There has been an air of satisfaction about the elites and specialists who spoke last week at the Davos Agenda summit. That air is stale and familiar; the same air calmly vented during Obama, Bush, and Clinton’s terms, and got pumping when Nigel Farage introduced sovereignty back to the United Kingdom. For four years, the common people of the United States and across the West got a taste of something poisonous—or, at the very least, bad for their health—but thankfully now they are all back on a healthy diet of whatever the experts prescribe as Joe Biden has taken office. The Davos crowd circulates that air of satisfaction because they have resumed control over life, death, history, and the future. After all, who better to protect democracy than an elite few?
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen suggested in her speech last Tuesday that democracy has been damaged, perhaps irreparably so, by President Trump and his unique brand of conservative populism. Never mind the fact that his populism was and remains popular; that he received the most votes of any incumbent president ever; that the populace was far more engaged in politics during his presidency than at any point in recent memory as a result of the two-sided recognition that Trump was making good on his promises; or the fact that he realized popular dreams long thought unattainable.
If President Trump damaged democracy, it is simply because democracy was out of shape or at the very least no longer in sufficient shape to dance. Its muscles were atrophied and its bones were achy after having been dormant for too long.
Of course Leyen, like German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron, erroneously hold Trump responsible for the Capitol riots. It is unlikely that they hold their ideological peers in America similarly responsible when lunatics misinterpret them and act impetuously; that they hold Bernie Sanders responsible for getting U.S. Representative Steve Scalise (R-La.) shot or that they hold Maxine Waters, Nancy Pelosi, Cory Booker, Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, and Mitt Romney responsible for inciting the myriad attacks on Trump supporters or for celebrating the identitarian-Marxist arson of Minneapolis, Kenosha, Seattle, Portland, New York, and St. Louis.
There is, however, no need for consistency when the Davos crowd can count on “censorship by the press” and the refusal of anyone empowered with stereoscopic vision to point out this imbalanced view.
Even if President Trump were guilty of these detached elites’ charges, the victim is certainly not democracy (unless life is a crime). A leader who whips up a crowd with impassioned appeals may be a demagogue, but if he is, he’s certainly also a democrat.
Perhaps Merkel, Macron, and Leyen have simply forgotten what democracy looks like in practice. After all, when democracy prevailed in the form of Brexit, Merkel and Macron and Leyen and their ilk screamed out in terror before attempting to transmogrify retroactively the British people’s will—to pervert it in the rearview with projections of various –isms. Since democracy practiced recently and immediately may seem too alien, maybe Merkel should look back to 1989 when her instructors’ wall was torn down. Macron, currently managing the Fifth Republic’s decline, may do well to read about the orgies of blood that democrats participated in throughout the harried history of his nation, but particularly in 1789 and 1871.
Democracy can be a wondrous thing and it is certainly a desirable thing, but it can also be the tyranny of the majority. Democracy can be self-defeating, as a tyrannical majority or vanguard party can elect a despot or vote to undo democracy (the Bolshevik Revolution comes to mind), but today its chief opponents are not the populists but the elites.
The establishment spent the past four years panicking, not that a demagogue might undo democracy in the West but that a Republican might remind the West that it is democratic. No, President Trump did not injure or hurt democracy. He simply reminded the establishment that democracy was still the expectation—that even in a republic the citizens are in control.
Although the Apostle of Common Sense, G. K. Chesterton, had devised and defined a unique political model all his own predicated on Catholic teaching (i.e. distributism, which recognizes the problem is not, as the socialists believe, private property, but rather that everybody should have some more of it), in his time he was called and in turn called himself a liberal.
As a Catholic and a liberal, Chesterton put a great deal of stock in free will and in choice. His belief in both made him an ardent supporter of democracy—and a fierce opponent of any who would usurp that God-given civic faculty. Below, I have excerpted from a rare pamphlet of Chesterton’s entitled, “I say a Democracy means . . . ” where he pointed out that the people’s parliament was cuckolded by the cabinet, itself captive not to the people but to an unaccountable elite.
Based on Chesterton’s understanding, which is not only a common but a right understanding, it is clear that if anyone has injured democracy, it has been those obstructing, confounding, and ignoring the People’s Will, apparently for over a century. In short, the establishment at war with the populist movement is at war with the people, and therefore, at war with democracy. It is time that the people—everywhere confined to quarters, watching on as their businesses languish and their civilization wanes—had a decisive victory.
I do want you to understand what I mean. I will therefore state it with total dullness, in separate paragraphs; and I will number them.
1) I say a democracy means a state where the citizens first desire something and then get it. That is surely simple.
2) I say that where this is deflected by the disadvantage of representation it means that the citizens desire a thing and tell the representatives to get it. I trust I make myself clear.
3) The representatives, in order to get it at all, must have some control over detail; but the design must come from the popular desire. Have we got that down?
4) You, I understand, hold that English M.P.’s today do thus obey the public in design. Varying only in detail. That is a quite clear contention.
5) I say they don’t. Tell me if I am getting too abstruse.
6) I say our representatives accept designs and desires almost entirely from the Cabinet class above them; and practically not at all from the constituents below them. I say the people does not wield a Parliament which wields a Cabinet. I say the Cabinet bullies a timid Parliament which bullies a bewildered people. Is that plain?
7) If you ask why the people endure and play this game, I say they play it as they would play the official games of any despotism or aristocracy. The average Englishman puts his cross on a ballot-paper as he takes off his hat to the King—and would take it off if there were no ballot-papers. There is no Democracy in the business. Is that definite?
8) If you ask why we have thus lost Democracy, I say from two causes (1) the omnipotence of an unelected body, the Cabinet; (2) the Party System which turns all politics into a game like the Boat Race. Is that all right?
9) If you want examples I could give you scores. I say the people did not cry out that all children whose parents lunch on cheese and beer in an inn should be left out in the rain. I say the people did not demand that a man’s sentence should be settled by his jailers instead of his judges. I say these things come from a rich group, not only without any evidence, but really without any pretense, that they were popular. I say the people hardly heard of them at the polls. But here I do not need to give examples; but merely to say what I mean. Surely I have said it now.
Chesterton’s letter to the editor of The Nation reveals, by virtue of the trouble expressed and by its very existence, the fact that the promise of democracy has been on the verge of being a lie for over a century. Those who attempt to make good on it in the United States and in Britain and elsewhere, by executing the will of the people, find their political careers executed by those who resent the masses.
Chesterton pointed out something of which the Occupy Wall Street and MAGA crowds (the courtless-leftist and red-crossed knights) are both painfully aware: that an unelected elite—comprised of corporatists, warmongering statists, Silicon Valley technocrats, coastal oligarchs, Islamofascists, and/or some commixture of the aforementioned oppressors—feels entitled to run our lives and has taken democracy out of the business of running them. When the president of the European Commission says democracy has been damaged, she means that it was jostled when being taken off a dusty shelf; that one of her tentacles was bruised when it was thrown off the volume.
Democracy has not been beaten by the populist movement. It was resuscitated. In fact, it was the elites who were given cause to fret. Why? Western peoples have begun to see all that they share in common with one another extra to common sense; that they have been pitted against one another so that they may remain blind to their real foe: to the unaccountable elite who wage a never-ending rebellion against the poor and against normalcy.
“It is the mark of our whole modern history that the masses are kept quiet with a fight,” wrote Chesterton. “They are kept quiet by the fight because it is a sham-fight; thus most of us know by this time that the Party System has been popular only in the sense that a football match is popular.”
Americans and Britons and other Westerners are tired of this game where, regardless of the score, they are losing. Leyen, Merkel, Macron, et al. are right to panic, for democratic peoples may soon be willing to fight a real fight and for keeps.