Author, Lecturer, Ethicist

Defend and Deny: One Inevitable Result of Kakistocracy


In last week's piece - Moral Disgrace As Public Entertainment - we predicted that Michael Wolff's tell-all book, Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House would likely ". . . produce, at best, a couple of week's worth of rapturous public entertainment . . . nothing more, nothing less."  Egad: we were correct!  For no sooner had the caterwauling begun quieting down a half-decibel or so then a new blaring note captured media interest from Boston to Beijing: '45's using the term "sh.thole countries" at a meeting with senators in the Oval Office.  His use of this bluntly vulgar, racist-tinged term came during a meeting when he and senators were supposed to be discussing  a bipartisan legislative proposal dealing with DACA and immigration. According to several who attended the meeting, the president questioned why the U.S. would accept more immigrants from Haiti and what he called “sh.thole countries” in Africa rather than places like Norway.  He wound up rejecting the bipartisan immigration deal. Not only did '45's ugly phrase cause linguists the world over scrambling to come up with a suitable translation for the opprobrious term  (dreksloch ["sinkhole"] in German, מחורבן [m'khurban "crappy"] in Hebrew and trou de merde ["hole of crap"] in Haitian Creole to name but three); his verbal diarrhea brought condemnatory comments from allies and enemies alike. It goes without saying that no leader with even a milligram of grey matter - not to mention class - would ever be caught dead saying such a thing in front of anyone with both reasonably good hearing and easy access to the media.  But '45 did.  And when he and his hapless myrmidons were asked whether he really had used the term in question, they resorted to a nonsensical Three Stooges-like strategy of defend and deny.

A White House spokesperson defended the president's position on immigration without disputing the account of what he actually said.  For his part, '45, while categorically denying having called Haiti and much of Africa sh.thole countries, Tweeted "The language used by me at the DACA meeting was tough, but this was not the language used. What was really tough was the outlandish proposal made - a big setback for DACA!"  Senators David Purdue (R-GA) and Tom Cotton (R-AR), both of whom attended the meeting, originally said they "did not recall" hearing the president use that precise term.  Then, within 48 hours, Perdue told moderator George Stephanopoulos on ABC's "This Week."  I'm telling you he did not use that word, George, and I'm telling you it's a gross misrepresentation." When it came to Senate Assistant Minority Leader Dick Durbin's straightforward statement that the president's remarks were "hate-filled,  vile and racist," Perdue accused the Illinois Democrat of "misrepresenting the president's comments." To their credit, a couple of Republicans - including Utah Rep. Mia Love, Maine Senator Susan Collins and Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake (who, for what it's worth, is not running for reelection), did denounce '45 for his racist comment. But one can easily ask: "Where were all the other Republicans? Why didn't they similarly denounce their party leader? Were they afraid to go on the record as being against their boss . . . or did they actually agree with his racism?  One can easily see these questions being asked of tens of dozens of Republicans during the upcoming midterm elections.  

Back in the mid-18th century, the great Savoyard lawyer/diplomat/philosopher Joseph de Maistre (1753-1862) noted "Toute nation a le gouvernement qu'elle mérite" namely, "Every nation gets the government it deserves."  If the classically conservative de Maistre was correct, what in the world does the Trump administration tell us - and the rest of the world - about the American people?  Are we so obtuse, debased,  provincial and politically ignorant to deserve this celebrity huckster and his coterie of rank amateurs and family retainers as our government?  The mind reels.  Indeed, for those of us who take politics, American history and governance seriously, what we are currently experiencing is "Leadership by the Lost." 

Believe it or not, there is actually a term for the kind of government we currently have: "Kakistocracy." Kakis- what?  Kakistocracy, which for those who, like yours truly, managed to study Greek, comes from κάκιστος (kakistos - "worst") and κράτος (kratos - "rule"), literally meaning "rule by the worst people." Although the term has rhetorically and theoretically existed for a long, long time, it did not  come into use until the early 19th century when the long forgotten British novelist Thomas Love Peacock published his 1829 satirical romance The Misfortunes of Elfin (note: only read if you love Trollope and other long-winded British novelists).  59 years later, the great American poet James Russell Lowell used the term in a letter to fellow poet Joel Benton in which he asked 'Is ours a 'government of the people by the people for the people,' or a Kakistocracy rather, for the benefit of knaves at the cost of fools?"  In short, "Kakistocracy" is the bipolar opposite of aristocracy; namely, a system of government which is run by the worst, least qualified, or most unscrupulous of citizens.

We can hear the detractors screaming out "There you go again, attacking the president for not being a typical politician."  Well yes, but for a far more trenchant reason than just being partisan progressives.  Throughout our history, our presidents have, for the most part, appealed to our higher, brighter angels; urging us to be guided by the best, most civil and even-handed aspects of our collective national being. This time around, however, we are being urged to cave in to that which is most base, biased, greedy and grossly intolerant within us.  And although no more than 35% of the voting public has thrown its support behind this unique kakistocratic aberration, it has been enough to elect the worst president in the history of our glorious republic . . . not to mention a Congress filled with spineless sycophants. 

Do we truly deserve this kakistocracy?  Are we responsible for this rule by the utterly incompetent?  Yes and no.  In the main, Americans are too caring, humane and tolerant to blithely accept rule by the worst. But at the same time, a bare majority of us turn out to vote, thereby permitting a large minority to control the republic's future.  Those who are aggrieved, abashed and ashamed of what '45 and his ilk have made of American in just under a year should note that we are going to the polls in about 10 months. Together, we can take back the House and Senate this coming November.  Together, we can deflate the Kakistocratic balloon they have wrought and restart the process of putting America back into the hands of thinking, caring, worldly non-psychotic people.  The Three Stooges should remain on celluloid, not Capitol Hill.

360 days down, 1,197 days to go.

Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone