by Mike Booth
This is Part five of a six-part series, It’s Getting Late, America
What America Needs in Order to Float
The tragic flaws in America’s recent history are not just attributable to low men in high places. There’s another element, perhaps as important: the inherent faults in American democracy. Just as a boat requires water to float, an effective democracy requires an informed populace, good will, and a willingness to compromise in order to make progress. America today has none of those elements.
The electoral process in a democracy doesn’t begin at voting age. It begins in early childhood–as young as three–in which family and the surrounding society cooperate in immersing their children in a humane, collaborative, egalitarian world, not one ruled by bellicose individualism, racism and militarism. Scandinavia didn’t become great until the Vikings laid down their axes.
President Donald Trump was elected in a free and fair election after having enunciated his absurd program based on simplistic, laissez-faire-for-some- tough-luck-for-the-rest ideology with no relation to reality beyond the mindless gutting of vital government competencies and agencies, and the denigration of President Barak Obama’s legacy.
The looming 2016 electoral debacle should have been evident to anyone with eyes to see. But a majority of American voters were blind to these realities. It didn’t take a massive majority to install Trump in the White House. A quick look at the Russian revolution will convince you of how effective a small-but-committed party can be.
The Founders Secured the Young Republic
America’s founders thought long and hard about measures to protect their fledgling republic from evil, with carefully stipulated election procedures, constitutional checks and balances, scrupulous separation of powers, and a Supreme Court with lifelong justices. The only loophole they left for themselves and the rest of the gentle folk in the case of a mob takeover of the election process was the Electoral College. That cumbersome, anti-democratic invention was supposed to function as a firewall in the case of populist undesirables winning a presidential election. It was an anachronism then and remains one today.
Ironically, the result of the 2016 presidential election was a perfect example of what the founders wanted to prevent with the electoral college–the co-opting of an election by an unscrupulous, racist, retrograde mob–the Republican Party. This is not to say that all of the Republican legislators were sociopaths, but they were all aware that their voting base was cognitively deficient and driven by hate, racism, and apocalyptic religion. Almost all of them pandered to that base. The few who didn’t paid a high career price.
The intellectually-handicapped nature of a significant sector of American society turned out to be an advantage for the GOP. That electorate was easy to manipulate with the rudimentary means at hand: good ole-time racism, rancid knee-jerk anti-communism, insults and name calling, lies and half truths, and quotes from holy scripture. That and plenty of right-wing money and big-data technology was enough to get the job done.
Trump’s Unique Talent
Once in office President Trump began to play his confused, misled public like a virtuoso. This was his unique talent. For that he was a regular idiot savant. Though he couldn’t tell you on what day of the week the battle of Hastings was fought, he could bring a crowd to climax by declaiming “facts” and sleaze that he pulled out of his sleeve on the run. His perfect resonance with his congregation was–and remains–remarkable. That said, those marks had been groomed over many years by P.T. Barnum, Billy Graham and Madison Avenue, each in their own deadly effective way.
The dumbing down of America wasn’t limited just to the three R’s. It included the most forgotten yet most important subject of all–philosophy. Not rocket science philosophy, just day-to-day good manners and kindness, civic sense, generosity, and concern for the good of all people in a commonwealth. American young people learned all the opposite: rugged individualism. America’s worst enemy in the 20th century wasn’t Soviet Russia. It was John Wayne.
Trump’s great luck was that the mediocrity of his own mind and values meshed nicely with those of enough of his countrymen to get him elected President of the United States. His critics should never lose sight of the fact that Trump didn’t create America. America created Trump. Getting rid of him won’t solve the ingrained problems.
Teach Your Children Well
Here lies the ultimate justification for free and equal education dedicated to truth and excellence, with quality facilities and competent, well-paid and appreciated, professional teachers. Unfortunately, too many of the American political elite don’t object to the dumbing down of the populace, both intellectually and morally. They prefer it, as the result is a bovine electorate that will chew contentedly on any cheap ideological cud. One of their most effective distractions is religion.
The free-thinking founders of the United States would be distressed to discover that modern America has reverted to medieval standards in matters of religion. It was the presidency of Dwight Eisenhower (1952-60) that saw the institutionalized collusion between a president and a fundamentalist evangelist. Eisenhower and Billy Graham formed a formidable team dedicated to christianizing American from top to bottom, including the government. From then on that brand of pandering to magical religious influencers became the norm. A large part of American political candidates still rely on them for votes and financing.
Again it was President Trump who took the concept to its logical absurdity when he named a bimbo “prosperity gospel” televangelist (“If you can’t send that $100,000 check, send one for $20.”) as his “presidential spiritual advisor.” She looks incongruous in the White House, as if she might be more appropriate in an old-time sideshow between the sword swallower and the bearded lady.
We know that the United States has some of the finest thinkers in the world, but are there enough of them to counterbalance the influence of the swarm of venal televangelists, the megachurches, and the semi-literate uber patriots and true believers? What about state supported religious schools under the guise of “charter schools?” Was Trump’s naming of Betsy d’Vos as Secretary of Education a master stroke of modern surrealism? Does this American religious tsunami help to account for the current Chinese technological sovereignty? Ninety percent of Chinese citizens are non-religious persons.
They Want to Be Happy
Americans in democracy want to be happy, but thanks to their misdirected upbringing they don’t know what happiness is. They strive for ever more stuff and think that bling will make them happy. It will, up to a point, but that point is limited and more stuff won’t make them happier. What would make them profoundly happy, though most of them haven’t considered it, is a project to achieve a better world–or a better corner of the world–with equality, racial harmony, mutual respect, diplomacy instead of war, cooperation instead of killer competition. What is considered simple normality in other parts of the world would be a great step forward for Americans.
But it doesn’t seem to be in the cards. The US Congress, itself, is a microcosm of all the dystopia and unhappiness in America. It’s a hive of internecine hate and conflict, of “special” interests. What makes the interests of the rich so special, anyway? Most of Washington’s legislators are ignorant of the fact that scruples are not just for mouthing in televised debates. They’re there to make life better for everyone. America wasn’t created by gunslingers. It was made by pioneer women and crooked magnates. Happiness is about making things, whether it be a model airplane or a family, and the best things cannot be created by one person alone. They result from team efforts. “Team” in America connotates competition, conflict or combat. That’s their default setting. In other parts of the world it suggests cooperation.
It seems that everything wrong with America is rooted in the false values that Americans fed to their children along with their Cheerios. So there you have them, the peddlers of eternity, the political social climbers, the lost lumpenproletariat, the sadistic cops, the disappeared girls, the pederast priests, the prostitutes and pimps in public life, and all the other extravagant types from central casting. Do any of them know where those high-gloss lacquered horses of the American merry-go-round are taking them?
Coming next week, The last part of a six-part series,
It’s Getting Late, America
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