Small World: Lessons, Socratic and Self-Taught


Henry Precht

By Henry Precht

BN Columnist

We’re off and running — for reelection or defeat in 2020. Charges and counter charges abound. The country is depicted as dystrophic or, “come on, not all that bad.” But, let’s not be downcast. Surely, there’s a lesson or two to be learned in the moments of reflection that occur between bile churning, outrageous Tweets and announcements. Let’s see…

How about the value of direct, demographic participation in the political process? That has been one of the primary sources of discord: Did the size of President Trump’s crowd turnout for the inauguration event on the national Mall surpass that of his female critics the following day? Or vice versa? People came from all parts of the nation and expressed their views by simply showing up. They didn’t have to sing, chant or wave flags. Being there was what counted. Using that criterion, both sides claimed victory. No outside neutral body was prepared to render a judgment, however. But, with fair-minded judges, a ruling might have been made.

What I’m getting around to is that we — and other advanced democracies — might well consider counting heads in assembly as a way of resolving issues: elections, referendum issues, disputes of all kinds. Just as the ancient Greeks did in the stoa or market place. Trump or Clinton for president — citizens to the right for the former, to the left for the latter. NAFTA or not: Stand to the right or the left. I wouldn’t anticipate that there would be a vote on obliging a modern-day Socrates to quaff hemlock, but tastes change and institutions do evolve.

No need to fuss about voter IDs; just count who shows up at various stoa across the nation when the voting date is set. No trouble about “three to five million” illegal aliens voting. If they made it across the border and to a stoa on time, they can be counted.

After all, why should our elected representatives be the only ones to pocket the offerings of lobbyists in exchange for votes in Congress? If the moneyed folks and firms want their way on a particular question, let them offer barbecue dinners or, depending on the region, bean suppers to all eligible (from appearances) voting citizens.

In addition to the utility of having citizens vote in person, this new realm has also manifested for us the power of the female voter. The crowd they mustered on the day after inauguration day and the discipline with which they presented themselves should teach us to pay attention to the rising female force in politics. If they had been in charge of inauguration events, almost certainly it would have run more smoothly and with a larger audience. (An instructive bit of insight, Mr. President, bearing on the gender composition of your new, all-male cabinet).

Finally, these last days of the new beginning have brought home and re-taught an old lesson: “Be careful what you vote for, you may get it.” Unlike past presidents who used attractive rhetoric to fill their sails during a campaign and then deflated and forgot their promises, Mr. Trump seems intent on fulfilling his campaign pledges — no matter how destructive to the environment, to stable and secure international relations, to sensible immigration policy or you-name-them matters of importance to a large share of the citizenry.

Perhaps there are more, even more painful lessons yet to be learned from the dawning Trump Era: e.g., don’t make promises to the disadvantaged in our society and then appoint the richly advantaged to positions to carry them out. Don’t proclaim “America first!” and then put Israel’s interests (in building settlements) in front of our nation’s traditional policies. Don’t make it sound quick and easy to erect a wall along the Mexico border and then find relations with Mexico badly damaged and the construction financing far from certain.

But folks, be patient. (That may be the overriding lesson.) Even the most inexperienced or perverse of administrations have a way of learning lessons and, in time, adapting to the national needs.

Henry Precht is a retired Foreign Service Officer.

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