Trump Democracy — the oxymoron we’re too terrified to talk about.
“The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.”
— Aldous Huxley
Not writing about Trump is like sitting around a campfire and refusing to warm your hands. There’s nothing to gain from abstaining except for a few cold fingers. So here goes, let me warm my hands a little…
What I don’t know—about America’s democratic system could fill an ocean.
Sadly I’m no expert on American democracy. In fact, full disclosure, I’m not even American. But it seems these days everyone, including foreigners / Canadians like me, are allowed to have an opinion.
And even an idiot in an igloo can see there is something… interesting… happening to democracy in America under Trump. Something that goes beyond Trump and matters to anyone who lives in a democratic country. The democratic system is starting look a bit like the emperor's imaginary clothes. Or, to hijack the metaphor further, Donald Trump seems to be sitting on the throne, naked, belly hanging-out, and holding court rather comfortably while completely unaware that clothes may or may not have even existed.
There is no shame in what you don’t know, right?
What I do know — Democracy is a social construct.
My aunt went skiing in Idaho last week with two families. One family, from Seattle, told her ‘not to bring up Trump’ with the other family, who was from Iowa.
Has it come to this?
That even swooshing down the slopes under the deep blue Idaho sky we can’t saddle up to a hot cup of steaming cocoa and utter a word against the man currently holding office? A former reality TV star? Why the hell has this backed a group of happy-go-lucky skiers into some dysfunctional lovers quarrel?
It ain’t pretty. And all I know is that not talking at all — fear of talking, or whatever, is a bad sign. As in, you’re headed for divorce bad. But of course that won’t happen, because the system has checks and balances…
Look, it’s never been more clear than today that democracy is not the product of systems.
Democracy is not guaranteed by agencies or legislation. It is not a piece of paper filled with decrees and rights. The statue of liberty is not some robotic superhero in sleep mode that wakes up and crushes authoritarian narcissists whenever the universe brings them to her shores.
Nope. It’s really up to individuals to believe in and defend. You and me. Me and you.
Individuals like Dennis Edney, the Canadian lawyer, who, pro bono, fought four supreme court challenges over a period of ten years to free Omar Khadr, the last remaining child prisoner in Guantanamo prison. Edney has explained his decision to defend Khadr in the following terms:
“Because we are a civil society we take so much for granted and we think our country can’t change… but when you abdicate your responsibility to ensure your country follows good values and the rule of law, it’s easy to get into a lawlessness. So we have to wake up. We have to make a part of our every day to challenge, to speak out. We’re maybe just too polite.”
Its time to wake up — because being polite has never had so much down side.
Which brings me back to my aunt’s skiing trip. Why was Trump a taboo subject? On the one hand, it’s easy to say that any political discussion would just lead to an argument and spoil the mood. On the other hand, it might mean that the social contract is currently up for grabs. That an argument, any argument, over Trump is in fact a de facto argument about what we mean when we use the term ‘democracy’— it’s a fight over the definition of basic rights, freedoms, and what American’s are willing to agree to in defense of democracy.
That’s some deep shit for a ski trip.
Maybe the unwinding social contract that keeps democracy alive is the real thing that’s too terrifying to talk about.
I’m just not sure where that leaves me. Selfishly, of course, I want to say it doesn’t affect me. As a Canadian I can certainly go on doing what I do without caring about or being affected by the actions of the US president.
For now at least.
Still, it doesn’t stop me from sleeping a little more uneasily than usual. And writing about it hasn’t really helped. Sitting around the fire and warming my hands is a cute metaphor, to be sure.
But having reached out to the flames, and extended my fingers, there is a lingering worry — at what point, exactly, will I get burned?