO are as close to fascist as I ever want to see. Using fear of the other was one of the Nazis' tools. But the PM and his PMO had the average citizen quaking in their boots with fear of ISIS/ISIL insanity. Just look at the direction of legislation in Canada during the CRAP reign of terror. Members of Parliament and even senators jumped when told to do so and wouldn't even ask how high. Many of the fascist legislative acts were slipped in unnoticed the ominbus bills. Parliament was treated with total contempt. The foundation behind their successes was the extreme religious right, claiming the "end times", whom they ignored once in power. Fortunately Harper, like Hitler, proved to be the best leader we could have had to persuade people how wrong that direction was. Their/his excess actually woke Canadians up.

The next fascist may be more careful and move more slowly. Look at the rise of right wing extremism in Europe today. We have to be vigilant here as well.

Owen Gray said...

Harper was more dangerous than Ford, Anon. It was interesting that, in his final days, Harper sought a photo op with Ford -- a mark of clear desperation.

Pamela Mac Neil said...

"When a nation's citizens choose faith over reason,that nation is in trouble." You have in one sentence, pretty well summed up the relationship between Trump and his followers.

ron wilton said...

Maybe,just maybe, the 'values' of Islam 'are' incompatible with the American way of life.

In Arabic the word islam means submission. This is total and absolute submission to the word and the will of God and there is no other God but Allah.

I need not try to define the 'American way of life' but in their minds they are not submissive to anyone and Allah is most decidedly not their God.

The native Americans had the same problem starting in 1492 and they have paid dearly for their troubles.

In 2016 it is largely a battle of wills and wont's and that could escalate to something more physical in Trump's world.

Owen Gray said...

The problem with organized religion in general is that it requires submission, ron. And that means getting other religions to submit to a particular religious dogma.

Owen Gray said...

I suppose we all need something or someone to believe in, Pam. But putting one's faith in Trump is a sign of collective insanity.

ffd said...

Rob Ford is out of the political picture because he is unlikely to recover from his advanced cancer. I looked up the prognosis for his kind of cancer and the sites I went to said patients with tumours over 2 inches in size only rarely lasted five years. His tumour in May 2015 was five inches. I rather hope he hangs on somehow because brother Doug is far more dangerous than Rob ever was and Doug has political aspirations way beyond municipal. When Rob dies, there may be a wave of sympathy that might get Doug into some political position where he can do a huge amount of damage. No doubt Doug will do his best to benefit from such sympathy.

I agree the average Canadian needs to grow a brain and some backbone. Democracy is at risk without involved and fairly well informed citizens.

Owen Gray said...

Some politicians -- like the Fords and Stephen Harper -- are really good at appealing to ignorance, ffd.