Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Of, By and For the People

I’ve long had a fickle romance with the People, aka the masses, the working class, the common man, hard-hats, them, etc…  I loved Them when they were the poor dispossessed farmers, the striking rank and file union workers during the depression, those whom Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger sung to, the exploited miners with black lung disease.

I fell out of love with those same workers when they supported the Vietnam War, then elected Reagan, and went on to elect Dubya and now clamor to get their jobs back in the coal mines. Trump like Hitler before him was brought to power by an aroused, ill-informed and gullible underclass the way a lynch mob strings up their strange fruit in misplaced rage orchestrated from above.

No, certainly not the underclass alone but they are a big chunk of the narrative. Trump said or at least implied three words during the campaign, I hear you. And that was enough. Enough to mesmerize, at least, the White population, from the displaced to the highly placed.

It’s small comfort to know that he really lost the popular vote by a landslide. Such avalanches don’t count in our archaic and rigged system. It makes me question our version of the democratic process.

Democracy. How sweet the sound. Wars were fought to make the world safe for it. Americans have died for it. Jefferson proclaimed it. Lincoln bequeathed us those words to live by. 

Who could argue against participatory democracy? And yet….
Our founders hedged their ideal with multiple asterisks. More people, by far, were excluded than included. Women, slaves, indigenous people and the unpropertied were all deemed unfit. Now Republicans are busy suppressing the vote after first carving out districts with no straight lines.

The People, Yes wrote Carl Sandburg but are they really some undifferentiated, amorphous mass who listen with half an ear and a smaller fraction of brain? In 1937 Archibald MacLeish wrote a radio play, The Fall of the City, in which he depicts the common man cowering at the sight of a would-be master and all too willingly transfering his autonomy to him, even if the dictator is an empty shell. It may have been true, at first, in Nazi Germany and to some extent replicated here today.

I would argue, after much wrestling with myself, that such a point of view deposits one in a place of dangerous cynicism. H.L. Mencken, our most quotable of cynics said, Democracy is the pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance. I would say to H.L. that you are on a path to Fascism.

Besides it being too easy, to be contemptuous of the people leads to inaction and despair. The only alternative to democracy is some sort of monarch and however beneficent he may be, abuse of power is always an imminent threat.

As Winston Churchill put it, Democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others that have been tried.  It is noisy, messy and can be infuriating. Sometimes it commits suicide through apathy and shrugs. Attention must be paid. In fits and starts it rises again from the parched earth. The garden requires watering. My romance with the common folk is more conditional now but estrangement only reinforces the great divide. The differences are not irreconcilable. 


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