ne of the strangest aspects of life in a democracy is how the people in charge of it – the voters – are portrayed.
‘The Voice of the People’ is invoked in almost mystical terms, a sacred thing that must never be doubted.
The most recent example of this was last year – the vote that gave us Trump. (For the sake of sanity, let’s just leave Brexit out of it.) This was a seriously bad decision for reasons that ought to be obvious now, and will surely be even more obvious as the fallout gathers pace.
But what was telling was how this was portrayed. Time and again, on social media, on TV and radio, the newspapers, the Web and in politics, the vote was accepted, almost unanimously, as beyond reproach. The ‘voice of the people’ had to be honoured, regardless of the outcome.
2016, as said, was not a good year for democracy. This year could be worse. It may bring us a Le Pen French Presidency. It could grant power to malevolent far right turnip Geert Wilders. Chancellor Merkel could be driven out of office as a thinly veiled far right makes hay from the refugee crisis. All around us, the world roils. Far from putting a stop to Putin and his schemes, democracy has proven unable to resist his influence and his minions.
Does this mean that democracy is dead? No, but as Frank Zappa might have said, right now it does smell funny. What it does instead is unveil a strange and unusual truth – that Democracy and Monarchy share the same problem. Put simply, both systems fall apart if the people in charge are idiots. In a Monarchy, of course, the person in charge is the Monarch. If they are competent, the system carries on and the country benefits. If, however, the Monarch is corrupt, incompetent or vile, the country suffers and the system fails. Often, the collapse is total.
And yet, this is also the problem with democracies. The only difference is that instead of one person in charge, it is many – the electorate. If we have a wise, sane and well-informed electorate, the country does well. But if that electorate is corrupt, ignorant or vile, the country suffers and the system fails. Often, the collapse is total.
It may seem a stretch at this point to draw parallels between, say, Tsar Nicholas II or Louis XVI and the masses who put an idiot like Trump into power. But the comparison does in fact make a great deal of sense. The only difference is, voters have to be born at the right time and place in vast numbers, whereas a Monarch only needs to do this once. Kings also come to power through backroom manoeuvres and revolution. But electorates also regularly overthrow the old order, and, as gerrymandering and vote suppression show, the stitch-ups in a democracy are every bit as shameless as intrigue at court.
To be continued.
Alexander Hay is a writer and polemicist based online and in print.