America in 2016, As Viewed from Classical Athens

Plato, in Laws III, talks about the two sorts of ruin that afflicted Persia and Athens. It strikes a familiar chord on both terms. How familiar does this sound, when thinking of the corruption of the Clintons or the endless regulation of the Obama faction?
We remarked that the Persians grew worse and worse. And we affirm the reason of this to have been, that they too much diminished the freedom of the people, and introduced too much of despotism, and so destroyed friendship and community of feeling. And when there is an end of these, no longer do the governors govern on behalf of their subjects or of the people, but on behalf of themselves; and if they think that they can gain ever so small an advantage for themselves, they devastate cities, and send fire and desolation among friendly races. And as they hate ruthlessly and horribly, so are they hated; and when they want the people to fight for them, they find no community of feeling or willingness to risk their lives on their behalf[.]
As this faction pursues further restriction on our ancient liberties, now on guns as earlier on freedom of speech, religious liberty, freedom of association, and politically-incorrect expression, they find there is no trust left among the people. Why can we not discuss 'common sense gun regulations'?  Because no one can trust that such regulations are not a back door to confiscation.  We are unable to reason together because of decades of bad faith.

Who will enforce these new laws in any case?  Will the people they want to fight for them comply?  Will the police, whom they have hated upon ruthlessly and horribly for more than a year?  Will the military, which is drawn in plurality from the part of the country they hate most ruthlessly and horribly of all?

As for the right, or what passes for it among common Americans today, the situation is a wave of support for... a reality-TV judge.
[A]s time went on, the poets themselves introduced the reign of vulgar and lawless innovation.... And by composing such licentious works, and adding to them words as licentious, they have inspired the multitude with lawlessness and boldness, and made them fancy that they can judge for themselves about melody and song. And in this way the theatres from being mute have become vocal, as though they had understanding of good and bad in music and poetry; and instead of an aristocracy, an evil sort of theatrocracy has grown up. For if the democracy which judged had only consisted of educated persons, no fatal harm would have been done; but in music there first arose the universal conceit of omniscience and general lawlessness;-freedom came following afterwards, and men, fancying that they knew what they did not know, had no longer any fear, and the absence of fear begets shamelessness.
Donald Trump is a theatrocrat if ever there was one. His judgments are judgments of the sort Plato fixes his gaze upon here, and he has like the theatrocrat of old swayed the audience into believing that they can judge as well. Watching these shows, and rendering judgments as if they knew what they were talking about, is now the pastime of millions. I have seen only enough of these shows to know that everyone in the audience is boldly stating their opinion about which chef did best in the competition -- though they have never studied cooking, and never tasted the food.

They love Trump because he is bold in just this way:  loudly, fearlessly, and in ignorance. This is the last power they sometimes feel they have, to judge as he does. They want to believe in it.

There is a real danger that he will win. There is a very powerful wind at his back. There is a despair eating the heart of middle aged Americans without college. When we see a demographic collapse brought on by suicide, alcohol and drugs, unheard of except among Russian men after the fall of the Soviet Union, we know we are talking about something much more powerful than a passing fancy. It is the pain of a people who have come to believe that their lives are worse than wasted, who are ashamed to live without work or on government aid, who are in pain from finding themselves useless and without a place or a point. They are not only hurt, but righteously angry.

This has been brought on by the pressures against this class of our fellow Americans brought by those who support massive immigration and globalization, either because they hoped to fundamentally change the nature of America, or because they sought campaign donations from corporations that benefit from cheaper labor. It is the fault of those who have ensured that all new jobs since the start of the recession have gone to immigrants. They have called down this whirlwind.

I do not distrust my fellow Americans, especially not the poor and downtrodden members of this class, who have suffered so much at the hands of those who dare to think themselves their betters.  I feel a great loyalty to them, and am angry at how they have been betrayed by the government -- of both parties -- which owed them fellowship and loyalty.  It is only that it is hard to think clearly in pain and anger, as I know too well myself.


Anonymous said...

I am remembering that the disdain for theater might simply be due to the theater hating the philosophers right back. After all it is hard to read "The Clouds" and think that Aristophanes put much stock in Socrates.

Grim said...

Well, and it's full of the kind of vulgarity that Plato raises here as well. On the other hand, it's closely allied to a point that Plato raises in Republic II on the dangers of poetic stories about the gods that enshrine immoral behavior. The poets -- like the authors of the theater -- are men of genius, but that only makes the effect of their work more powerful. The lessons that the audience draws are damaging.

I think that's true here as well. The people who put these shows together are clever, if not quite geniuses. They set their audiences up with a sense of superiority over the people they are judging, and given them the illusion that they are fit to judge. In fact, of course, almost no one in the audience has the background to even attempt the labors being observed and judged. Often -- as in not being able to taste the food -- they are completely removed from a position in which judgment would really be possible. But their judgments are sought by the format, and they are thus flattered and made to feel worthy, important, expert.

Donald Trump, familiar to them as a long-term judge on such a show, is one of them. He judges and pronounces from on high, and in ways that echo their own judgments and pronouncements. It has to seem very familiar, and how hard it is in that place -- and from that state of anger and despair -- to ask whether or not he really has the experience and wisdom to judge.

For example: what does Donald Trump know about the military, who would be commander in chief and take over Obama's worsening wars? He went to a military school as a youth. He's scorned the service of bona fide war heroes. In other words, he has no background whatsoever that would qualify him, and his judgment to date has been horrible. But his pose is very confident, very familiar.

Ymar Sakar said...

They are not only hurt, but righteously angry.

They only need a trigger, a real education on the benefits of Death and the power of Killing.

Or maybe that was the other way around. There will be plenty of cadre available to teach them, if they should prove worthy of the effort.

Nothing you say or do at this point, Grim, will change that inevitable fate. Not that this was different in 2007, but at least people could have claimed that they saw and tried.