Certainty and the Death of Democracy

Certainty and the Death of DemocracyJohn Dewey’s 1929 classic, “The Quest for Certainty”, foretells sorrow unto today. As Dewey put it, “the quest for certainty has always been an effort to transcend belief.” An underlying hunger exists for certainty in an uncertain world, for security in insecure times. Politicians play on fear and promise security to their insecure audiences, it’s the “chicken in every pot” meme in one form or another. Little argument can be made against the proposition that in our times as in the past the greatest sources of insecurity are economic uncertainty followed by fear of invading foreigners. In a wobbling economy that promises more than it delivers, racial tensions, and economic insecurity are the go-to populist motivators. 
The news is contradictory – people are out of work, jobs have been shipped overseas but, hey, we are also told the economy is thriving and corporate profit has never been greater. Uncertainty and its handmaiden confusion, define the moment. The hollow promises made by politicians of better times just ahead are appealing. And when such promises are publicly asserted in rousing speeches the quest for certainty can and often does overcome common sense. This is how the pernicious effects of cognitive dissonance are exploited. In an economy built on credit, on personal debt for homes, automobiles, recreational vehicles, and motor boats, secured by jobs in manufacturing that are being shipped abroad, angst reigns. You could be next.
Certainty is the mother’s milk promised by nearly all politicians. What else do they have to offer and what more do people crave? Does the message resonate with the audience? If it does the message will be calculated, refined, and repeated. This is how politicians calculate their “pitch”. If people are out of work or afraid of losing their jobs the pitch must, if you want their votes, be employment certainty and include demonizing immigrants who are taking their jobs for less pay. No blame will be assigned to the employers who hire the immigrants nor to those moving their factories to low-wage countries. 
When political rhetoric centers on instilling or exploiting feelings of victimhood and loss of self-worth, we are on a well-worn path that has in the past led to fascism. This is how it went down in Hitler’s Germany, Mussolini’s Italy, and many other countries.  When democracy has failed politically and economically the path ahead has been trod before. Those who march and chant and scapegoat minorities and immigrants distract themselves. 
When an economic system is conflated with democracy we are plying dangerous waters. Uncertainty and fear have always been the nucleus of political implosion. Think about this: The Economist recently reported on a 2016 survey that showed more than half of young Americans no longer support capitalism, the country’s foundational economic and political belief system. It confirms Juan J Linz’s observation in “The Breakdown of Democratic Regimes” that, “Legitimacy is granted or withdrawn by each member of the society day in and day out.”
And when this divisive current administration finally concludes, and it will, we, like Dante, will say, “Thence we came forth to behold the stars.

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