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Defying the Odds

Defying the Odds
New book about the 2016 election.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Trump and Democracy

In Defying the Odds, we discuss Trump's role in American political history.

Tom Nichols at USA Today:
There is a serious danger to American democracy in all this. When voters choose ill-informed grudges and diffuse resentment over the public good, a republic becomes unsustainable. The temperance and prudent reasoning required of representative government gets pushed aside in favor of whatever ignorant idea has seized the public at that moment. The Washington Post recently changed its motto to “democracy dies in darkness,” a phrase that is not only pretentious but inaccurate. More likely, American democracy will die in dumbness.
Those of us who criticized Trump voters for their angry populism were often told during and after the election not to condescend to our fellow citizens, and to respect their choices. This is fair. In a democracy, every vote counts equally and the president won an impressive and legitimate electoral victory.
Even so, the unwillingness of so many of his supporters to hold him to even a minimal standard of accountability means that a certain amount of condescension from the rest of us is unavoidable.
In every election, we must respect the value of each vote. We are never required, however, to assume that each vote was cast with equal probity or intelligence.
Michael Gerson at The Washington Post:
Ultimately, Trump is failing because he has little knowledge of the world and no guiding star of moral principle. The best of our leaders — think Abraham Lincoln — have been sure about the truth and uncertain about themselves. Trump is the opposite. His mind is uncluttered by creeds. He knows what he wants at any given moment, but it can bear little relation to the moment following. Who really believes that he would be sleepless if the wall were not built or if NAFTA ultimately survived? Who believes he would not be sleepless because of a nasty joke at his expense during a dinner party?
Without deep and thoughtful beliefs, persuasion is impossible. It is public reasoning that allows others to follow a leader’s footsteps in the snow. What has Trump done to rationally and respectfully persuade his critics?
Without deep and thoughtful beliefs, the prevailing advice is often the latest advice. For a rootless leader, in Oscar Wilde’s phrase, “passions are quotations.”
Trump clearly wants to be judged by a frenetic level of activity. But the issue at hand is direction, not momentum. It is useful to undo some past liberal excesses, as Trump has done. But negation can’t be confused with inspiration. There can be no measure of political progress without a measuring stick of political conviction. Instead, we are treated to hysterical self-praise. Appalling — but, hey, what did we expect?
Annie Applebaum at The Washington Post:
the real problem with [Ivanka] Trump is not what she and her husband, Jared Kushner, contribute to the president’s “image,” but what their presence says about the culture of this White House. One of the things that distinguishes rule-of-law democracies from personalized dictatorships is their reliance on procedures, not individual whims, and on officials — experienced people, subject to public scrutiny and ethics laws — not the unsackable relatives of the leader. That distinction is now fading.
No ordinary public official would be allowed to dine with the leader of China, as Trump did, on the same day that China granted valuable trademarks to her company. No civil servant would be able to profit from the jewelry she advertises by wearing on public occasions. Only in kleptocracies are sons-in-law with broad international business interests allowed to make foreign policy.