“Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others that have been tried from time to time.”
Winston Churchill is recorded as saying this in the UK House of Commons in 1947.
After the election of Donald Trump as United States president on November 8, many have been echoing Churchill’s sentiment, up to the comma.
There have been angry demonstrations in streets with some voices proclaiming “he isn’t my president”.
The US system of electing presidents certainly isn’t perfect. Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, but the vagaries of the electoral college system saw Mr Trump prevail.
Likewise, Mr Trump isn’t perfect. He made some outrageous promises during the election campaign — promises which worried immigrants and Muslim people. His track record with women left a lot to be desired.
Now that he has been elected, he seems to be making conciliatory noises, in an attempt to unify and placate, both those who voted for him based on his promises and those who fear the possible outcomes if those promises are implemented in full.
Much has been said about the upcoming Trump presidency, in the wake of the past Trump campaign. But a shrewd take on the matter came from Scott Adams of the Dilbert cartoon fame.
Adams identified Trump’s strategy as “pacing and leading”.
“Trump always takes the extreme position on matters of safety and security
for the country, even if those positions are unconstitutional, impractical, evil, or something that the military would refuse to do.
“Normal people see this as a dangerous situation. Trained persuaders like me see this as something called pacing and leading. Trump ‘paces’ the public – meaning he matches them in their emotional state, and then some.
“He does that with his extreme responses on immigration, fighting ISIS, stop-and-frisk, etc. Once Trump has established himself as the biggest [hard man] on
the topic, he is free to ‘lead’, which we see him do by softening his deportation stand, limiting his stop-and-frisk comment to Chicago, reversing his first answer on
penalties for abortion, and so on.
“If you are not trained in persuasion, Trump looked scary. If you understand pacing and leading, you might see him as the safest candidate who has ever gotten this
close to the presidency. That’s how I see him.”
Whether Trump does do what Adams forecasts only time will tell. A functioning democracy has checks and balances built into its operation. Hopefully they will
operate with Mr Trump.
Almost as worrying as some of the potential outcomes from a Trump presidency are the calls to do away with democracy altogether in favour of some sort of government of the wise, the educated, the elite, the intellectual aristocracy that is above the petty prejudices of the common herd.
The Church (Gaudium et Spes, #25) recognises that democracy is the best expression of the direct participation of citizens in political choices.
But the fathers of Vatican II added that democracy only succeeds to the extent that it is based on a correct understanding of the human person.
That is why the Church is bound to call to account systems, platforms and policies that diminish human dignity, to which the Church’s social teaching is oriented.
No doubt the Church will continue to do so in the United States during and beyond Mr Trump’s time in office.