Democracy is a fragile system of government, depending as it does on the spirit and education of the citizenry and subject to a number of diseases that seem to plague democratic systems. These diseases, or as I call them the evils of democracy, can when left to fester undermine the system.
The first of these is fascism, originally denoted corporate statism. The state is everything it rules everything and everything is owed to it. Children are taught what the state wants them to learn and taught a reverence and obedience to the state that borders on religious fanaticism. That reverence is often transferred to the state’s Leader. Lip service is paid to elections the way large corporations have show-off shareholders meetings. Fascism depends on conformity to the rules of the state and obedience to the masters of that state. When the fascist leaders are the rich it's called an oligarchy or plutocracy. When anyone questions the decision of the state they are judged either as enemies of the nation or mentally disturbed individuals. The state has rights the people do not and the people’s privileges are limited to life in an orderly regimented society. Societal stress on conformity and uniformity in thought and dress and action makes the body politic more suspect to fascism.
Another evil of democracy is cronyism. Public officials, who take care of themselves, financially, and their relatives and close personal friends. Elected officials who care only about the problems of certain constituents (based on party affiliation, geography or ethnicity). Usually cronyism is motivated by greed. The politics of ME takes precedence over the politics of party or of ideology. In our history we have seen this evil rise to national proportions in the 1870's, in the age of the Robber Barons (the 1990's) and the scandals of Teapot Dome (1920's). Today it is all around us and sunlight does expose it often enough. The Trump administration, his appointees, his family and his retainers openly personify it. The belief by too many that the group they belong to: i.e. social class, economic tier, alumni association or fraternity/sorority, is somehow superior to others though called elitism is but a mutation of cronyism.
The third great evil of democracy is racism. Unthinking and irrational attitudes toward usually minority populations e.g. religious, racial, gender, national origin. The ills of society are blamed on the minority population and the majority is made to perceive a loss of power and societal control. Restrictions on the rights of everyone are sold to the majority as a way to control the minority. I lived through the 1960's when the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. led the civil rights movement to obtain equality for African Americans. In the 1970's women and Latinos won similar access to civil rights. And finally this century LGBT folks won the benefits of full citizenship. In 2008 with the election of President Barrack Obama many thought we had entered a post racial state. But unfortunately the attitude toward “that man in the White House” (a sobriquet they gave to FDR) became that black man in the White House and racism in all its manifestations raised its ugly head again. Now the bigoted rail against Muslims and Mexicans. And, anti-Semitism, which Americans thought they had beaten back by the 1950's, has again surfaced.
The great Governor of New York, Al Smith, once said the only cure for the ills of democracy was more democracy. He may have been right and certainly I have advocated “more democracy” i.e. direct elections, same day registration, public ballot initiative, etc. But the evil diseases of cronyism, fascism and racism are like cancers that may lie dormant but when they break out and spread they can devour the entire body politic.
The answer is not to sit by and accept the evil and adapt to it. As St. Paul said, “Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Political activists and candidates should fight the spread of these diseases at every level of government. And the citizenry should insist that its public officials and the news media stop focusing on the peccadilloes of the Trump family and the sexual escapades of politicians and start dealing with the real issue before us in the twenty-first century: can we save and cure Democracy of the evils of Racism, Fascism, and Cronyism.
24 May 2017