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Trump Doesn’t Threaten Democracy—He Embodies It? WTF?

I've been giving this a great deal of thought and I don't think the American public is qualified to choose their leader.

Initially, I favored allowing our courts, the DNC or the FBI to decide, but after careful consideration, I believe the choice should be mine.

Trump Doesn’t Threaten Democracy—He Embodies It

His danger arises from his refusal to respect the institutions that serve to constrain popular rule.

By John Hasnas, WSJ, Prof Georgetown Univ

Feb. 4, 2024 2:38 pm ET

In the 1987 film “The Princess Bride,” Inigo Montoya spends his life seeking revenge against his father’s murderer, Count Rugen. When they finally meet, he repeats incessantly: “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” Finally, in utter frustration, Count Rugen yells, “Stop saying that!”

I know how Count Rugen felt. Everywhere I turn, I hear people saying that Donald Trump is a threat to democracy. I have heard this repeated so many times that like the count, I want to yell, “Stop saying that!” Mr. Trump absolutely is not a threat to democracy. He is the embodiment of democracy.

It is fair to say that the former president is a threat to constitutional government. He has no understanding of the separation of powers and thinks Article II would authorize him to do whatever he wants. He seems unaware of the limitations the Bill of Rights places on the powers of the federal government and has no conception of an independent judiciary.

It is also fair to say that Mr. Trump is a threat to the rule of law. He believes he can instruct the Justice Department to prosecute his political opponents. He has no problem ignoring judicial decisions when they go against him and has mused about being a dictator for a day.

And it is fair to say that Mr. Trump is a threat to prosperity. His plan to impose 10% across-the-board tariffs—which American consumers would have to pay—without reforming entitlement spending will make us all poorer and increase the deficit.

One thing it isn’t fair to say is that Mr. Trump is a threat to democracy. There is a consensus among political theorists that the essential feature of democracy is that every person subject to governmental authority must have an equal say in selecting that government. Every person. Not only those who are well-informed about the salient political issues. Not only those who make rational decisions. Not only those who are in touch with the facts of reality. Everybody.

Aristotle famously declared that “man is the rational animal.” He meant that human beings have the capacity for rationality, not that they always use it.

In our personal lives, most of us exercise our rational faculties because we would personally suffer the consequences if we didn’t. We look both ways before we cross the street because if we didn’t, we might be hit by a car. We consider how much money we earn when we decide how much to spend because if we didn’t, we might go bankrupt. We don’t accost others and take their property because if we did, we might get punched in the nose.

But democracy creates a rationality-free zone. Engaging in democratic decision-making—voting—imposes no personal cost on us as individuals. There is no need for us to consider the facts when deciding how to vote. We indulge our imaginations by voting for how we want the world to be. More significantly, we are free to vote on the basis of our emotions.

In democratic theory, the policy that receives the most votes should be adopted. Why people vote the way they do is irrelevant. Each vote counts equally. Votes motivated by emotion count as much as votes derived from careful study of the issues and calm reflection.

Mr. Trump is a master of mobilizing voters by stoking fear and resentment. He is an expert at exploiting people’s bias against disfavored groups, whether it be Muslim or Hispanic immigrants, the liberal intelligentsia, the denizens of the deep state, or corrupt Democratic politicians. He recognizes that the truth of his statements is immaterial to their effectiveness, and that because lying is usually more effective, it is the dominant electoral strategy. That Mr. Trump’s critics are appalled and mystified by his habitual lying shows that he understands democracy better than they do.

This is nothing new. Demagoguery dates back to ancient Greece. Demagogues have always been a part of democracy and always will be, even if we now call them populists. They come with the territory.

So, please, stop saying Mr. Trump is a threat to democracy simply because he is so good at it. The threat comes not from him but from democracy itself, and it is a threat to freedom.

Mr. Hasnas is a professor of business and law at Georgetown and executive director of the Georgetown Institute for the Study of Markets and Ethics.

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