Life on Earth – Part 4

Life on Earth

Excerpt taken from New York Magazine

by

Andrew Sullivan

And it is when a democracy has ripened as fully as this, Plato argues, that a would-be tyrant will often seize his moment.

He is usually of the elite but has a nature in tune with the time — given over to random pleasures and whims, feasting on plenty of food and sex, and reveling in the non judgment that is democracy’s civil religion. He makes his move by “taking over a particularly obedient mob” and attacking his wealthy peers as corrupt. If not stopped quickly, his appetite for attacking the rich on behalf of the people swells further. He is a traitor to his class — and soon, his elite enemies, shorn of popular legitimacy, find a way to appease him or are forced to flee. Eventually, he stands alone, promising to cut through the paralysis of democratic incoherence. It’s as if he were offering the addled, distracted, and self-indulgent citizens a kind of relief from democracy’s endless choices and insecurities. He rides a backlash to excess—“too much freedom seems to change into nothing but too much slavery” — and offers himself as the personified answer to the internal conflicts of the democratic mess. He pledges, above all, to take on the increasingly despised elites. And as the people thrill to him as a kind of solution, a democracy willingly, even impetuously, repeals itself.

And so, as I chitchatted over cocktails at a Washington office Christmas party in December, and saw, looming above our heads, the pulsating, angry televised face of Donald Trump on Fox News, I couldn’t help but feel a little nausea permeate my stomach. And as I watched frenzied Trump rallies on C-SPAN in the spring, and saw him lay waste to far more qualified political peers in the debates by simply calling them names, the nausea turned to dread. And when he seemed to condone physical violence as a response to political disagreement, alarm bells started to ring in my head. Plato had planted a gnawing worry in my mind a few decades ago about the intrinsic danger of late-democratic life. It was increasingly hard not to see in Plato’s vision a murky reflection of our own hyperdemocratic times and in Trump a demagogic, tyrannical character plucked directly out of one of the first books about politics ever written.

Could it be that the Donald has emerged from the populist circuses of pro wrestling and New York City tabloids, via reality television and Twitter, to prove not just Plato but also James Madison right, that democracies “have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention … and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths”? Is he testing democracy’s singular weakness — its susceptibility to the demagogue — by blasting through the firewalls we once had in place to prevent such a person from seizing power? Or am I overreacting?

Perhaps. The nausea comes and goes, and there have been days when the news algorithm has actually reassured me that “peak Trump” has arrived. But it hasn’t gone away, and neither has Trump. In the wake of his most recent primary triumphs, at a time when he is perilously close to winning enough delegates to grab the Republican nomination outright, I think we must confront this dread and be clear about what this election has already revealed about the fragility of our way of life and the threat late-stage democracy is beginning to pose to itself.

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About Bruce Louis Dodson

Bruce Louis Dodson is an American expat now living in Borlänge, Sweden with his wife, cat and dog. He is an artist and world traveler who writes fiction and poetry and practices photography in his less than copious free time. His work has appeared in: Barely South Review - Boundaries Issue, Blue Collar Review, Pulsar Poetry (UK), Foliate Oak, Breadline Press West Coast Anthology . The E-buffet, Qarrtsiluni, Struggle Magazine, Pearl Literary Magazine, Contemporary Literature Review: India, 3rd Wednesday, Sleeping Cat Books - Trip of a Lifetime Anthology, Northern Liberties Review, Authors Abroad - Foreign & and Far Away Anthology, The Path, Page & Spine, The Crucible, Sleeping Cat Books -Trips of a Lifetime, Vine Leaves, Pirene's Fountain,Tic Toc Anthology - Kind of a Hurricane Press, Cordite Poetry Review, Buffalo Almanac and mgv2.
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4 Responses to Life on Earth – Part 4

  1. ShimonZ says:

    Hi there Bruce, I usually refrain from discussing the politics of another country. I know from the experience of my own country, that often people looking in from outside don’t understand the subtleties of the political dynamic. But in this case, with both of us being ‘outsiders’ to some extent, and considering that the US is the super power of our time, influencing many other countries and societies, I thought it permissible to take a stand. It seems to me that democracy has become something of a religion in western countries. Especially after the wave of political correctness, what is ‘in’ or ‘out’ resembles fashion more than it does a standard of values. And unfortunately, the politicians are no longer the brave leaders who exemplify the highest standards of society. If we look at the present political contest in the states, it seems that neither party was able to find an inspiring hero to represent the social attitude that characterize the party. I agree that there is something frightening about the choices offered the people. And one can guess that in the coming presidential election, there will be more people choosing the lesser of the evils than proudly voting their choice. The big question for me, is how bad does it have to get before people reorganize society? My impression is that America first endangered its future with the program ‘no one left behind’ in the school system. Because at that point, society was willing to trash formal education instead of trying to repair it. But there were many little steps that took that country from a society based on time proven values, to a society on the verge of anarchy. I do hope for the best, though.

    • I totally agree, Shimon.
      I think it has to get much worse before people are ready to reorganize, and then it will be too late. Maybe too late already.
      These elections- “The lesser of two evils” This is not a choice.

  2. Thanks, Bruce, for sharing this unnerving piece. This is a scary time and I fear what lies in our future. We have bred an ignorant people and “democracy” cannot survive when the voters are ill-informed and looking for instant gratification that is warpped around blatant racism.

    • Myrah,

      I totally agree. At the same time I’m not sure it would matter even if voters were well informed.
      It seems like power is far removed from common hands. Was ever so, I’m thinking.

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