Sunday, June 17 , 2018, 11:26 pm | Fair 58º

 
 
 
 

Randy Alcorn: A Democracy of Fools Is Eventually No Democracy

The most disturbing aspect of this bizarre presidential election cycle is not the nomination of Donald Trump per se but rather that millions of Americans support him.

While most politicians are Machiavellian opportunists with erratic ethics, rarely has a candidate for high office had such glaringly dangerous personality defects and egregiously deficient moral integrity as does Trump.

Yet, with something like defiant pride, millions of people, even those aware of his extensive personal faults and history of predatory treachery, continue to pledge their allegiance to him. The reasons why are more than blind devotion to right-wing ideology or raging hatred of Hillary Clinton.

There is a kind of kamikaze attitude among many of them who are so desperately discontent with their lot in life and frustrated with a government they condemn as either oppressing them or neglecting them that electing Trump would let them throw a monkey wrench into the establishment machinery — consequences be damned!

All politicians make worthless campaign promises, but Trump’s have reached stratospheric heights of grandiose absurdity. Anyone who believes that an American president can accomplish what Trump promises must believe in magic — or in dictatorship.

Trump talks as if he would have absolute power if elected president — and so do many of his supporters. That is the core of the creepiness in this election. Those supporters seem to welcome a strongman autocracy. And, after the election, they’ll still be here looking for a strongman to wave a magic scepter.

Any form of government in which supreme power is vested in the people and is directly exercised by them or by their elected representatives is only as good as the people themselves.

The Founding Fathers of the United States were acutely aware of this and so they designed a system of government that would carefully dilute or deflect the power of the hoi polloi.

The brilliance and foresight of the Founding Fathers is evident in their design of offsetting government structures, guaranteed civil rights and their guarded trust of the demos.

In addition to instituting a republican form of government, devices such as the Electoral College and, until the 17th Amendment in 1913, election of senators by state legislatures would further distance the masses from power.

Historically, democracy has been a fragile form of government. It is difficult to get consensus and maintain harmony, especially among larger populations. People tend to segregate themselves and categorize each other by race, religion, culture, geography, economic status and ideology.

Diverse groups eventually have conflicting views and priorities. That can ignite and destabilize a nation.

It is no surprise then that autocracy of one kind or another has been the most frequent form of government, and remains so in much of the world. Iron-fisted rule keeps a lid on disruptive dissent while maintaining the permanent privilege of the ruling class.

America may be the most diverse sovereign nation in history, with a stew of ethnicities, religions and races. And, with a population exceeding 300 million people, maintaining harmonious cohesion isn’t getting any easier — and even more difficult with increasing wealth disparity cutting wide crevices in American society.

The solidarity forged by shared ideals of patriotism and founding principles, along with belief in the American dream is fractiously fragmenting. Increasingly, Americans focus more on differences than on unity — especially ideological differences.

For many Americans there are only two world views — liberal and conservative. Everyone and every idea must be pigeonholed into one or the other. It’s less we the people and more us versus them.

If this election season has exposed anything it is the fragility of American democracy — fragile because it relies on the intelligence and rationality of a knowledgeable populace.

Yet, the only qualification required to vote is to be a citizen over 18 years old.

Because we don’t want people on the roads who are ignorant of the traffic laws or are insufficiently skilled in the operation of a motor vehicle, people must pass a written test to receive a valid driver’s license. But, we allow anyone to vote, no matter how ill-informed or unknowledgeable about our fundamental laws and government structure.

While voting is a right and driving a privilege, electing who governs us isn’t less important than who can drive a car. In America, one doesn’t even need to verify who they are to cast a vote.

Nevertheless, voter fraud is probably less of a threat to American democracy than is an unintelligent, ill-informed electorate. A democracy of fools is soon governed by them — just look at Congress. More ominously, it can usher in tyranny.

As Ben Franklin warned, we have a republic if we can keep it.

We don’t grant voting rights to minors because they aren’t intellectually and emotionally ready. Reaching an 18th birthday doesn’t necessarily change that.

If, before they could register to vote, citizens were required to pass a written test designed to ascertain logical reasoning ability, an acceptable level of intelligence and a basic knowledge of civics, the lines at the polls would likely be much shorter and maybe government much better.

— Randy Alcorn is a Santa Barbara political observer. Contact him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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