The Trump tyranny
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Much is being said of Andrew Sullivan's article in The Atlantic, "Democracies end when they are too democratic," in which Sullivan expresses his fear that presumptive Republican nominee Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpCuomo grilled by brother about running for president: 'No. no' Maxine Waters unleashes over Trump COVID-19 response: 'Stop congratulating yourself! You're a failure' Meadows resigns from Congress, heads to White House MORE is the future tyrant the mob will elect, mindlessly unaware of the consequences. It is not a new thought, but one forcefully put forth with the philosophical backdrop of Plato as a starting point. These fears are all too common for the "worrying class," those of us who constantly look at the underside of outcomes. But there is a fundamental flaw in Sullivan's thinking and in the current narrative regarding our government and our leaders. Plato relies on elites for temperance and moderation. Sullivan relies on elites. The structure of American-style representative democracy relies on elites. The cruel reality is that it is the elite, both inside and outside of government, who have failed us.


It may well be true that Trump is elected in the fall despite all the handwringing that anti-despots might expose to the public. But should that come to pass, it will be the result of a righteous mob that has too few choices; too little political education; too few structural and institutional supports for responsible citizenship; too much individualism, greed, self-aggrandizement built into the legal fabric; too many filters for political actors; and too much reliance on wealth to support the practice of politics. Democracy as we know it in this country may well pass into tyranny.

It is no secret for those who study political philosophy that the democratic experiment in history occupies a very small window of success. As Will Durant (with his wife, author of a voluminous history of mankind from its earliest writing to the year 1789) put it in "The Lessons of History," "Monarchy seems to be the most natural kind of government since it applies to the group the authority of the father in a family. ... [D]emocracies by contract, have been hectic interludes. ... If our economy of freedom fails to distribute wealth as ably as it has created it, the road to dictatorship will be open to any man who can persuasively promise security to all; and a martial government, under whatever charming phrase, will engulf the democratic world."

Likewise, it has been a pressing argument from economists like Thomas Piketty, Joseph Stieglitz and Paul Krugman that income inequality is a growing part of the fabric of our economic system. Ever since Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersTop Democratic super PACs team up to boost Biden Poll: Biden leads Sanders by 22 points GE employees urge company to use laid-off workers to make ventilators MORE (Vt.) — running for the Democratic nomination — arrived on the scene to focus public awareness and understanding on just how slanted the economic playing field has become, this dirty little secret has been buried by both political parties in the language of free markets, free trade and tax relief for job creators.

With average workers being fed nothing more that empty promises, why is it surprising that frustration with flat or declining real income for over 80 percent of the working population over a 40-year period might create a furious response when it finally finds a voice? The political system has failed them. They have been repeatedly promised more employment opportunities and support for their economic circumstances while both parties have made side deals with donors to feather their own nests and those of their donor class. Does it surprise you to know that the net worth of Congress is $7 billion

Handwringing over the current state of affairs should not simply focus on the frightening aspect of a Trump candidacy. Equal time needs to be devoted to the need for a wholesale change in the political class that runs the country. It is difficult, at times, to determine where the blame begins. We do know that the American form of democracy rests ultimately upon the assumptions that moderation prevails and that changes in government and in the country's economics will and should continuously build on the progress of the past. Neither assumption is currently operative.

The advances in regulation of free markets, competition, resource and income distribution that started in the Progressive Era of the early 20th-century and were augmented during the post-World War II era have been seriously eroded. It is heartening to see that the fury of the right and left seem to have a common cause. Income, job opportunities, job security and employment protections have all dissipated. Where the right and left cannot agree is on the cause or the solution.

Unfortunately, there will be neither support nor solutions derived from the elites. They are simply too vested. It may well be that this country is in for very rough sledding as was the case in the latter part of the 19th-century when workers took on the robber barons and demanded change.

Russell is managing director of Cove Hill Advisory Services.