Americans often boast about having attained some democratic nirvana- a kind of unique exceptionalism that defies all logic and reasoning. For many, American Democracy is one of the gifts that his nation has presumably given world. Yes, it's a bit messy at times, the argument goes, but way more acceptable, fair and equal when compared to many nations of the world. And that definitely is so. Over the years, stoked by a lazy and indulgent mass media, Americans have come to a place where dealing with democracy has become an unimaginable redefinition of our nation and ourselves.
As a nation whose stated and much-touted "exceptionalism" is built on personal freedoms, we like put down other countries where our version of freedom does not exist or if it does, it is in some bastardized form or version of our own. Indeed, America's version of "superior democracy" is also predicated on the fact that the country has an electoral system that is supposed to be the ultimate exercise of individual freedom -- the freedom to cast your vote and elect the candidate of your choice.
But is changing the faces of members an elite class in government and in American society every five years a good measure of democracy? Like many more qualified historians and political scientists then me believed, I also hoped that America would serve as a shining example to the world--a successful combination of equality and liberty built on genuine people's power. But that is definitely not the case. We have only to look at the recent 2016 Presidential Elections to understand and observe the degree to which the American system of democracy and representative government is so seriously flawed.
Indeed the election of Donald Trump as the next president of the United States underscores the fact that the masses can and do get it wrong more times than we care to admit in the much ballyhooed American Democracy. Democracy can lead to the "tyranny of the majority." Well-meaning people can vote into office governments that will suppress their basic rights and freedoms, just look at Iran, Egypt, or the USA. But freedom of thought and expression is such an important freedom that any good government is going to support it even when it is used to express ideas that are obviously wrong, divisive and prejudicial.
As periodic elections touted as the exercise of individual rights and freedoms demonstrate such a "democracy" in no way guarantees freedom, justice and liberty. There is a kind of "mass idolatry" of this mythical and this much romanticized aspect of democracy is fundamentally problematic in itself. So democracy is not enough.
It can become the tyranny of the majority. The phrase "tyranny of the majority" (or "tyranny of the masses") is used when discussing systems of democracy and majority rule. It involves a scenario in which a majority places its own interests above those of a minority group, constituting active oppression comparable to that of a tyrant or despot.
So now we have Donald Trump our next president. I do not think he fits the role of a classical Orwellian dictator or a modern day prototype of Adolph Hiller no matter his extreme positions, violent rabblerousing, and punitive actions. One thing is certain though, the old classical authoritarian strongmen have been gradually disappearing. And the American system of government discourages and retards the political development of this kind of leader. There are way to many checks and balances built into our system of government and flawed democracy for this to happen.
But we must be aware of the other type of tyranny -- the Pied Piper-like, nativist, xenophobic, and "straight-talking" opportunistic "leader" who masterfully dupes the masses into believing that he or she is the new "political messiah." Today, the leader of this "tyranny of the majority" works to influence the minds of the people long drunk on its perceived and imagined "power" given to it by these leaders. But far from empowering the majority, this pseudo-democracy corrupts, weakens and isolates individuals. This then creates fertile ground for a new kind of oppression that "will resemble nothing that has preceded it in the world."
210 years ago, in 1831, Alexis de Tocqueville visited America and foresaw what he called an "immense tutelary power"--the modern state--which would degrade men rather than destroy their bodies. Over time, he feared, the state would take away citizens' free will, their capacity to think and act, reducing them to "a herd of timid and industrious animals of which the government is the shepherd."
Like de Tocqueville back then, I also hope today that Americans would come to understand that the defects of modern democracy require great attention and careful management, especially to a system long thought of as superior and better than most. Specifically, he hoped, we would strive "to preserve for the individual the little independence, force, and originality" that remains to him.
Reading de Tocqueville's "Democracy in America" (1835), I've also come to the conclusion that any society that forces its citizens to be shaped into the mold of whatever prevailing opinion thinks true or good, by virtue only and through the use of majority viewpoints, is as dangerous as any oppressive regime. Not because the political weapon is "prevailing opinion" doesn't mean it is any less oppressive of those who happen to dissent. We saw that every day during the recent presidential elections when issues and matters pertinent to growth and advancement of American society took a back seat to things that helped to shape, warp and influence public opinion that have absolutely nothing to do with democracy.
Instead of a powerful individual choking the freedom of the many, it is now the many who, by virtue of numbers, become powerful enough to throttle the freedom of the individual and of the minority. It is this kind of unbridled and unpredictable "democratic" power that drives today's tyranny of the majority. Witness Egypt, the Ukraine, and although less violent, the United States of America. Driven by modern technology this tyrannical mass is organized along political lines mobilized on the Internet and Social Media where assertive self-righteousness, putrid vengeance, and barely concealed hatred of any dissenting opinion is violently attacked and ostracized.
Indeed, Ochlocracy, or panicked mob rule, in a classical sense is rule of government by mob or a mass of people characterized by the intimidation of individuals, the minority and legitimate government authorities. This creeping insidious mob monster is mobilized by a communication system that morphs into a vengeful arm of selective enforcement through coercion and ostracism; it sustains itself and is driven, egged on and encouraged by media outlets that are twisted to take its form. These are businesses, insensitive to the will of the people per se and who do not want to lose their super rich clients whose bidding they do.
The danger for ALL Americans now, in 2016, is that the present state of affairs, with Donald Trump as president, will continue to metastasize into a modern, genteel form of watered down fascism, uniquely American. We witnessed the angry, ignorant mass of mostly white Americans that followed and believed a Trump impervous to his arrogance, his anti-women behavior and his public insults of any who disagreed with him. This is the building blocks and foundation of the phenomenon of "the tyranny of the masses." Trump's followerd are not in the mood to listen to reason and will continue to WORK AND ACT AGAINST THEIR INTERESTS because their leader has given them a target and object for their blind hatred and anger -- Muslims, Mexicans, Blacks, Hispanics, immigrants and Democrats. His supporters will continue to behave the way they do and follow their leader because he's repackaged the old Republican myth peddled over the ages to a suffering white populace that their poverty is of no consequence because they are BETTER THAN OTHERS BECAUSE THEY ARE WHITE -- the worst white man is better than the best Black man, Muslim, Mexican and immigrant.
Robert Paxton in his book "The Anatomy of Fascism " wrote that "[modern] fascism was a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation, or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion."
The definition very eloquently describes an America already there or inevitably barreling rapidly towards that position.