So this is Democracy?
I read recently that Trump’s approval rating for his handling of the Covid-19 crisis is well-above 50%. Though I’d developed an immunity to shock, even a defensive nonchalance about the depths to which we’ve fallen as a society, this one frankly shocks me and takes the cake. I mean, one can find ways to understand peoples’ acceptance of (or support of)his racism, sexism, anti-science bias, and callous indifference to life- after all many people harbor the same biases- but this time, I thought it would be different; after all, this time, MAGA- acolytes’ own safety is at risk. It appears that ideology trumps not only practicality and decency but also the basic instinct we have for self-preservation. We must give credit where credit is due: No Houdini could have pulled off this magic act, but Trump did.
And so it goes.
There are many truisms about Democracy and Democracies. Most of them highlight either their failings or bring into bold relief how even de jure Democracies are de facto anything-but. The United States animates these truisms like no other. In that Orwellian formulation, we are indeed a country nonpareil.
From the beginning, we were deeply marred: Genocide and slavery will do that to you. Just as we ruthlessly conquered peoples, we ruthlessly conquered nature. As we realized that despite the enormous bounty we stole we needed more, we looked beyond our borders for more spoils. As we proclaimed our own greatness, our unique position in history, we kept large tracts of our people in poverty, worked others to death in the name of the economy (of the elite), and used guns, bombs, and any weapons we felt like using to reduce large tracts of the world to penury and subservience.
Our Democracy was late to the game- for women who couldn’t vote for most of the country’s history to African-Americans who were given franchise only after much of the world had decolonized. We had an arsenal of hydrogen bombs before African-Americans could vote. Today, our Gini coefficient is amongst the highest in the world, and our healthcare system routinely fails a majority of American citizens.
And so it goes.
So this is Democracy?
Democracies like the US and India express their “democratic politics” in the form of elections; in both cases, majoritarianism has won. In the US, a phalanx of conservative, Christian, white-first elements — i.e. much of the general population- brought Donald Trump into the Emperor’s Seat. In India, anti-Muslim sentiments amongst the Hindu majority brought Narendra Modi to power. In both cases, the calculus was simple: All you have to do is get a large enough portion of the majority community to support you and that, further, the best way to do this is to openly bait your “enemies.”
In both cases, the chief executive has incredible powers. Totalitarians do as well but in those cases, the populace knows it is living in a lie of sorts. In Democracies, our overblown sense of individual choice disguises our conformity and automaton-like behavior when the chief executive makes demands.
In the US now, our chief executive has made narcissism and nihilism state policy, duly supported by “just enough” people to keep the lights on. Crucial to this is a subservient party, which is a common characteristic of the aforementioned democracies as well as totalitarian nations.
This is Democracy in the US in 2020.
So when the President openly refuses to act coherently and humanly during this pandemic, people continue to line up behind him. His power, so great indeed, is such that he can through prestidigitation impel people to rally in favor of their own illness and possible demise. His words- incoherent at best- act as a spell the mere incantation of which converts “thinkers” into automatons.
So the bungler-in-chief has an above 50% approval rating for an active, petulant, deathly lack-of-policy that will result in thousands of American deaths- and not just of the well-known “enemies” but even of his MAGA crew.
I was always struck by the religious peoples’ response to sudden death of a loved one- “it is God’s way” and that “God has a plan.” I have been told that such thoughts provide succor and soothing in hard times because being part of Providence is special. We now respond to sudden death by reconciling ourselves to the idea that this is “Trump’s way.” If this is Providence, then Trump is God.
So is this really Democracy?