A question as old as time. In moments of peace and well-being, this query occupies less of our thinking. But historically, in times of political, emotional, and spiritual chaos our eyes turn with anxious hope to the future, particularly when apocalyptic fears multiply.
This question was asked by the people of Israel when subjected to Roman rule, by the Africans enslaved in America, and by the world as the atrocities of Hitler increased.
Today, as we begin the third decade of the second millennium, we are again living in a world filled with political chaos, emotional distress, and apocalyptic images of destruction. It is symbolized by the alarming growth of autocratic leaders across the globe and it is dividing humanity in half.
What will become of us if nuclear warheads go off? What will happen to democracy if the spiritual and moral darkness of our political leaders continues to spread? We have every reason to take these threats seriously.
In America, there are subversive minorities who, sheltered by our respect for the Constitution and the rule of law, hold the burning torches ready, with nothing to stop their spread of ideas except the critical reason of a reasonably intelligent, and mentally stable layer of the population. We should not, however, overestimate the power of this layer.
It varies according to temperament. Also, it is regionally dependent on public education and subject to the influence of disturbing economic and religious factors. Taking recent national polls as a criterion, we could optimistically estimate that the size of this rational layer in America is about 50% of the electorate.
But a more pessimistic view would not be unreasonable since dialogue and debate are not America’s outstanding traits. Even where it exists, the stronger the political parties are, the more it proves to be wavering and inconsistent. Partisanship crushes out insight and reflection, and when our constitutional structure also proves weak and ineffective, it leads to the tyrannical rise of extremists and authoritarians.
Rational discourse can be conducted with some hope of success only if our heightened emotions do not exceed a certain critical degree. If the chaos rises above this level, the possibility of reasonable dialogue ceases, and its place is taken over by slogans, over-simplistic solutions, and unrealistic promises.
A type of collective hypnosis results, which rapidly develops into a psychic epidemic. One needs to look no farther than white Evangelicals and the Republican Party. In this state of hypnosis, elements whose existence was once merely tolerated (racism, misogyny, nationalism, white supremacy, etc.) rise to the upper echelons of authority.
These extremists (primarily white men) are not rare curiosities to be encountered only in prisons and lunatic asylums. For every obvious case of psychosis, many others hide it well, but their views and behavior, for all their physical appearance of normality, are influenced by morbid and perverse factors.
Emotional judgments and impulsive decisions rule their mental state. Their radical ideas, fueled by moralistic resentment, appeal to the collective irrationality of the “base” and find fruitful soil there, for their ideas express all the motives and resentments which lurk in the uneducated. The slogans and unrealistic promises are brandished with the swords of charisma, fear, and unfairness.
Despite being a relatively small number in comparison with the population as a whole, the extremist leaders and their followers spread unrelenting emotional chaos, which proves dangerously divisive and emotionally disruptive to rational and democratic people.
Rational people (who remain the silent majority) are stunned and rendered seemingly powerless by this autocratic tyranny and blatant disregard for truth and the rule of law. We have taken democracy for granted and have grown spoiled, complacent, and comfortable while enjoying the past two hundred years of democratic and capitalistic success. We wrongly believed that what happened in Nazi Germany, Russia, Indonesia, and North Korea could not happen in America.
In this state of unconsciousness, we stand defenseless, subject to all kinds of influences and abuses of liberty and justice. The Constitution and the judiciary are usurped by those who occupy the highest governmental positions. Our founders and politicians have unwittingly concentrated too much power in too few places.
Whoever gets elected into one of these positions is no longer subservient to accountability, but acts as the ultimate authority and thwarts the democratic checks and balances by manipulating the judiciary and rejecting accountability of Congress. With Louis XIV, he can say, “l’état, c’est moi,” I AM THE STATE.
He becomes a slave to his own fiction. Such self-deception is always compensated psychologically by unconscious subversive tendencies. He begins to overthrow, destroy, and undermine the legally constituted government and defy accepted values. The result is chaos and division. Rivalry for power and exaggerated distrust begin to permeate the government from top to bottom.
Compensating for powerlessness and disenfranchisement, the “base” always produces a “Leader,” who inevitably becomes the victim of his inflated ego, as numerous examples in history show. And his followers, overwhelmed by their sense of puniness and impotence, are ironically on the road to State slavery. And without realizing what has happened they have become its puppets.
Therefore the celebrities who strut about on the world stage and whose voices are heard far and wide seem, to the unthinking public, to be the savior who will give their countries back to them. Their followers fail to research the validity of the “Leader’s” claims or to question his constant use of social media to fan the flames of discontent and fear. Since mass suggestion plays the predominant role, the base is not concerned with the truth, or even that the message agrees with their own. They merely want someone with a megaphone that tells them what they want to hear.
Under these circumstances, it is small wonder that followers grow increasingly uncertain of themselves and give responsibility to the loudest voices (i.e., Fox News and Evangelical leaders) and consent to an increasingly autocratic government.
The result is a country personified by a charismatic personality from whom everything is expected. But in reality, it is only a camouflage for the individuals who know how to manipulate it. Thus the Republic, a nation divided, drifts into a primitive form of society where everybody is subject to the autocratic whims of a psychotic ruler and his cronies.