When power moves into the hands of a few, decent people commit unspeakable acts.
As we enter 2018, one thing is clear: just as we need it most, Americans’ commitment to democracy seems to be fading. Frightened by President Trump’s lies about the prevalence of voter fraud, a majority of Republicans say they’re open to the idea of postponing the 2020 election. Even more disturbing, one in six of us now say we’d settle for military rule.
It’s time American patriots face a hard but liberating truth: Democracy—governance accountable and responsive to the people—is not a choice; it's the only pathway to protect life on Earth as we’ve inherited it and to realize humanity’s potential. The reason is simple. Only democracy can call forth the best in us, while keeping our worst in check.
We need only look at what history has shown time and again to elicit the worst. It is democracy’s opposite, showing up in three conditions.
First, concentrated power. From Nazi Germany to Stalinist Russia to Maoist China, when power moves into the hands of a few, decent people commit unspeakable acts. Moreover, concentrated economic power itself saps the life out of a society, document UK social epidemiologists, as it correlates with a vast range of social and physical ills, from homicide to mental illness. Tightly held economic power also typically translates into political power, leading to the oxymoron “privately-held government.” In ours, a fraction of 1 percent of Americans gain vast influence by footing most of the billions our elections now cost.
Second, secrecy. Before the 2008 financial collapse, bankers were feverishly pushing risky financial “products,” and among their creators a favorite slogan was IBG, YBG: “I’ll be gone, you’ll be gone.” The traders knew they would be out the door before their schemes went south. Wall Street bankers are human, after all, and when we believe no one’s watching, we’re vastly more likely to behave badly. Thus, the danger in the Trump administration’s penchant for secrecy, from the president’s failure to disclose taxes to the GOP’s unwillingness to make proposed legislation available for open debate.