If the success of Donald Trump to this point reveals a fundamental weakness in the theoretical underpinnings of democracy, the actual election of the man would reveal the sad fact that this form of government has, contrary to the rhetoric of its advocates, nothing on those forms it opposes. It is often said that we are a young nation. That’s true. But young as we are, we’re old enough to know better—if this form of government is a way to train people who know better, who make good choices, who vote according to their actual interests. It’s also true that many who are going to vote for Trump are sensible enough not to like him or believe him, that they would rather not “have to” vote for him. In fact the majority are apparently not voting for the demagogue so much as voting against his opponent, variously criticized as corrupt or greedy. But it does not take a keen political observer to see that there’s nothing Hilary Clinton has been suspected of that Trump has not amply shown himself guilty of—greed, lying, skirting the law, manipulating the system, seeking wealth and personal power against all other interests. He is the possessor of a mendacity so patent and profound that any number of people have wondered whether his candidacy has not been from the start a conscious joke which he himself has fallen victim to, whether he really wants to be president, whether he’s been trying from day one to throw the election. I myself go further and wonder if he even knows what he wants or ever has or has ever been capable of it. His story changes from day to day. He has such a flippant attitude toward facts that he may not be able to tell truthfully whether he was serious or not when he descended the escalator like a god deigning to appear before his people—like an ironic quotation of showman Hitler descending from the skies in The Triumph of the Will. And when it comes to undermining our democracy, it’s clear that Trump has been doing that in small ways his whole life--by manipulating the legal system that was set up to ensure justice and fairness, by buying his way out of serving in the military, by manipulating tax laws or bribing his way out of lawsuits; if he becomes president he won’t be able to stop himself from undermining our country in a much bigger way. His very ignorance (revealed in big or small ways almost every time he opens his mouth)—this ignorance of the particulars of the Constitution and of the job he thinks he’s seeking guarantee as much. Our democratic system is built on the idea that the common person is better able to assess his/her needs than are the wealthy and powerful elites, that “common sense” leads common people to recognize and support their own interests. This is why ordinary people, whatever their education, are allowed to vote. Trump’s present attainments and apparently viable prospects call this foundational idea into question.
All hope is not, however, yet lost. Perhaps we will yet prove that American Democracy is in some meaningful way exceptional. Although China may now use Trump as evidence that there’s nothing special in our form of government, the strength of the system, if it does retain strength and has any pretentions to bragging rights on the world stage, can yet be revealed—by an overwhelming defeat of Trumpery.