Democracy, etc.

By Ralph G. Smith | July 16, 2008

Ralph SmithI don’t know if old age gives one wisdom, as so many writers believe, but it certainly gives one a different perspective on a lot of things.

We in the United States claim to be a “democracy,” but, of course, we are not a “democracy” but a “republic.” In the republican form of government, the people elect representatives to pass the laws and regulations that govern our lives. In doing this, they are supposed to have in mind the legitimate interests (but not the greed) of their constituents. In theory they are supposed to have not only a sense of history, but some sort of vision of what the future holds, and to work for the good of the society in which we live, not necessarily for the “good” or profit of the individuals in that society. It would be fine if the politicians actually upheld this ideal, which they trumpet loudly while they figure out how to insert greasy little (or not so little) bits of pork, at the last minute, into legislation that few of them actually read.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, politicians and other people of power and influence have figured out ways to control the legislative process, and the country, by inducing the politicians – the legislators – to vote for measures the people of power find advantageous, and simultaneously, in most cases, by convincing the voters, by various means, that what those people of power want is best for them (the people), and for the country. This is done by utilizing all of the available means of public influence – newspapers, television, radio, mail, billboards, the Internet and all types of communication, most of which is controlled by conglomerates which own them all.

Gone are the days when a candidate could say, as did Henry Clay (1850) “I’d rather be right than be president.”

In almost every case, the aim of the pollsters, the power people, the press, and the politicians, is not necessarily truth, but the dissemination of the message that will appeal to the self-interest, not to say “greed,” of the voters. Polls, and the ability of the candidates to raise millions of dollars in campaign money, appear to be taking the place of elections, and the poll results depend to a great degree on who asks the questions, and how they are worded. The “spin” is everywhere.

Because of this system we are fast approaching a government that is, in fact, a sort of “democracy,” but not the democracy that Thomas Jefferson, Plato or other ancient thinkers had in mind. It is a system in which the voters are certainly heard, but in which they are also controlled, like so many puppets, to a degree of which most of them have no inkling.

I fear for the future of our country. I was then just a child, but I remember the Great Depression – old men selling apples on the street corners, newsreels showing the “Hooverville” tent cities outside of Washington, and the homeless hobos knocking at our backdoor, and my mother inviting them into our kitchen for whatever food was available. My father owned some apartments, and he “carried” renters who were really trying to find a job and work, but not the ones who spent time down at the corner tavern. People looked out for one another in those days.

We may be approaching a similar era, but with neighbors not so “loving” as they used to be.

I feel that so many oppressive, meaningless, unjust and/or unworkable laws and taxes are being foisted upon us by people who have only their own selfish or misguided interests in mind, and so many manipulators, both domestic and foreign, are “guiding” our economy, that at some point the whole mess will degenerate into riots and near revolution and be ripe for some sort of “leader” having the charisma, and the evangelistic power of speech of a demagogue, to take over. This would be a person who, anomalously, would not be forced to do the will of all the special interest groups, but who would be governed by only one special interest – that of himself.

These are unsettled times, with the economy in the doldrums, the stock market going up, then down, like the waves in the ocean, and commerce and industry (what there is left of it) in danger of coming to a halt because of the price of oil, property foreclosures, etc. People have become accustomed to demanding higher and higher wages for doing less and less work, and the majority live, in one way or another, by “shuffling papers,” aided and abetted by the shameless greed of banks, mortgage brokers, and individuals whose major interest is “to make a buck.”

The stage is set, unfortunately, for a charismatic individual such as described above, who could carry a crowd by the force of his oratory, to take over the government, dissolve the House and Senate, shackle the Supreme Court, and “reorganize” the Pentagon. Hitler did it after being elected, and then burning down the Reichstag; Fidel replaced one dictator with another – himself, and Peron did it, with the help of Evita. Mugabe did it in Zimbabwe, and hoodwinked so many people, including the Queen of England, that he was knighted for his efforts! In each case, the takeover was made largely because of the economic hardships (actual or perceived) facing the major part of the population, and with their tacit, manipulated consent.

Do you think it can’t happen here? Neither did the Germans, the Cubans, the Argentinos, the people left in the former Southern Rhodesia, and all the rest. I hope that Americans will listen to the coming campaign speeches with a very critical ear, and ask themselves, and the candidates in both parties: “Can this really be done, and if so, how?”