Op-Ed by George Donohue printed in the Capital Newspaper Nov 11, 2017
We recently returned from a two-week cruise in the Aegean Sea, home to the development of democratic thought. Many Europeans we encountered asked how Americans, as a democratic people, could have elected Donald Trump to be our president. We had to explain that the United States is not a democracy, but a republic of states with elected representatives who do not need to express the will of the majority.
My former colleague, Francis Fukuyama, has written several good books attempting to explain the growing problem with our unique attempt at governance.
In an earlier book, "The End of History and the Last Man," he described how all pure forms of economic theory have failed. Communism and pure socialism lack adequate competition, become inefficient and stagnate. Pure capitalism is brutal to humanity, leads to high levels of social inequality and seeks monopoly power.
Thus, the Western democracies have found that a hybrid economic system that consists of regulated capitalism, with a social safety net, seems to be the ideal system. The best examples of these systems seem to be found in the Nordic countries.
Over the last 40 years, this system has seemed to be in decay in the United States. As an example: Many public surveys indicate that the American public agrees with the idea that the right to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" includes the right to affordable health care.
Thus, the question we were asked: Why would the average American citizen support a Republican Party that selected a Donald Trump to lead our country?
Fukuyama, again, addressed this question in his exhaustive two-volume work that concluded with "Political Order and Political Decay.” He argues there are three elements of any society that are essential for democracy to succeed:
In our last general election, almost 3 million more citizens voted for a Democratic Party that supported majority views and the view that our social services should be paid for with an adequate and fair taxation system, not more national debt. A party led by perhaps the worst presidential leader in our history defeated this party
Our Constitution was written in a different age as a compromise between the urban-dominated states of the North and the landed-gentry-dominated states of the South. The Western states did not exist.
The Constitution was based on the theory that the elected representatives of this new republic would believe in the principles described by Fukuyama. Political differences would be settled by informed debate and compromise. A common understanding of the basic facts would exist. The result would be an evolution of our laws.
Beginning with the 1994 election of Newt Gingrich's "take no prisoners" Republican majority in Congress, these ideas were largely rejected. Compromise became a sin for Republican representatives — and the sinful should be rejected. Congressional districts were gerrymandered to the maximum extent allowed by modern computer techniques. Incumbent politicians select their voters instead of the other way around.
In 2000, the Supreme Court, dominated by Republican justices, selected a minority president who would reverse an eight-year trend toward national debt reduction and start two unfunded wars. In the Citizens United decision, this court argued that wealthy corporations and billionaires should have as much political influence as their money can buy.
Trusted news sources are a critical element of any democracy, providing for accountability. President Trump has amplified the Fox News agenda with the declaration that all news that does not support his version of the facts is "fake news.”
The 2018 election will either be the beginning of our fight to reclaim democracy or the end of the beginning of its demise.
George Donohue is a professor emeritus of systems engineering at George Mason University and the president of the South County Democratic Club.
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