Today, I would rather let someone else do the talking for me.
“An American elite that has presided over massive and increasing public debt, that failed to prevent 9/11, that chose a disastrous war in the Middle East, that allowed financial markets to nearly destroy the global economy, and that is now so bitterly divided the Congress is effectively moot in a constitutional democracy: “We Respectables” deserve a comeuppance. The vital and valid lesson of the Trump phenomenon is that if the elites cannot govern by compromise, someone outside will eventually try to govern by popular passion and brute force.
“But elites still matter in a democracy. They matter not because they are democracy’s enemy but because they provide the critical ingredient to save democracy from itself. The political Establishment may be battered and demoralized, deferential to the algorithms of the web and to the monosyllables of a gifted demagogue, but this is not the time to give up on America’s near-unique and stabilizing blend of democracy and elite responsibility. The country has endured far harsher times than the present without succumbing to rank demagoguery; it avoided the fascism that destroyed Europe; it has channeled extraordinary outpourings of democratic energy into constitutional order. It seems shocking to argue that we need elites in this democratic age — especially with vast inequalities of wealth and elite failures all around us. But we need them precisely to protect this precious democracy from its own destabilizing excesses.”
This article was published in May 2016, but it seems especially appropriate to share today. It speaks my mind. The election may be over, but the corrosive, anti-democratic forces it has channeled are not going away. They wouldn’t have, even if Hillary had won.
It was Plato who first warned us that democracies that become too democratic devour themselves. True, the United States has so far proven uniquely resilient against this omen. But its institutions are not immune from human idiocy and self-destruction. My sense of foreboding continues to grow.
Of course, history is not inexorable. We are not bound by any metaphysical laws to repeat it. We have choices.
Yet even as I write that, it sounds too optimistic, because intelligent choices require a fundamental understanding of history; of the domino effect that can lead from seemingly trivial and isolated events to great tragedy. Intelligent choices require us to think intellectually and rationally. Not simplistically, not individualistically. And that, I increasingly believe, is too high an ask of the people—of us—just as it has been throughout the majority of human history.
This is why I am deeply worried. The confluence of political developments across the transatlantic, fueled by such atavistic impulses, are inauspicious for democracy. Whether they pose an existential threat remains to be seen.
Perhaps I am saying this now to be able to say that I saw it coming. In this, though, I take no pride in being right—never have I wanted to be more wrong.
So what now? Complacency is not an option—we need to reckon with the fact that we were so wrong; that we understood this country far less than we thought we did. And to this end, we would do well to recognize that progressive politics, as conducted over the last several years, are also much to blame for our current predicament. We had this backlash coming. I will elaborate on these thoughts later… Right now, I am going to go for a long walk along the beach, take deep breaths, listen to Beethoven. It is a humbling feeling, experiencing the losing side of democracy…