After visiting the oracle at Delphi and being declared the wisest person on earth, Socrates was surprised. He reflected and concluded his wisdom came from the realization that he knew nothing. Donald Trump, a modern-day oracle, makes us reflect as well. We realize he knows nothing. So, we wonder, how did we get to this point? How did a single person with no political experience, a history of fraud, an antagonistic personality, and virtually no support from the Republican establishment become the President of the United States and soon thereafter seriously undermine what the founders called the democratic experiment? How did this angry old white man win enough support in a time of relative prosperity to win the election after proclaiming he would make America great again.
People far wiser and more intimately connected to the political scene than I, have proposed answers to these questions. We don’t tire of speculating because Trump makes most of us afraid and we hope to find a logical solution to our fear. If we could understand his appeal, we reason, we could stop him (and others like him) from undermining the progress the country has made. BT (Before Trump) I had no idea that our system was so fragile. The founders, however, envisioned the possibility of Trump-like leaders. Their plan was to create a system of checks and balances so power was shared. They intentionally designed the government to be slow and inefficient. A turtle-like democracy is preferable to a jack rabbit-like dictatorship. Thankfully, the courts have managed to slow Trump’s assaults on immigration, the environment, public education, the press, minority rights, health care, scientific inquiry, and other precious freedoms.
Imagining what an unbridled Trump would do (without the checks and balances) evokes fear in all but the most jaded or shortsighted. Trump World, we predict, would be a police state. The future would involve ongoing military conflict and conquest. The Trump dystopia, we know, would have little clean water and air. The flooding from the rising sea levels in this world would make many areas uninhabitable, and the changes in the weather would make catastrophes commonplace. The helpless would not be helped, and the people who do not conform to the norm would become second class citizens at best. This kind of world has occurred in other places, so we fear it is possible. Our fear of the logical outcomes of Trump, Pence, McConnell, Ryan, the entire Cabinet, and all the others in the administration who support Trump’s “agenda for himself” makes us want to bury our heads at times. We fear of losing a grip on reality when facts no longer matter. We are scared that more people will come to believe that Trump World would be the best of all possible worlds because they are told so and dream of change. For some citizens the fear is tangible. They fear losing their lives to violence, oppression, addiction, illness, and/or depression.
The ancient Greeks were incredible visionaries. Our Founding Fathers were also enlighten men in many ways. They foresaw a world in which politicians who followed in their footprints would not be saints. They knew the media would not always be truthful. Elections, the founders understood, would not always be fair. But, I don’t think they understood how modern times would allow the country to rise to unimaginable heights. Nor did they (or most of us) understand how quickly the country could fall to unimaginable lows.
“Know thyself” was Socrates famous decree. Like the oracle’s pronouncement, the decree was ambiguous. Does know thyself mean we should understand who we are, or does it suggest we need to investigate things ourselves and not rely on others? Maybe it means both. Perhaps the first interpretation of “know thyself” suggests we should collectively understand who we are as a country. Knowledge is the tool needed to conquer the ignorance which fosters racism, sexism, elitism, intolerance, aggression, and the other evils of selfish opportunism and tribal thinking. The second interpretation may reflect our country’s need to seek the truth for ourselves. We can’t count on any one information source to accurately depict the state of our nation. Knowledge won’t always set us free, but it will help us discover where the chains lie and who holds the jailer’s keys.
Our forefathers fortunately, were not only wise, they were also brave. Trump World won’t be prevented by knowledge alone. It requires people who can overcome their fears and band together to preserve the rule of law. People must convince their neighbors and those in power that Trump World is not the kind of place where anyone but bullies and egotists want to live. We can’t return to the times BT, but we can slow and stop the slide to Trump World and make the real world better by being knowledgeable and brave.