Things Fall Apart

In Federalist Papers — the closest thing we have to an owner’s manual for our democracy — Hamilton wrote in pamphlet #1 that the world’s first democracy is an experiment. The rest of the world is watching us to see “whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force.”

Though Hamilton and Madison had their differences about the strength of the national government, they both consistently maintained that for democracy to work, people must act as reasonably as possible, keeping a break on passionate risky behavior that leads to demagogues and roving bands of mobs. But knowing how people are prone to risky, emotional behavior, they set up a system, which Madison defends in #10 and #51, that would keep emotions at bay and foster deliberation and slow action.

Their system has worked for almost 250 years. The system of government has been emulated to one extent to another by the 123 other democracies in the world. And now it feels rocky.

We have a president that holds rallies for no discernible reason other than solidifying his base and bolstering his ego. He tells them that the wall is going up or he’ll shut down government. Just him. One guy. He’ll shut it down.

Congress, one of Madison’s two checks on executive power, is slowly dealing with the fact that we have a mad man in the White House. They absolutely know that he’s crazy, but are afraid of alienating the idiot’s 62 million supporters. At some point, they’ll have to grow a pair or we’re in serious trouble.

Trump is the demagogue that scared the crap out of Hamilton and Madison.

Then we have other forces at work. Other anti-democratic forces that in the name of purity and light are also undermining our democracy.

Antifa are just a bunch of anarchists. Anarchists are punks. Children who don’t care if the streets are paved, or the social security checks are cut. They enjoy chaos.

There are those who take down statues in the dead of night with ropes and flashlights. Those are the cowards. I don’t give a crap about confederate war statues. Don’t like them? Take them down. No quarrel from me. But I do care about how this happens. There has to be discussion and votes and people voicing opinions. That’s how it is done.

Sure, some people are fed up with the results of the last election and with the Republican control of Congress. I get it. But democracy is better than its alternatives. Always.

All the anger, the name calling, all the negative energy is intense. It’s mobs. Virtual tar and feathers.

My Facebook page has schizophrenia. First, people loved Tina Fey. The next day, they post links to articles saying that she’s a racist and, in fact, all white people are racist, but don’t make black people tell white people how they are racist, because that’s a burden on black people, so white people have to figure it out for themselves or pay money to attend a conference where the black people will tell the white people how they are racist and then make YouTube videos making fun of the white racist people at their seminars. Honestly, I might be done with Facebook.

Democracy is undone by the Internet.

These forces are also willing to undermine First Amendment rights that we have worked damn hard to maintain. All in the name of purity and light. I’m ready to give a big fat donation to the ACLU, because I’m not down with any repression of free speech beyond the basic limits that we already have in place. We could still maintain our democracy with fewer protections of speech — other democracies have fewer protections — but I like our system.

This great experiment, let’s not fuck it up.

UPDATE: I don’t want to forget the one Facebook friend who said that people had to renounce racism using exactly her words on their Facebook wall. If they didn’t do that, she would de-friend them. Or the other friend who held up a sign that said people who were silent were racists.

9 thoughts on “Things Fall Apart

  1. “I don’t want to forget the one Facebook friend who said that people had to renounce racism using exactly her words on their Facebook wall. If they didn’t do that, she would de-friend them. Or the other friend who held up a sign that said people who were silent were racists.”

    You have weird FB friends.
    My weirdest FB friend was the Bernie supporter who went off the deep end over Hillary. I blocked her, and I’m happier now. But she has always been a little crazy.


    1. I have lots of people who put up things that basically say “Repost this or you support cancer” or “If you don’t post this you don’t care about teen suicide*” or “Say ‘amen’ if you don’t hate Jesus.” It’s not at all rare on Facebook in non-political realms.

      * I have yet to respond to one of these with a bad joke about Heathers because you never know what they’ve been through lately. But I’ve been tempted.


      1. That’s why Facebook invented unsubscribe. Once you start using that regularly, and combine that with the knowledge that a “like” is literally telling Facebook to show you more like this, Facebook is great. I never see anything except vacations, weddings, other major life events and news, and kid photos anymore.


  2. I don’t see Trump as a demagogue. Rather, he’s an odd sort of personality who enjoys the adulation and perquisites that demagogues receive, but for its own sake, not as a path to power. He doesn’t have much of an agenda or a coherent plan to pursue it. He doesn’t have a coterie of true believers around him. His appointments have mostly been right-of-center Republicans, not “Trumpists.” He hasn’t enjoyed any particular success in implementing his agenda, to the extent anyone could even say what his agenda is.

    That said, the willingness to elect a narcissistic buffoon as president does reflect some deep problems in America. But the problem is in the people, not the leaders, although arguably the problems of the people result from the misbehavior of past leaders.


  3. Yeah no. These are not “equal” threats. These are completely different orders of magnitude, and to pretend otherwise is to wave away and apologize for the threat of authoritarian white supremacy emanating from our White House. When we elect an anarchist to the White House, and when we use the apparatus of the state to harass straight white men the same way we we do people of color, then I’ll be ready to listen to a “both sides do it” comparison. Until then, you’re basically claiming that the Nazis were justified because partisans.

    I’ve been following the alt right for years. I’ve been listening to interviews with marchers in Charlottesville. These people want black people re-enslaved. They want Jews and homosexuals dead. They want foreigners gone. They believe women should be property. These people are white Christian ISIS. Sure, go out and deprogram angry white men. See who you can peel away. However, that’s not how we won WW2, and it’s not how we dismantled Jim Crow.


    1. Waiting a car for a kid at band camp and squinting at the iPhone. Just wanted to quickly say that I’m not making an equivalent or an “on both sides” argument. Not at all. I was just doing a brain dump of everything that has given me the willies in the past week.


      1. I also interpreted this pst as advocating “on both sides” and false equivalency. Just in terms of the space in the post — you say that we’ve (and by we, I mean the Republicans) elected a demagogue and then a Republican congress is unwilling to provide the balance the founding fathers hoped for, but then spend the majority of the post complaining about random people in your FB feed. Structurally, the post give the impression of equivalence.

        I would like to hear more of the political science wonkiness, what was intended in our democracy and where we could go awry.


  4. I check FB about once a month. If you’re having a problem with obnoxious people on FB, I’d echo hiding or unfollowing them. I’d also second ignoring “post X or I’ll unfriend you” type stuff, regardless of the content.


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