Every day, all over the country, people of moderate and liberal political convictions wake up, scratch their heads a bit, and ask themselves: How is it that this little bunch of right-wing Republican extremists run the country? The question is legitimate, so let’s answer it.
First, some classroom-style history. While sentimentality grants George Washington the title of the father of this country, the credit as grandpappy must go to John Locke. The eminent British empiricist philosopher was long dead by the time of the American Revolution, but his ideas filled the minds of upstart Americans. It was the brilliant Alexis de Tocqueville, drawing on Locke and John Stuart Mill, who came up with the term “tyranny of the majority” to describe one of the dangers of democratic or republican government. And it was the Virginian James Madison, along with other, mostly Southern founders, who built into the new American government certain safeguards against the trampling of minority rights and wishes. Aside from most of the Bill of Rights, these included a bicameral Congress and the political peculiarity known as the Electoral College.
Perhaps these gentlemen failed to foresee the tyranny of a minority that their country is now experiencing. Perhaps not, inasmuch as they were already in the minority and struggling to hold onto the already-endangered institution of slavery. Either way, they helped to lay the groundwork for the perverse struggle in which the nation is now engaged — one in which roughly 45 percent govern the other 55. Either way, they almost certainly did not anticipate the other set of circumstances that landed us in this mess. It has to do with information and its distribution, with stretching the truth and outright lies, and with the disbursement of information across geographic and demographic lines.
This part of the equation has two elements. The first is education. When Hillary Clinton complained recently, much to the dismay of most Democrats, that she won the parts of the country that are “optimistic, diverse, and moving forward,” while losing the parts where her infamous “deplorables” dominate, she was exactly right. Unwise to say it out loud, but she was factually quite correct. Of adults in Massachusetts, which she won, something more than 54 percent hold at least a college baccalaureate degrees; in Mississippi, where she lost by a landslide, the number is almost less than half that.
There is not space here to go into a fully documented and provable defense of this next statement, but it should go without saying that educated people tend to be more liberal than uneducated people for good and sufficient reason: liberalism is better for the country, and you understand that if you’ve mastered enough facts and principle to read history with any discernment. In fact, it helps simply to read serious history. It should be obvious that the most conservative parts of the country are consistently the most backward — culturally, economically and socially. Yet a preponderance of residents in those places remain persuaded that the answer to their troubles is to become even more conservative. In pursuit of this they are destroying public education, long portrayed as a bastion of liberal propaganda rather than as our societies’ intellectual bedrock, as quickly as they can.
The other element, of course, is the disappearance of a national, commonly understood set of facts concerning the news of the day. Not so long ago, we had a few major newspapers and three major wire services, along with ABC, CBS and NBC. People counted on them for reliable reporting, which they delivered.
Then came an Australian opportunist, Rupert Murdoch, who joined forces with the despicable old lecher Roger Ailes, and together they formed Fox News. Ailes was a brilliant producer who sold the insidious lie that the mainstream press, including his competitors, were biased toward a liberal point of view. In reality, because of their reliance on official sources, the older outlets had always had, if anything, an establishment bias. But they worked every day to overcome any impartiality and to present news in a way as fair and balanced as possible. Ailes went so far as to steal those words and to represent Fox, the only major outlet founded to promote a political point of view, as the only objective one.
This monstrous lie was swallowed by enough Americans to make Fox the primary source of “news” for a plurality of American households. It amounts to an endless, daily, misrepresented and unaccountable campaign for an increasingly right-wing Republican Party.
Now Fox has a lot of company, from the Sinclair group to NewsMax and Breitbart, as the Republican spin machine spews its venom day by day, hour by hour. Recently, Fox’s Sean Hannity committed the libel of portraying Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating President Trump, as the head of a “crime family.” The result of all of this has been the fragmentation of our country, with Republican hating Democrat, and Democrats compounding the problem by being condescending, Hillary-style, to the Republicans.
It has come to the point that the term “moderate Republican” is an anachronism. People who don’t buy all of the increasingly extreme Trumpist dogma can and will be defeated in Republican primaries because the 45 percent commanded by President Trump is an overwhelming majority in his party. While I have long advocated a sharp move toward the left on economic issues in the Democratic Party, there is a risk that Democrats, too, can become exclusive.
Where does it end? Show me how to partition the country. That’s what’s happening elsewhere in the world, where factions cannot seem to get along and descend increasingly into the ancient devilment of tribalism.