Huge numbers of Americans think the United States is the greatest country in the world, or even that it is the best that has ever existed. That may or may not be the case, but we ought to ask: in comparison to what?
It is important for us to look at political and economic systems outside of our own. If we become too parochial, we tend to engage in ethnocentrism, the attitude that one’s own group, nation, or culture is superior to all others. At that point, there really is no need to consider any other system.
Some commenators characterized political happenings of the past week as "block buster" news as Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi announced an impeachment inquiry. Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution assigns to the House the power of impeachment. This was spurred by a whistleblower report about President Trump and the conversation he had this past August with the President of Ukraine. The report is that president Trump talked about U.S. aid to Ukraine and then discussed and encouraged bringing charges against Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, for their activities related to Ukraine.
As the sociologist Max Weber observed, the fates of human beings are not equal. People differ in their states of health, wealth, and social status.
Those who are advantaged tend to view their position as legitimate and deserving, while those who are disadvantaged are often seen as being at fault for their condition, regardless of the reason. As Weber says, “That the purely accidental causes may be ever so obvious makes no difference.”
Americans learned early on that Donald Trump would have a much different relationship with the free press and the facts than any previous president. Of course, all presidents have had issues with the press, but Trump deviated from past presidential behavior by labeling the media as “the enemy of the American people.” Early on, Trump’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon, said in an interview with the New York Times, “I want you to quote this: The media here is the opposition party.”
When Donald Trump launched his 2016 campaign for president, he announced that he was doing so because he wanted to “Make America Great Again.” When, according to Donald Trump, was America great? Was it during the 19th century, when the black population was enslaved? Was it during the Jim Crow era, when black Americans in the South were not allowed to vote? In a November 2016 Hollywood Reporter interview, Steve Bannon, then the strategic manager of Trump’s campaign, said that what was to come would be comparable to the 1930s.
A political science professor at Yale named Milan Svolik is an expert on authoritarian rule. In a recent publication on polarization and democracy, he asks, “When can we realistically expect ordinary people to check the authoritarian ambitions of elected politicians?” He then adds that the answer to this question is key to understanding the most prominent development in the dynamic of democratic survival since the end of the Cold War.
President Trump does not appear strong politically as we move toward the 2020 presidential campaign. One indication of his weakness is that he has never achieved great heights in approval ratings. Gallup shows his average approval is 40 percent for his time in office. Earlier this month it was 43 percent, with disapproval at 55 percent.
We know from history that extremist demagogues emerge at times in all societies, even in healthy democracies. We have had our share of them in the United States. Among them are Henry Ford, Senators Huey Long and Joseph McCarthy, and George Wallace, the segregationist governor of Alabama who was a leading contender for the 1972 Democratic nomination for president before he was severely wounded in an assassination attempt.