By Michael DAVIDOW, Radio Free New Hampshire
There is little reason to believe that American democracy is the end point of human political development. There are other ways to organize society. And some of those ways make sense; it all depends on what you value.
If you value order, you might be happy in China. But we also can’t gainsay China’s interest in other values. For instance, the Chinese let all sorts of different people join their ruling party, which is their equivalent of allowing different people to run for office. They seem to like this method, and they think it’s fairer than ours: in which only the wealthy ever wield power.
If you truly value wealth, though, you might be happy in Russia. Russians will put up with a lot of lost liberty for the sake of full stomachs; on the flip side, they also deem art and religion to be above the crassness of mere commerce; and again, they approve of the balance they’ve struck. It’s a bit like an aristocracy, and the Russians loved their tsar (they called him “little Father” for a reason).
And both Russia and China look askance at what America has to offer, which for them boils down to this: rule by the rich, for the rich, with everyone else suckered in by dreams of personal liberty that peter out in reality to grinding and corrosive poverty.
Most Americans, however, see things differently. We place real value on those personal liberties. We see them as the cornerstone of everything we do, and we accept certain levels of inequality and even injustice as the inevitable trade-offs required by their practice. Chief among our personal liberties is our freedom of speech.
Most people, even in China and Russia, would agree that America has safeguarded that particular freedom pretty well for the past two centuries. And to the extent that we’ve prospered, we have prospered in tandem with that freedom (not, perhaps, because of it; but that’s a different question).
It’s multifaceted. There is private speech: me talking to you, in my home, or over the phone, or in any other way where nobody else has the right to listen in and tell me to be quiet. Then there is public speech, which is speech meant to influence others (like this). In the past, exercising one’s right to free speech in a way that was meant to influence others required a printing press, or a broadcast license, or at least some ability to express good sense over the length of more than a sentence or two.
But that has changed, and we will soon find out if our democracy can continue to thrive in the face of that change. Right now, the issue is in doubt.
The House of Representatives has been holding public hearings lately, detailing the ways in which Donald Trump betrayed his country. There is probably some value in having these hearings; there is probably some value in not just establishing these facts, but storing them in enough places that their memory can’t be wiped out by the next generation of liars and thieves (due in 2024). But I doubt if these hearings are serving any other purpose. They do not seem to be educating anyone about anything, and any official hopes for that result were both naïve and misplaced.
America is past its time of accepting television news for drama, much less for truth or meaning. Walter Cronkite is not even a memory for most Americans. America doesn’t even accept its truth from the written press anymore. The big newspapers have lost all credibility with anyone who doesn’t read them already (the Times and the Post are still doing terrific work, sure, but they are also both so subsumed with posturing that reading their pages requires more patience than most parents can muster for their own spoiled brats). Magazines don’t exist anymore.
To move opinion today, you need to inhabit the internet itself, but the internet is protean and poorly designed for reasoned argument. Twitter comes in bites; Facebook comes in blurbs; Substack comes in snobby little packets; Reddit comes in grimy lumps. Technology has changed not just the methodology of public speech. It has also changed its subject matter; it has changed what can be communicated.
Ideas mean less than emotions these days. Words mean less than images. We have regressed as a nation. Our technology has harmed us. We don’t know how badly yet.
Before it’s too late, then, perhaps we need pictures for these thoughts: A vote for Trump is a vote for treason. Belief in the “big steal” is support for treason. Being neutral about these matters is encouraging treason. The Republican Party needs to come home. America misses it.
He is the author of Gate City, Split Thirty, and The Rocketdyne Commission, three novels about politics and advertising which, taken together, form The Henry Bell Project, The Book of Order, and his most recent one, The Hunter of Talyashevka . They are available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.