Lest we forget, democracy is merely an experiment. Today, we ask, “Can 322 million Americans govern themselves?” There have been 27 amendments to the federal constitution and a civil war. Each amendment designed to improve the American way of life, thereby creating sustainability. There is an organic quality to all governments. The evolution and mortality of American democracy is the central question. Will democracy survive? November 8, 2016 is the next great test of this experiment in self-government, and the peaceful transition of power.
Ernest Gaine’s, A Lesson Before Dying illuminated the role of race, prejudice, religion, education and mortality in Louisiana. Just as the central character in Gaine’s work is wrongly prosecuted, destined for electrocution and faced with his own mortality, today a national political party leader, threatens the fabric and viability of American democracy. Liberal democracy (faced with its’ own commitment to justice) is on trial. College educated Millennials are questioning the “exporting of democracy” and the “pluralist model” as we know it. Former Louisiana Governor, Huey Long and others believed that, “If fascism ever comes to America it will come wrapped in an American flag.”
There is a special language rooted in the American experience, mastered by politicians, advertisers, and charlatans. Southerners and Louisianans of all hues recognize the language code. We know many of the buzzwords: Vote your heritage, law and order, voter fraud, pro family, anchor babies, reform and our _______. Even some sports broadcasters still refer to black athletes as, “athletic” or “instinctive” and white athletes as, “smart” or “cerebral.” Political language and national campaign discourse has degenerated to a level un-seen in modern presidential politics.
A political hobbyist who seized the moment and a political party has exposed the fragility and white underbelly of American democracy. Donald Trump has engaged a “class betrayal” unacceptable by many of his contemporaries. Trump declared himself a Republican, entered the Republican primaries and beat down the contenders as if they were upper-crust prep schoolers following the regimented format of their highly trained debate coaches yet unprepared for the rules of engagement and street discourse. In essence, Trump entered the bully party and out bullied the bullies. He beat his Republican primary opponents not with policy but with code language, swag, and vernacular, of an old school southern demagogue.
Trump incorporated the slogans of Republican politicians before him: Richard Nixon’s “Silent Majority,” Ronald Reagan’s, “Make America Great Again.” Unlike Trump, Nixon and Reagan were political professionals not hobbyist. They knew when and where to pivot and gain the support of the center electorate. In an expanding national electorate, professional politicians compromise and achieve victory, whereby amateurs and purist lose favor and national elections.
Trump has low regards for congress, bureaucrats, judiciary, and even fellow party members. According to Trump, “the election is rigged.” Interestingly, many non-Trump supporters see a rigged system. For instance: Only the wealthy can run competitive state-wide and national campaigns, not the poor and middle-class; black and brown Americans understand the mass incarceration pipeline is a product of targeted sentencing and laws; students are victimized by artificial cost and mounting debt of higher education; insurance companies seek your business, but tweak services after each payout; young soldiers are brought to the battlefield yet afterwards find themselves in a veteran’s malaise, and yes Bush v. Gore.
Trump politics are not rooted in political thinkers such as: Dante, St. Thomas Aquinas or even Machiavelli. At this point, Donald Trump’s personal beliefs (real or imagined) have given way to “Trumpism,” an inherit belief in self and personality driven politics. Should he prove un-successful in this presidential campaign, where will his 40% of core supporters go or grow? Will they become a neo-fascist movement that threatens the very foundation of a liberal democracy? Trump’s fondness and appreciation for authoritarian rule is a precursor to where he will carry his followers. As he once declared, “The uneducated love me.” He will cease to be a hobbyist and enter the world of professional politician. Like neo-fascist before him, ballot box setbacks are confirmation of a failed system and merely a means to an end. As national demographics change, and fear of globalism take hold, Donald Trump’s brand of corporatism may grow un-checked. The neo-fascist of the 20th century started off as young men and had plenty of time to tune their craft and make war. Trumpism may be limited by time and space.
Dr. Gary M. Clark is Director of Dillard University’s Center for Law & Public Interest. He is a Barron Hilton Endowed Professor in Political Science and Revius O. Ortique Jr., Endowed Chair in Politics and Social Thought. An avid supporter of global civic engagement, he is Executive Producer and Host of the cable television program Dr. Clark Reports and radio show, Dr. Clark 101: The Living Classroom. Both shows broadcast weekly in New Orleans, Louisiana. He may be reached via email at: www.DrClarkNetwork.com.