When you’re a kid, adults inspire you by saying, “You can be anything you want when you grow up!” Sometimes parents illustrate the true grandeur of that statement with a follow up: “…you could even be the president!”
My mom used to tell me that I was just too smart to be the president. Throughout my life, I’ve switched between believing my mom wholeheartedly, and thinking the premise is absurd. That switch has occurred once every eight years.
Mom’s underlying point was that the smartest, noblest, most capable people don’t subject themselves to the scrutiny and herculean work of leading the United States. They suppress their delusions and egos, and in turn they enjoy a much better life. They might run companies, they might teach, they might be doctors or lawyers or engineers, but they don’t waste their smarts by diving headfirst into a school of political piranhas, half of whom will hate them no matter what they do. And the other half of whom will eat them anyway, on account of being piranhas.
The most qualified people are just too smart to make such an ego-driven mistake.
It may be a cynical point of view. It may be an opinion you can refute with recent, Hawaiian, constitutional law professor from Chicago examples. But it’s a defendable and understandable position. Plus it’s my mom’s position, so BACK OFF.
We’ve heard the Trump administration referred to as many things. A shit show. A dumpster fire. A circus. An oligarchy. A kleptocracy. A comedy of errors. A reality show gone awry. A nepotistic cadre of sycophantic ne’er-do-wells (okay, no one really says that one, I just found the synonym function on Microsoft Word).
I’ve heard another that might fit better than any of those: A kakistocracy.
No, not a khakistocracy. That’s where the Sigma Chis from 1998 run the government. A kakistocracy, on the other hand, is a government of the worst, least qualified, least scrupulous people. So yeah, I guess you can spell it either way.
In 2016, after a long, hard-fought, cheeseburger-fueled, Russian-assisted battle, Donald Trump won the election to become the 45th President of the United States. Droves of people (“droves” = ancient Greek measurement of quantity meaning “3 million less than the number that voted for one’s opponent”) excitedly voted for a man who had a longstanding public record of heretofore disqualifying characteristics.
He’s a philanderer who has openly cheated on each of his three successive wives. His voters gave him a mulligan.
He’s a dishonest businessman who has bragged about stiffing contractors, avoiding taxes, and filing multiple bankruptcies. His voters said it didn’t matter to them.
He’s a racist, a misogynist, and a xenophobe. His voters didn’t just let that slide, they ate it up.
He’s known to hate reading, preferring to gain all of his news from television. He gets bored easily. He is impulsive to a fault. Among the anti-reading, ADHD-addled, impulsive masses, he’s the freakin’ übermensch.
Our constitution, of course, didn’t set up a kakistocracy. It set up a representative democratic republic. In fact, it put checks and balances throughout specifically to avoid a kakistocracy.
The advice and consent of the Senate checks the President (in theory) from nominating unqualified people to the judiciary or the Cabinet. Proportional representation and two-year terms keep representatives closely accountable to their constituent voters. The Electoral College stands ready to overturn the popular vote if “democracy” turns out to be as misguided as some of the framers feared. Impeachment gives the Legislative Branch a nuclear remedy if all else fails.
The root of those checks and balances is in “we the people” ourselves. The political leanings of the populace obviously change with time. Still, it would always be unlikely that the people would willingly and knowingly choose an objectively terrible human being to lead them. And, because the Framers didn’t trust the average American, they still hedged that bet. They put in failsafes to ensure that if an objectively terrible human being was elected, he either wouldn’t be seated or, at worst, wouldn’t stay around long.
To quote the current President of the United States, “WRONG.”
The Framers didn’t predict the rise of Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, InfoWars, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, Fox News Channel, Newsmax, Breitbart, Drudge Report, or American Ninja Warrior. That last one doesn’t have much to do with it, but I can confidently state that Thomas Jefferson did not predict a televised obstacle course competition. Prove me wrong.
The Founding Fathers couldn’t have known that purely-for-profit broadcasters with powerful, endless reach would disguise themselves as journalists. If they could have guessed that, they would have known that those “journalists” would pander to viewers’ base instincts and fears, all to sell advertising.
They didn’t predict that the Supreme Court would someday decide that corporations were people, and that those kind of “people” spoke by spending money. If they could have guessed that, they would have known that businesses would throw their considerable dollars at getting slanted, pro-profit laws passed.
The genius philosophers who penned our framework had no idea that in 2018, everyone would be “literate,” but almost no one would read works that didn’t agree with their already-formed opinion. Or anything at all.
But here we are. We’ve had years of right-wing media profiting from purporting to legitimize the opinions of your racist uncle, your pissed-off dad, and your douchebag friends from high school. We’ve had years of corporations flooding the airwaves with pro-corporate campaign advertising. We’ve had years of people getting 100% of their news from 100% like-minded sources. And now, we’ve had Russian operatives throwing disinformation into an arena where “I saw it on the Internet” is all the proof you’ll ever need (or get).
The people elected as president one of the worst, unqualified, unscrupulous people in our country. The Electoral College failed to work as the Framers intended it. A GOP-led Senate approved all of his appointments to the Cabinet. The Cabinet was, in turn, filled with men who value things like revolving doors (literally and metaphorically), dining room sets, first class travel, and insider stock trades, all to the exclusion of their actual jobs.
The head of the EPA doesn’t believe in climate change. The former director of the CDC owned tobacco stock. The former Secretary of HHS jetted charter all over the world while he traded stocks directly affected by his own decisions. The press secretaries have all lied about literally everything. The Secretary of the Interior helped a 3-person firm land a multi-billion dollar deal in the wake of the hurricane in Puerto Rico. The President has done more shady stuff than I have space to write.
How many of you would ever do one one-hundredth of the dishonest, unethical, dangerous things these people have done in office? My mom raised me better, and I’m guessing yours did, too.
We are being led by the worst people among us. We are being led by the least qualified people among us. We are being led by the most unscrupulous people among us.
I can only hope that someone out there ignores my mom’s philosophy, and comes to destroy this kakistocracy we let rise to power on our watch.
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