Notes from Underground
The three stigmata
of modern American democracy
By ANDY NOWICKI
|If you find this column of value, please send a donation of $3 to TLD. More information appears below.|
I have come to the conclusion, however, that the intensity of loathing I feel toward the democratic system results in large part from its contemporary manifestation in this country and time. That isn't to say that democracy in itself isn't an illogical and highly unpalatable proposition wherever and whenever it is practiced but that among all of the democracies of recent and ancient history, the 21st-century American brand strikes me as especially obnoxious.
As I see it, there are three unmistakable stigmata of the peculiarly contemporary ideology
and practice of democracy, all of which are on display whenever candidates pimp and
plump for votes in the United State of America today, and all of which in my view tend
further to degrade an already degraded, irrational, and corrupt system of rule. I will
attempt here to identify and describe these stigmata.
The first stigma is persistent ALARMISM, bordering in fact on apocalypticism. While many segments of all democratic societies, past and present, have been seized with rancor and bitter partisanship around election time, modern American democracy ups the ante on the usual disharmony or "bad vibes" on display. For those who become partial to the candidacy of one politician or another, it is the norm to be manipulated into hating that candidate's opponent, to be swayed into seeing that opponent not merely as the less preferable of two choices but as a debased, demented villain who must be kept out of power, at all cost.
Ironically, of course, such feelings are usually justified toward anyone who runs for political office. After all, democracy tends to encourage the ascendance of disreputable and unscrupulous characters, eager and willing to do whatever they can get away with in order to obtain power. Politicians are quite often, if not always, brazenly sociopathic narcissists and shameless demagogues. But the tendency in our society is to believe deeply in the character and integrity of one candidate, the one you support, and to feel outrage and ferocious, nearly homicidal hatred for his opponent. (A bumper sticker I glimpsed recently comes to mind: "Bush: the only dope worth shooting.")
The atmosphere of relentless bitterness and endlessly spewed invective between the two sides is bad enough. In our society, however, things have become even more unsightly. For now, the prospect of the "other guy" winning isn't viewed just as a significant and deplorable victory of evil over good; it is the end of the world as we know it the apocalypse for sure! If your candidate doesn't win, it means that decency and goodness have vanished from the earth, that freedom is abolished and sinister, totalitarian forces are poised to take over.
To the contemporary American Left, a Republican victory means the advent of a Christian-Right fascist theocracy; for the mainstream American Right, a Democratic triumph means the empowering of weak-minded, spineless appeasers of radical Islam. The lefty envisions a near future where he'll be forced to recite the Lord's Prayer at gunpoint and will risk being burnt at the stake if he commits sodomy or fornication (the typical lefty being very hung up about perceived encroachments on sexual permissiveness). The righty, meanwhile, anticipates a nightmare tomorrow where, owing to the treasonous machinations of jihadi-fellow travellers, America will lie supine before Talibanesque Muslim invaders, who will make him warble "Allahu Akbar" and cut his head off if they find him drinking beer or eating a McRib sandwich (the typical righty being sensitive about his alcohol and meat).
The partisans on both sides have lurid and vivid, if unimaginative, visions of a future
society ruled by religious zealots who threaten the lifestyle they hold most dear. The
cosmopolitan liberal simply fears the homegrown American faith, while the nativist
conservative dreads the notion of an alien faith taking hold. For both, however, the "end
of the country as we know it" is but one lost election away, and the very possibility of such
a crushing loss in the near future inspires terrible and intense consternation, wailing, and
gnashing of teeth.
Because of that mindset, elections themselves have assumed a freakish significance in the mind of hard-core partisans and all whom they manage to recruit to their misbegotten cause. This tendency ties in with the second stigma of modern American democracy: GRANDIOSITY.
How often in recent memory have we heard words to this effect: "This year's election is the most important election ever; there's so much riding on who wins; it's so crucial that you get out there and vote!" The hysterical subtext of that is, "The safety of yourself and your children, the future of truth, justice, truth, kindness, compassion, honesty, liberty, and every other noble-sounding quality, depends on your choice to push the right button in the voting booth on election day."
The grandiosity of that point of view is evident on a couple of levels. First of all, it is grandiose in its appraisal of the power of the individual voter. No election (save minor, local ones involving extremely low turnout) has ever been decided by anything close to a single vote. More important, the "most important election ever" hype has always been scandalously inaccurate, no matter the circumstance. Ask yourself: would things truly be different today in any appreciable way if Kerry had won in '04, or Gore in '00, or Dole in '96, or if any loser had been a winner anytime before that? Would our nation, our society, really be any better or worse than it is now? Many active partisans on both sides of the red-state / blue-state divide act as if politics determined culture, when the plain fact is that it's always been the exact opposite.
I am deeply sympathetic to the notion of restoring all the staples of traditional morality
that have steadily disappeared since the destructive cultural revolutions of the 1960s and
'70s, and I am equally aware that the GOP has exploited that similar healthy inclination in
others, to the hilt and with much success. Somehow, many people have become
convinced that if Republicans win enough elections, they'll be able (not to say willing) to
"fix" such entrenched social ills as the breakdown of the family and the accompanying
crass, permissive, and oversexualized atmosphere that permeates modern American
society, from rap videos to computer games to Super Bowl commercials. But canny
propaganda aside, statesmen that is, men of the state are not the men for
this job. Even a monstrous crime such as abortion can be overcome only through the
defeat of the Culture of Death, and not, as most anti-abortion Republican stalwarts seem
to think, by the election of the candidate who might best be expected to appoint pro-life
Supreme Court Justices.
The first two stigmata, ALARMISM/APOCALYPTICISM and GRANDIOSITY, are characteristics that often mix and merge with one another; it's not always clear where the first ends and the second begins. The third stigma in some ways undermines the very nature of the first two. After all, people become alarmist and grandiose when they perceive a danger that must be overcome or else it may destroy us all. You'd think that under such circumstances a partisan would give a very low priority to taunting the other side when he won or when his opponents suffered a blow to their credibility. After all, aren't the stakes too high to indulge in such childish behavior? Yet it is undeniably true that SCHADENFREUDE, the enjoyment of seeing an enemy in pain or difficulty, is the secret animating force behind the ugly spectacle of partisan politics in America today.
I will admit to being no stranger to Schadenfreude myself. I still retain a contempt so powerful for all things Clintonian that I relished that brand's recent failure; it was particularly lovely to see Mrs. Clinton's mounting disappointment and panic as she slowly realized she was being upstaged by an upstart.
Perhaps to some extent it is permissible to
enjoy seeing bad people fail, which makes politics loaded as it is with both bad
people and failure an ideal setting for Schadenfreude-ish indulgences. Still, there
is something unseemly about reveling in such sentiments; it seems ultimately to make
one debased and small, if not plain cruel. One thinks of Eric Cartman, of "South Park,"
licking up the "tears of infinite sadness" from a former bully on whom he took revenge
by tricking him into eating his dead parents as chili. (Please don't ask me to explain if you
haven't seen it.)
It's my belief that, deep down, most Americans know that not much will change no matter who is elected; they simply want to see "their guy" win because they know it will upset the other side, whom they hate. There is, finally, a sense of flailing, impotent rage about this behavior that is most unbecoming and disheartening. It is one thing to feel anger; nearly everyone has a right to be mad about something in his life, and many people have multiple legitimate motivations for rage. But anger isn't an end in itself. Anger, if you wallow in it, will do nothing but lacerate you from the inside. Whatever your bitter heart causes you to do or say to hurt your enemy, languishing in bitterness actually does more to hurt you than anyone else. I know that from experience, and I am still in the process of learning my lesson. Others who strike me as farther gone than I ever was apparently haven't even begun to learn their lessons yet, and show no indication that they ever will. It is both frustrating and saddening.
why one feels particularly inclined to look the other way when a political discussion amps
up today, whether on TV, in the office, or on the street. Most debates today are between
people who aren't listening to one another. Each of the participants seems disposed, if not
determined, to believe the very worst of the other. You get the feeling they're just looking
for an excuse to shout "In your face, bitch!" before slapping a high-five with their
supporters. It's less important to know what you are talking about than it is to be "right"
according to a particular ideology. Smug self-congratulation and grating self-importance
abound, as does brutal and blistering and totally unoriginal
Gee whiz. All democracy is bad, but this is dreadful and appalling. Let's get this blasted election over with already. It's driving me nuts.
August 18, 2008
© 2008 WTM Enterprises. All rights
Mr. Nowicki's personal blog is Dyspeptic Myopic, at www.andynowicki.blogspot.com.
If you found this column to be interesting, please donate at least $3 to our cause. You should make your check or m.o. payable in U.S. dollars to WTM Enterprises and send it to:
P.O. Box 224
Roanoke, IN 46783
Thanks for helping to assure a future for TLD!
Notice to visitors who came straight to this document from off site: You are deep in The Last Ditch. You should check out our home page and table of contents.