"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Sunday, June 19, 2016

If America is ripe for Trump as a tyrant what does that say about Obama?



In a provocative essay, Andrew Sullivan suggests America is an extreme democracy ripe for tyranny[1].  America’s multiculturalism, sexual freedom, disrespect for any authority or expertise and intolerance of any inequality—whether earned or natural—characterise its extremism. These characteristics challenge the previous moderate democratic order the result is a descent into public domain dominated by an incoherent mess of views, identities, and demands. From this incoherent public domain, a tyrant emerges with a promise to defend the old order and return stability to the public domain. From this promise or intent, he will find supporters in those who want to protect the old order as well as those dislike the extreme democracy.

Sullivan comes to this conclusion via Plato, the ancient Greek philosopher, who provides his analytical focus. Plato, in his famous dialogue, the Republic, described a process by which an extreme democracy emerges and with it a tyrant to change a democracy into a tyranny. Sullivan relies on this analysis to explain Donald Trump’s emergence as a viable candidate for the presidency. He his analysis rests on three premises. First, he accepts that Trump fits Plato description: a member of the elite who takes his chance to rule by using the mob who support him to his attack rival elites such as the wealthy. Second, Trump, like the tyrant, promises to bring order to the incoherency of the extreme democracy. Third, America is an extreme democracy ripe for tyranny.

OK, OK, we know you don’t like Trump, but why do you hate America?
Sullivan wants us to focus on Trump, for he despises him and what he offers. Despite his prejudice, it provides no lasting insight for his essay remains at this superficial level of personalities. He avoids the difficult questions of why or how democracy changed, what motivates Trump, and why America’s political institutions have seemingly become fragile to the point of collapse.

What marks the change from democracy to extreme democracy? Sullivan describes the characteristics but does not address the causes. To say it changed has to indicate that it had a turning point or a point of departure from when it stopped being a democracy and became an extreme democracy. A democracy and an extreme democracy are both marked by freedoms. How do the freedoms or the extent of the freedom differentiate a democracy from an extreme democracy?

Sullivan does not look within the democracy, or Trump, to find what animates either one. He remains on the surface of symptoms and outcomes where many freedoms and the appearance of political, social, and moral incoherence which has made many people fearful. Perhaps it is what lies beneath the surface that scares him. 

A superficial analysis overlooks what motivates a tyrant or an extreme democracy
If he focused on what animates democracy, and Trump, he might have seen a different, darker, more disturbing message. Trump is only a symptom and is not a symptom of an extreme democracy but a potential harbinger. The deeper problem, and the more difficult problem, is how to reform American democracy, if it can be reformed, to avoid the extreme future that Trump appears to foreshadow. Even if Trump is defeated in this election we will not see America return to a healthy democracy that is less susceptible to the fate of becoming an extreme democracy unless the sources of extremism are addressed. However, such an analysis is problematic if not impossible within his essay for the fundamental problem is within his essay—America is not yet, nor is it close to becoming, an extreme democracy.

America is not an extreme democracy even if Andrew Sullivan wants it to be
Sullivan’s argument is based on the premise that America is an extreme democracy. He believes that the symptoms he describes indicate that extremism. In this analysis, he is mistaken and he is mistaken because he has relied on Plato for his analytical framework and not Aristotle. Had Sullivan relied on Aristotle rather than Plato he would have seen that an extreme democracy is a tyranny that lacks a tyrant. That America is not an extreme democracy, for it is not tyrannical, helps us to understand why it is not waiting for a tyrant. With Aristotle he would have seen an extreme democracy is tyrannical which is why it gives birth to or is receptive to a tyrant. Trump is not a tyrant in waiting, for he can only be a tyrant if he taps into the tyrannical ethos of an extreme democracy. Sullivan confuses great freedoms and great discontent, political incoherence, and political factions for extreme democracy. In other words, the political uncertainty with great freedoms does not indicate that extreme democracy exists. What America appears to suffer from is each of these elements; symptoms of extreme democracy, an apparent tyrant in waiting, oligarchic support for the apparent tyrant, without the necessary ingredient: the extreme democracy or the extreme democracy that has become tyrannical. Aristotle, who lived through extreme democracy, was able to describe its characteristic in his book the Politics.[2]
 
Sullivan has confused social media for what is
If Sullivan had considered Aristotle, he would see that America only has the shadow of extreme democracy, as do all democracies. The extreme democracy is more prevalent on social media than in the public domain. Without these characteristics, it cannot be considered an extreme democracy. If it cannot be considered an extreme democracy, then America is not yet ripe for tyranny. No matter what we may think personally of Trump, he is not a tyrant waiting to emerge from within an extreme democracy. He may be something else, but he is not going to rule as a tyrant nor is he able to draw on extreme democracy.

If we are to accept that America is an extreme democracy and Trump is a tyrant in waiting, what does it say about the incumbent?

The article is an extract from the full essay which can be found here: https://lawrenceserewicz.wordpress.com/2016/06/19/andrew-sullivan-trump-and-extreme-democracy/

5 comments:

Tom Van Dyke said...

If we are to accept that America is an extreme democracy and Trump is a tyrant in waiting, what does it say about the incumbent?

Exactly. If Trump is Napoleon, that makes Obama Robespierre, which except for the guillotines he rather is. Instead of reinventing the months he reinvented the genders.

Tim Kowal said...

Good post.

The gaslighting of America:

You feel more unsafe, but you're not.

You think Congress is unresponsive, but they're not.

You know a man when you see one, but you don't.

We are witnessing the last gasps of a coherent American culture -- a Western culture -- before its slide into the grasp of MiniTruth becomes irreversible.

We are flailing.

And our betters object that we do not flail in principled fashion.

Mrs. Webfoot said...

Seems like our military and police forces would have to be ripe for a tyrant. Of course, the US doesn’t have a tradition of military coups, so it’s easy to factor the military out.

No tyrant can rule effectively without the backing of the military. I suppose that under certain circumstances that could change. Seems like FDR came the closest with imprisoning Japanese Americans, but that was during wartime. It could happen again, I suppose. Not sure if either Trump or Obama would ever have the kind of support FDR had.

The military hates Obama. Trump may be a different story. If he becomes president and treats both the military and law enforcement well, then there might be a problem.

Kind of far out there. I can’t imagine Hillary garnering that kind of support from our military leaders.

Don’t mind me. I lived a few too many years in Pinochet’s Chile and made a few too many trips to Cuba for my own good. Military takeovers seem kind of normal to me in a weird way.

I just don’t see that kind of caudillo on our political horizon. I could be wrong.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Seems like our military and police forces would have to be ripe for a tyrant. Of course, the US doesn’t have a tradition of military coups, so it’s easy to factor the military out.

No tyrant can rule effectively without the backing of the military.


Game, set match.

As much as I despise Barack Obama's cynical manipulation of his constitutional powers, as long as the tyrant enjoys popular support, I suppose he's not a tyrant.

Well done, Mrs. Webfoot. Excitable Andy and his bullshit invocation of Plato sit as great steaming pile of...Sullivan.

Tom Grey said...

"symptoms of extreme democracy, an apparent tyrant in waiting, oligarchic support for the apparent tyrant," <<
Trump does NOT have oligarchic support -- but Hillary does.

The closest to a tyrant in waiting in the US is Hillary Clinton, combined with the anti-speech thugs who use violence to protest Trump speeches.

The thuggery and casual disobedience of laws is almost all on the Dem side, who themselves have pretty much excluded Christian, pro-capitalist folk from: media, academia (K-12 plus Uni), and bureaucrat gov't offices. All of these Dem strongholds of power would oppose a tyrant Trump, but support a tyrant Clinton.