Democracy is, by design, difficult and cumbersome. The founders’ understandable fear of our system of government’s ugly and proximate cousin, mob rule, made this necessary.
Our democracy’s signature features — checks and balances, separate branches of government, the Electoral College and a place called Capitol Hill where, as Alexis de Tocqueville observed, “the debates of that great assembly are frequently vague and perplexed, seeming to be dragged rather than march, to the intended goal” — were put in place to limit the influence of fleeting passions and generally bad ideas. To change the system, or in the parlance of the rabble, to shake things up, justifiably requires monumental effort.
However, in this quick-click world of ours, where instant gratification is not only the goal but the standard, and at a time when our collective attention span, if it were material, could be measured in centimeters, phrases like “monumental effort” don’t quite cut it. We want it now and we want it to be easy.
My issue is that while Trump supporters have the correct impulse, their agent of change is woefully off mark...
Which is why Donald J. Trump stands at least a small chance of becoming our next president. Clearly, the alleged billionaire and reality TV star is no more fit to be leader of the free world than my 11-year-old nephew. Though I should add that my young relative has never said such atrocious things about women as Mr. Trump has recently been witnessed doing thanks to the release of a 2005 video. (Lesson for the candidate: When someone pins a microphone on you, you are wearing a microphone.) Yet millions of Americans want change, and Trump is, in the words of liberal filmmaker Michael Moore, a “Molotov cocktail” these voters are willing to toss at a system in dire need of an overhaul.
Over the course of this presidential campaign, I’ve come to sympathize with Trump supporters. They, like many of us, have been hurt and outraged by an under-regulated Wall Street, a deadlocked Congress, unbridled greed on the part of pharmaceutical companies, and the globalization that has given us relatively cheap iPhones and televisions but sent millions of jobs overseas. Who wouldn’t be pissed?
My issue is that while Trump supporters have the correct impulse, their agent of change is woefully off mark — so much so that even the most senior elected member of the Republican party, Paul Ryan, has abandoned their man. Trump would indeed shake things up.
What the wholesale fallout of a Trump administration would be no one knows, but just a peek at his economic plan was enough to send objective analysts reaching for their smelling salts. His foreign policy, if it were coherent enough to be assessed, would also get a failing mark. Add to this Trump's evident beliefs about women, Muslims, Mexicans, the disabled, Gold Star parents, prisoners of war… Well, you get the picture.
Trump’s real appeal is that simply supporting his candidacy — nutty and risky as it is — is easier than the hard work required to seriously take on the problems besetting this nation. It’s easier to just blow the whole damn thing up. To dust off another de Tocqueville insight, “The health of a democratic society may be measured by the quality of functions performed by private citizens.”
In short, just as the founders intended, anyone seeking to bring about change must put in the time, and possibly the blood, sweat and tears, to fix what’s ailing our country. This, unfortunately, sounds too much like the aforementioned “monumental effort.” For many, voting for Trump is so much easier, even at the risk of chaos at home and abroad.
Trump’s real appeal is that simply supporting his candidacy -- nutty and risky as it is -- is easier than the hard work required to seriously take on the problems besetting this nation.
Really want change? You have to follow the news, know what your elected representatives are up to, contact lawmakers you disagree with to give them an earful, and, yes, make donations, sign petitions, march in the street and maybe even run for office yourself. These things take more than righteous anger, they take time, commitment and a firm belief that the system can still work when we do our jobs as citizens. The hours are long, the pay is nil, and the chances of success are not guaranteed.
Lazy, crooked, immoral and cowardly politicians depend on our busy schedules, disdain for complexity and colossal inattention in order to perpetrate the malfeasance they routinely get away with or the lack of will that is too often their defining trait. For the dispossessed and angry, voting for Trump or wearing one of his goofy hats may feel good, but until great numbers of us get serious and adopt a more engaged, hands-on approach to civic involvement, our country’s problems will keep getting worse.