How many articles have you read insisting that we don’t really understand the poor, disenfranchised White people who voted for Donald Trump. According to their protectors, the White guys have lost and have been belittled so much that their rage and resentment follow almost inevitably. The primary enemy? Not the super rich, who this angry, misogynistic cohort actually aspires to be, but the eastern elite: the professionals, the intellectuals, the more modestly rich. That huge voting block located in Cambridge, New Haven, and New York. Well, maybe the enemy includes people of color, because, as Arlie Hochschild records, these jonny-come-lately Americans have cut in line, taking a place in American society that they don’t deserve.
During the campaign, Trump promised his aroused base anything they might desire, whether he believed in it or not. Long ago, H.L. Mencken advised described the Trump strategy: “If a politician found that he had cannibals among his constituents, he would promise them missionaries for dinner.” It wasn’t that Trump conducted surveys to discover what the people needed or wanted. The process may have been in reverse. It was the people “Choosing your dictators, after they’ve told you what you think it is you want to hear.” He certainly fed them the red meat of anger, and they were buying.
And by the way, the working White guys had some help in their march to victory. How about all those Black and Latino people who couldn’t be bothered to vote, who would rather join the whining class, claiming that voting won’t help, that the establishment isn’t interested in them, that their lives have no value to the establishment. Never mind that people of color are rapidly becoming the majority, which could lead to their being the establishment, if only they would organize well enough. What about all those millennials who also whine: it’s just so much harder for us than for other generations.
You have to wonder if the great majority, the people, even want to govern themselves. I wonder whether the “elite” has grown a little sentimental and unrealistic about the capacity of the majority to govern. Again, let’s listen to Mencken: democracy, he says, stems from “A recurrent yet incorrect suspicion that more than half the people are right more than half the time.” But the most damning skeptic is Winston Churchill: “The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.”
It seems to me that we mouth our belief in democracy without thinking too much about what it means. Even those—and there are many—who concede that it is a flawed system but the best we have and the best hedge against tyranny. There have always been doubters, beginning with the Founding Fathers, who did whatever they could to limit the potential damage of untrammeled democracy. They created balances of power. They created the Electoral College. And they created powerful voter restrictions—no women of Blacks need apply. In the eyes of the Founding Fathers, there was always the threat of mob rule and the need to protect against it.
Let’s face it, democratic institutions have not always provided a barrier against either tyranny of the majority or the tyranny of dictators. Didn’t the French Revolution lead to The Terror? Weren’t Adolph Hitler and Benito Mussolini elected to their positions? Hasn’t Donald Trump been elected? And don’t many of us believe that, with the help of an angry citizenry, he may well move our government in an authoritarian direction? Considering his attachment to his hotels, golf courses, neckties, and military men, we may become the largest banana republic the world has ever seen.
Again Mencken enhances our understanding when he says that democracy is “Election by the incompetent many for the appointment by the corrupt few.” I wonder if the Trump base will even raise an eyebrow to the many ways that Trump financial empire benefits from their newfound power.
Mencken tells us that “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.” It seems that Prince Donald’s proposed Cabinet of Deplorables portends just that. Just look at this group:
- Ben Carson, who thinks that public housing is a Communist plot, will try to dismantle as much affordable housing and neighborhood diversity as he can.
- Betsy DeVos will do her best to destroy the very educational system that gives the people their best chance to rise above their parents
- Jeffrey Beauregard Sessions will try to roll back civil rights to the days of the Dixiecrats.
- Andrew Pudzer, the fast-food exec will be the first Secretary of Labor who advocates fewer jobs and lower pay for the people.
- Scott Pruitt, the EPA nominee, will do his best to support the fossil fuel industry and get us out of treaties and policies aimed at preserving our environment.
- Tom Price, HHS, will do his best to take health care from twenty million Americans—children included.
I began this article with some skepticism about the disenfranchised Trump voters, but it’s the “eastern elite’s” acceptance of this perspective that galls me almost as much. Mea culpa, mea molto culpa, they intone. Really? I think we ought to throw the accusations back at the people. If you don’t like what’s going on, get off your rear ends and work to change it. Don’t just vent your anger on the establishment, organize, vote, rally. Get the working man’s and the working women’s issues on the ballot. And put people into office who will work your will.
I do believe that there is a good chance that the United States is inching closer to the rest of the world’s authoritarian governments. If this election campaign is a good test, then we are taking that direction not just with the consent but with the urging of the governed, who would rather complain or vent their anger than work together towards strategic solutions for a more just and equitable future. Unless, of course, you think the Cabinet of Deplorables will take you there.