So the great collectivist sages of Communist China have held up “The Donald” as “the” example of why democracy doesn’t work. I can see why they might be a bit piqued at Mr. Trump, since he has been kicking them from one end of each stage he appears on to the other. But to hold him up as the reason democracy doesn’t work, is well, chop suey.
Democracy is messy business, always has been always will be. In one of his many famous quotes, Sir Winston Churchill opined that, “Democracy is the worst form of government–except for all the others!” And ours is by no means the worst of the lot. In Asian democracies it is not unusual for fist-a-cuffs and occasional total melees to break out during legislative sessions. In the middle of discussions on foreign policy someone might invoke insults on another’s lineage and they’re off to the races.
In Latin American democracies and Eastern European democracies the nation’s entire poor could be transformed into the next class up if only the money that went into payoffs were re-routed into the people’s business.
What passes for civil argument in the British Parliament is hardly civil. And forget mother’s admonition about waiting one’s turn to speak! A hot session of Parliament is verbal chaos albeit with refined accents.
These are but the actors. Our lousy quality trading partners should take a look a the concept of Parliamentary Democracy, which is infinitely more representative than is ours. And there lies the rub. Depending on the nation, one’s party need only hit a low percentage threshold of the total vote to be seated in the people’s house. It is usually between three and five percent. This allows for an extremely fractured political landscape with some bizarre outcomes. My favorite is the Italian parliamentarian who was a lady of the night campaigning during the day for the legalization of prostitution. Low on campaign funds she could be seen driving the highways and by-ways with her top down–and I don’t mean her convertible. Greenpeace, splinter parties from the extreme right to the extreme left including unrepentant Neo-Nazis and pinning for the good old days communists can end up seated together. My least favorite exampl? The hold the ultra-religious parties in Israel have on the policies of an essentially secular society.
Let’s look at why.
Unless a party receives an outright majority in a Parliament it must form a coalition government. The lower the plurality, the wider the political differences between opposing parties, the more difficult it is to cobble together a ruling government. The definition of a ruling government is one that can command a majority vote in the legislature on a majority of its pieces of major legislation. Sometimes it is a coalition of two; sometimes it is four, or five, or seven! The more parties at the table, the more the tail can wag the dog. You want to join the Common Market? Ok then legalize prostitution. You want to begin trade negotiations? Ok, then subsidize all the religious education in the country. And if common ground fails to be found at some point then comes the call for a vote of no-confidence, the government falls, new elections have to be held and the process begins all over again.
Back to Italy. Italy has had more than 100 governmental changes since WW 11! Some after years, some after months. It can be dizzying; and it can be very inconvenient. Right in the middle of the Camp David Accords meeting Israeli PM Menachem Began had to fly back to Israel to keep his coalition in tact otherwise he’d have lost his seat at the Camp David table. Here was a example of a comparatively minor issue possibly torpedoing a potentially major one.
Our government is tame by comparison. Oh there are moments, they’ve just not been recent enough for anyone to compare to the Republican Party Traveling Medicine Show. CNN’s series, “The Race to the White House” explores some. We’ve had noses punched an heads caned along with deceit, out right lying, and all manner of political chicanery. Yet ours is an elastic system, called an “umbrella system” because it forces all the disparate elements within one party to at some point coalesce around a nominee. But for Teddy Roosevelt, we’ve never had a successful third party candidate for national office and precious few historically for state and local offices. Love’m or hate’m, recognize’m or not, Republicans and Democrats are ours and seemingly will continue to be.
It would be foolish to say there aren’t other factors. One is the polyglot nature of this country full of people who come from countries as described above, or worse. They don’t want murder and mayhem to be the quadrennial feature of political life. There is to date an elasticity in our society that enables us to weather discontent even to the point of near nation-wide riots. And even with the 24 hour news cycle that allows anyone who wants to to know everything that’s happening in any corner of the land, the size of this nation provides a buffering effect. There are a lot of political mountains any river of discontent must cross.
I don’t like the Johnny One (Minor) Note of Trump’s campaign. I don’t like the holier than thou appeal of the Cruz campaign. It was shameful, but a good learning experience, for Marco Rubio to learn that you better have really high, strong boots before you go stomping around in the mud. Listening to Hilary Clinton is like listening to the tone used by my mother. And while Bernie Sanders’ unvarnished Brooklyn accent bring joy to my memory bank, I have trouble deciding if i’m supposed to look at his hands or listen to what comes out of his mouth.
There is no question that this is the noisiest political campaign since the invention of microphones. But you know, they’re our screamers, and wavers, and snake-oil salespeople. And we’ll sort them out. We’ll have an election and in some form or another we’ll go on being the United States of America. Why? Because that’s the way we, not someone else, wants it. Will we be the city on the hill? No. Will we be the product of American style political revolution? No. Will we, absenting a Trump victory, be a “loser?” No. The reason? Because the system was designed to prevent apocalyptic happenings. We are conditioned to accept as much of the pie as we can get, but understand that no one gets it all.
So I would say to the Chinese brain-trust, sit back, pull out a tape of Tienanmen Square, and enjoy your chop suey. You know that to keep yourselves going decades after decade you’ve injected more and more capitalism into your system. Capitalism and the desire for freedom, known otherwise as democracy go hand in hand, or initially hand in mind. As your uber-wealthy 1% class rubs shoulders more and more with the “unwashed masses” you are pushing into your cities, frictions will grow. It is amazing how differing classes of people can find things in common, like the need to breathe clean air. Take heed of the old expression from post World War One. “Once the boys have seen Paree, you can’t keep’em down on the farm.” Once the wealthy have become used to wealth.,once the poor have seen what is possible with wealth, I’d suggest you begin eating off of unbreakable plates. I don’t know what passes for cake in your capital, but Marie Antoinette gives us another teachable moment as does Benito Mussolini swinging from the neighborhood lamp post–at least from my perspective.