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The end of democracy? - John Samuel Tieman

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Axar.az presents the article "The end of democracy?" by John Samuel Tieman.

My grandfather, Sam Wimer, ran for Mayor of St. Louis in 1933. He was a Republican turned Independent. The Democrat, Barney Dickmann, soundly beat him. My grandfather and Mayor Dickmann remained lifelong friends. Gramps told stories about how his friend tended bar for parties my grandparents threw during Prohibition. I still have a beautiful silver service that Barney Dickmann, and others, gave to my grandparents on their 25th wedding anniversary. My Republican grandfather admitted many years later that in 1932 he voted for the Democratic candidate for president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Those days are long gone. And I don't mean gone are the old stories. I mean I fear that loyal opposition is fading. Ultimately, I fear that democracy is fading. Does this country still have a shared vision? Loyal opposition is predicated upon the idea that many folks oppose each other on policy, but they are loyal to a shared vision of society. This is why someone once could say in Congress, “I rise in opposition to the bill proposed by my dear friend and esteemed colleague, the learned senator from Missouri.” Once. But now?

Consider a survey taken by pollster Kirsten Soltis Anderson. She asked if politics is more about “enacting good public policy” or “ensuring the survival of the country.“ Only 19% of Donald Trump's followers said “policy”. 51% said that politics is about “survival”. Whom do these Trump followers fear? According to a “Yahoo” survey, Republicans dismiss the dangers of right-wing or Christian extremism. They fear “left-wing extremism” and “extremism in the name of Islam.” They continue to support Pres. Trump's “ban on travellers from Muslim-majority countries”.

My point here is of vision. In an Economist / You Gov poll, one question posed was “What comes closest to your view?” The two possibilities were “Our lives are threatened by terrorists, criminals, and illegal immigrants, and our priority should be to protect ourselves,” or “It’s a big, beautiful world, mostly full of good people, and we must find a way to embrace each other and not allow ourselves to become isolated.” Overall, Americans chose optimism. However, two-thirds of Trump supporters believe that we “are threatened”. I could go on quoting surveys that outline these growing divisions in my country. But my point is simple. These divisions portend an end to representative democracy as we know it, because they portend an end to a shared vision. Despite all its flaws in practice, the foundational vision of the United States is utopian. The vision of the Trump follower is apocalyptic.

Trump's supporters despair of democracy. They turn to a populist demagogue. The choice is nihilistic because it ultimately is incompatible with a government that prioritizes dialogue, cooperation, and compromise. This foundational vision of the U. S. is optimistic. The nihilism of the Trump follower is narcissistic. The narcissism inherent in this nihilism takes all the fears of The Follower and simplifies them into one thought – The Leader. Everyone neither Follower nor Leader is The Enemy. Democracy demands the incorporation of the concerns of many.

I recently spent a pleasant evening with a former high school classmate, with whom I've become reacquainted. I like Sofia. But we live in different worlds now. She is a Trump supporter. At one point, she complained about Muslim immigrants. I reminded her that, long before she took her husband's Anglo-Saxon last name, I remember when her grandparents spoke Italian in their home. “And didn't we go to the same Roman Catholic high school, a school run by an Irish order of nuns? The Sisters Of Mercy? When they first got to America, they were the immigrant women who wore veils. Remember?”

Date
2021.06.14 / 15:12
Author
John Samuel Tieman
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