Thursday, May 30, 2024

May 30, 2024
Democracy as problem and solution

Recently I reread The Daughter of Time; by mystery novelist Josephine Tey.  Her detective, Alan Grant, is hospitalized after being injured pursuing a suspect, and he passes time reading history books and contemplating a portrait of Richard III who, according to many histories, had his two nephews murdered.  Grant is something of an expert in reading chacter in faces, and is convinced that Richard was not a murderer. He procedes, with the aid of a young researcher, to expose flaws in the story.  This restatement of history in detctive story form, in addition to presenting a persuasive refutation of the account of Richard as murderer of children, offers descriptions of historical gullibility, stories that those present knew were false but which became acepted lore.  In the age of Trump, believing lies is a too-familiar pattern.

A friend of Grant offered this explanation of why people continue to accept obviously false stories:
It’s an odd thing, but when you tell someone the true facts of a mythical tale, they are indignant not with the teller but with you.  They don’t want to have their ideas upset.  It rouses some vague uneasiness in them, I think, and they resent it, So they reject it and refuse to think about it.    
Our country today is full of such people, those who cling to Trump’s fantasies. Why do they believe him?  Stuart Stevens, in his recent book, offered an explanation: “Voting for Trump had nothing to do with solving problems.  That was the thing called ‘governing,’ which involved ‘policy’, and that wasn’t why MAGA voters loved Trump.  They embraced Trump for how he made them feel.”

What underlies that need for emotional reassurance?  Stevens refers to a “shared sense of victimhood that has defined the MAGA movement . . . .”  Many people see their status declining and are receptive to manipulators who will find someone to blame, whether immigrants or ”socialists” or “the deep state.” or globalist conspiracies.

Those of us who are more or less liberal claim to want more democracy, or at least to defend what we have of it and, given the autocratic tendencies of Trump and company, that is natural.  However, the extreme gullibility of the MAGA crowd makes one wonder whether democracy can work. A line attributed to Winston Churchill, although it apparently is apocryphal, summed up the problem cynically “The best argument against Democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.”

Nevertheless, our problem, at least in part, isn’t too much democracy but too little. The electoral college gives small states undue influence. (Wyoming has one elector for 188,000 people, California one for 677,345), as well as allowing the election of a candidate, such as Trump, who loses the popular vote   The Senate, too, is unrepresentative.  The situation is exacerbated by various programs of vote suppression.  

Trump lost the popular vote in 2016 and in 2020 which, at least until this November, preserves my belief in democracy and my desire to expand it.
24. The Conspiracy to End America: Five Ways My Old Party Is Driving Our Democracy to Autocracy (2023), p.32
25.  Id, p. 26
26. herrings-famous-quotes-churchill-never-said/
27. have-in-your-state#gid=ci02666ac9200024ec&pid=2-world-manhattan-nyc-new-york-sh

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