“The most complete and happy victory is this; to compel one’s enemy to give up his purpose, while suffering no harm oneself.”
“I view the United States of these last years of the twentieth century as essentially a tragic country, endowed with magnificent natural resources which it is rapidly wasting and exhausting, and with an intellectual and artistic intelligentsia of great talent and originality. For this intelligentsia the dominant political forces of the country have little understanding or regard. Its voice is normally silenced or outshouted by the commercial media.”
-George Kennan, 1988
“…the most important influence that the United States can bring to bear upon internal developments in Russia will continue to be the influence of example: the influence of what it is, and not only what it is to others, but what it is to itself.”
–George Kennan, 1951
“Vitality springs from diversity—which makes for real progress so long as there is mutual toleration, based on the recognition that worse may come from an attempt to suppress differences than from acceptance of them. For this reason, the kind of peace that makes progress possible is best assured by the mutual checks created by a balance of forces—alike in the sphere of internal politics and of international relations.”
– B.H. Liddell Hart
“We didn’t love freedom enough. And even more—we had no awareness of the real situation. We spent ourselves in one unrestrained outburst in 1917, and then we hurried to submit. We submitted with pleasure! We purely and simply deserved everything that happened afterward.”
– Alexsandr I. Solzhenitsyn
“Absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
– Lord Acton
President Vladimir Putin’s Russia has won a major victory against western democracy in general, and American democracy in particular.
The chaos unleashed by the Presidency of Donald Trump has, in a few short weeks, succeeded in damaging the day- to-day governmental operations of the United States in ways that can only please Russia’s de facto dictator, regardless of whether Putin and his mischievous minions had any decisive impact upon the election of America’s current “Liar-in-Chief.”
Presidents Putin and Trump are alike in a number of ways. In the first place they both despise democracy and the democratic process, Putin by suppressing it, Trump by perverting it. Secondly, they have nothing but contempt for the rule of law as it is understood in America and the West. In Putin’s case he is merely following the autocratic traditions of Russian and Soviet history.
Donald Trump however, was brought up to think and act like an absolute monarch in his father’s real estate empire. At age 70, he is no more insane than any King, Emperor or Tyrant throughout history who has relegated God-like powers unto himself. He just appears to be bat shit crazy, now that he as taken the oath as President of the United States, which makes him accountable in ways that he has never before experienced.
Centuries ago, Aristotle defined anarchy as the weakness of democracies, which made them vulnerable to tyrants drawn from their own midst. Having observed the fate of Socrates at the hands of an Athenian mob psychology, the ancient philosopher was not a big fan of the unbridled instincts of mass hysteria, but he was not a big fan of greedy aristocracies either. He was a pragmatist in a crude era.
Our founding fathers understood Aristotle’s misgivings about “rule of the many” when they put into place a constitutional system of checks and balances over two hundred years ago. One of those checks was the Electoral College, designed to thwart the appeal of a charismatic tyrant to a national majority of voters. This one didn’t quite work out the way they intended on November 8, 2016. But there are quite a few other checks on overweening power remaining, so long as the American people, their elected representatives and their civil servants, have the courage, cunning and stamina to sustain them.
One can certainly forgive the framers of our Constitution for not foreseeing the electoral results in the cyber age of the 21st Century, but, at no time since our Civil War of 1861-1865 have our institutions of unified self government been so severely tested. The ambitions of a single self-described “savior of the nation,” have coincided with the worst ambitions of corporate, legal and banking elites who can fairly be described as “takers” rather than “makers” in our society.
Vladimir Putin’s ambitions, by contrast, can be seen as somewhat more modest than Kipling’s “President Who Would Be King” in the White House. President Putin, by fair means or foul, is attempting to restore a small measure of the territory lost to Russian power in the collapse of the Soviet Union. These motives are clear enough to anyone who reads George Kennan or the many other wise men from both political parties who put together the successful American cold war strategy from 1944 to 1991.
Freedom-loving regimes in Western Europe and the United States are deadly enemies for any autocratic ruler, as long as they can defend themselves militarily, politically and diplomatically. But such democratic, pluralistic governments are also dire threats to would-be aristocrats among us, that continually benefit from the flim flam of “trickle down economics,” unregulated market place malefactors, and organized race, ethnic, religious and gender hatred.
The Cold War may be over, but the war of “rule of the few,” against “rule of the many” has never been over, as far as either Putin’s Russia or the “takers” among the establishment in the United States are concerned. And it never will be. As Benjamin Franklin and the founding fathers warned us, only vigilance can sustain the democratic Republic they devised in 1789.
Autocrats like Putin, and his “Trumpeters” can rejoice for the time being at their success in hamstringing the world’s foremost supporter of freedom, but their means of realizing these ends are being seriously questioned by an aroused public and media, chagrined at their brainless rejection in 2016 of all forms of responsible government under the ill- defined rubric of “establishment.”
“Makers” among the establishment are finally beginning to step up and join their considerable economic clout, legal and institutional expertise to grass-roots movements stirring in the country. Whether rich, poor or in between, it comes down to either rule by the few, like Vladimir Putin and his new found friends in the White House, or rule “of, by and for the people.” In the words of the Union Song: “Which Side are You On?”