TIME politics

The Myth That Keeps Democracy Intact

Miller is a financier who writes about political economics, China and current affairs

We’ll need to fight hard to keep believing this self-evident American 'truth'

The key ingredient in the glue that holds any form of government together is one or another myth. For our democracy, the myth is that all of us are created equal. This is of course a lie, albeit a very useful one. Our DNA, yes, is human, but before birth we are preprogrammed with a wide amplitude of longevity prospects, intelligence and physical capabilities. It is a short hop from our (falsely) postulated original equality to “one person, one vote.” Since we are equal at the outset, so it is said, our voices should be given equal weight in choosing our government.

But our Founding Fathers were wary of plebiscites—votes, like Brexit, where at a given moment the people are polled on momentous issues of state. So, the Constitution the Founders created calls for the two very different houses of Congress, for checks and balances among the three branches of government and for our system of presidential “electors,” all conceived with a view to protecting the polity from the unfiltered will of the people. These institutions are still in place 240 years later, but now they bring us a President-elect who has attacked the legitimacy of the very system which elected him.

Those who said during the interminable campaign for the presidency that Donald Trump could not stay “on message” were wrong. Whether he was attacking fellow Republicans, war heroes, illegal immigrants, Hillary Clinton or the media, his message was consistently the same: Send me to Washington, and I will blow up the old way of governing.

Seen in this context, Donald Trump is the embodiment of an egregious contradiction: He wants to make America great, but got elected in a way that would seem very un-American. He might say that in order to save our nation, he had to shake up, if not destroy, the legitimacy of our process. But how will we survive the aftershocks? The media and its role, the way the two parties choose their candidates and the survival of the two-party system itself have all been put in question. Now that Republicans have all three branches of government and the Earth is, momentarily at least, not shaking, Republican Senators are talking about eliminating the filibuster while Democrats, once again foiled by the Electoral College, have begun discussing a Constitutional amendment to allow a popular majority to choose the President. A number of my Democratic friends have already begun to talk about grounds for impeaching Trump based on his supposed collusion with Vladimir Putin.

I was and am an ardent Hillary Clinton supporter. (I served as Chairman of the Finance Committee for the U.S. Pavilion at the Shanghai Exposition of 2010 when Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State.) But, fine. I get it. I have been trying to work my way through the five stages of grief. Denial went quickly by the boards. It is highly unlikely I can get to acceptance. I am stuck on anger. Even if he had his fingers crossed, Trump said too many loathsome things during the campaign for me ever to join his bandwagon. Maybe with some hard work I can get to bargaining.

I soothe myself with the palliative of Trump’s gracious acceptance speech. I take comfort in his sober and constructive meeting with President Obama. And relative to my worst fears, his 60 Minutes interview with Leslie Stahl wasn’t bad. I bring forth the story of the Donald Trump who quickly fixed New York City’s Wollman Skating Rink after years of government gridlock. Maybe he will work that magic in Washington. Trump, I tell myself, has a tool box not available to a Democratic President. Just as Nixon could do a deal to recognize Communist China which a Democrat might have been incapable of effecting, so Trump may be able to run a deficit for the benefit of stimulating near term growth, one which a President Hillary Clinton could not have incurred. And god knows we could use a fiscal policy after years of relying exclusively on easy money from the Federal Reserve.

So I am almost in the give-the-guy a chance camp until I see him empower certain persons, such as Steve Bannon, who claim to be attacking “political correctness” when in fact they are attacking the philosophical foundation of American democracy. In the past, horrible examples of discrimination like the poisonous water of Flint, Michigan, have eventually been dealt with — when they can no longer be swept under the rug. In our history as a nation we have struggled with racism, sexism, xenophobia… But it felt as if we were on an arc towards a better America. Then we elected a president who named Jeff Sessions, a man with a racist past, as the top U.S. legal official. What are we supposed to do if the President himself becomes the Discriminator in Chief? It will be hard if not impossible to bargain with officials who do not embrace a commitment to equal rights and equal opportunity for all citizens.

In the aftermath of the Trumpquake, I am ready for almost any kind of experiment that is constitutional and consistent with the admirable myth our country is based on. (I like the Ranked Choice Voting initiative which Maine just adopted, and we should explore other modalities which promise to restore a modicum of comity to our political discourse.) So, unlike some of my friends, I am not ready to start impeachment proceedings. But I am preparing to work against President Trump on our important policy differences and to fight for the preservation of that glorious story that brings us as close as possible to equal opportunity and the rule of law.

Tap to read full story

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary on events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. Opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of TIME editors.

Your browser is out of date. Please update your browser at http://update.microsoft.com


YOU BROKE TIME.COM!

Dear TIME Reader,

As a regular visitor to TIME.com, we are sure you enjoy all the great journalism created by our editors and reporters. Great journalism has great value, and it costs money to make it. One of the main ways we cover our costs is through advertising.

The use of software that blocks ads limits our ability to provide you with the journalism you enjoy. Consider turning your Ad Blocker off so that we can continue to provide the world class journalism you have become accustomed to.

The TIME Team