Vail Daily column: Our emerging kakistocracy
December 23, 2016
Conservative writers vociferously and often gleefully harangue that our country is not a democracy, claiming instead it is a republic. These writers claim the word democracy does not appear in either the Constitution nor the Declaration of Independence. They are correct. And yet, the word republic is found only once in the Constitution and refers to states — "The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government … "
Most of the countries in the world use the word republic in their official titles; the United States is not one of them. To quote Inigo Montoya from "The Princess Bride," "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means." Central to the concept of a republic is that the exercise of power is based on the rule of law. Furthermore in a republic, elected officials act on behalf of the citizens they represent. Both criteria are evident in U.S. governance.
Similarly, democracy has been inherent in the fabric of our country from its inception. Consider this significant phrase from the Declaration of Independence: "Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed … " Many of our founding fathers referenced and championed democracy. Thomas Jefferson embraced both terms writing after the War of 1812, "I consider the war … has manifested the strong and weak parts of our republican institutions, and the excellence of a representative democracy compared with the misrule of Kings … " He was not alone. Chief Justice John Marshall, advocating for ratification of the Constitution in Virginia, stated, "The supporters of the constitution claim the title of being firm friends of liberty and rights of mankind … We, sir, idolize democracy." Democracy and republicanism are not mutually exclusive terms.
However, on the eve of 2017 and four weeks from a transfer of power, such arguments seem quaint. Instead, another term to describe government emerges as apropos, shaking off the dust of the 19th century when it was conceived: kakistocracy. Derived from the Greek word "kakistos" meaning bad and combined with the suffix -cracy it means government by the worst people. Coined by Thomas Love Peacock in 1829, it appears tailor made for the United States on the eve of the Trump presidency.
Rather than opining about the caliber of civics education in schools, conservative writers might consider focusing on the more pressing problem of the lack of civics' knowledge by the president-elect. From threatening to revoke the citizenship of flag burners, target members of select religious organizations, reinstate torture, assassinate the families of suspected terrorists or sue news outlets that publish unflattering stories about him, Trump is either unfamiliar with the Constitution, or indifferent.
If approved by the Senate, Trump's cabinet will be one of the wealthiest and least educated in recent history. Some, I assume, are good people. But then there is retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, Trump's National Security Advisor appointee, who is a bigot and conspiracy theorist and has called Islam a "cancer" and tweeted "Fear of Muslims is rational." Flynn recently met with Heinz-Christian Strache at Trump Tower. Strache is the leader of an Austrian far-right party founded by Nazis. Proving the adage that the apple does not fall far from the tree, Flynn's son, the least flagrant example of nepotism in Trump's transition team, was recently fired for promoting the "Pizzagate" hoax.
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To lead one of the most scientifically complex government agencies entrusted with overseeing our nuclear weapons program, Trump has appointed former Texas governor, "Dancing with the Stars" 12th-place finisher and climate-change denier Rick Perry. Perry succeeds two physicists; one of whom is a Nobel Laureate.
Betsy De Vos, Trump's selection to head the Department of Education, is often described as an education activist. This is not to be confused with an actual educator, which she is not, unlike most of her predecessors. She is a billionaire who has donated to the campaigns of 17 senators set to vote on her nomination. Of her political donations she has openly acknowledged she expects "a return on investment." De Vos has crusaded for more that 20 years for school choice, initially in Michigan. Although called a charter school advocate, her effort involves using taxpayer money not just for charter schools, but also private, parochial and for-profit schools. She has explicitly stated that education reform is a way to "advance God's kingdom."
Admittedly it could be worse than a kakistocracy. The 2005 movie "Idiocracy" depicts America 500 years in the future where anti-intellectualism is rampant and the president is a crass and boorish celebrity …
Claire Noble can be found online at http://www.clairenoble.org and Claire Noble Writer on Facebook.
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