Skip to main content

In a truly extraordinary essay in New York Magazine, grandfather of the blogosphere Andrew Sullivan made his long awaited return to online writing. 

Having stopped blogging last year and closing down The Dish due to exhaustion, Sullivan has remained quiet about the 2016 presidential race, reserving his thoughts about perhaps the most pivotal election in US history until now. And boy did he let rip, penning a savage, exhaustive profile of Donald Trump, cataloging his terrifying rise to power from a historical perspective, and presenting an unimpeachable argument as to why he presents a threat to all human life if elected -- and why Republicans and Democrats must unite to stop him. 

The crux of Sullivan's argument is as follows: we have seen this before. History is littered with the rise of fascistic leaders who capitalize on moments of great uncertainty, and Trump is no different. While American elites tell themselves 'it couldn't happen here,' Sullivan argues to the contrary that of course, it could. Sullivan takes heed from Plato's Republic -- a stunningly prescient work that makes the case that it is in fact too much democracy that paves the way for monsters like Trump to emerge. Sullivan summarizes Plato's thoughts as follows:

The longer a democracy lasted, Plato argued, the more democratic it would become. Its freedoms would multiply; its equality spread. Deference to any sort of authority would wither; tolerance of any kind of inequality would come under intense threat; and multiculturalism and sexual freedom would create a city or a country like “a many-colored cloak decorated in all hues.”...... when everyone is equal; when elites are despised and full license is established to do “whatever one wants,” you arrive at what might be called late-stage democracy. There is no kowtowing to authority here, let alone to political experience or expertise.

The very rich come under attack, as inequality becomes increasingly intolerable. Patriarchy is also dismantled: “We almost forgot to mention the extent of the law of equality and of freedom in the relations of women with men and men with women.” Family hierarchies are inverted: “A father habituates himself to be like his child and fear his sons, and a son habituates himself to be like his father and to have no shame before or fear of his parents.” In classrooms, “as the teacher ... is frightened of the pupils and fawns on them, so the students make light of their teachers.” Animals are regarded as equal to humans; the rich mingle freely with the poor in the streets and try to blend in. The foreigner is equal to the citizen.

And it is when a democracy has ripened as fully as this, Plato argues, that a would-be tyrant will often seize his moment.

And here is when it gets eerily, and frighteningly familiar: 

He [the tyrant] is usually of the elite but has a nature in tune with the time — given over to random pleasures and whims, feasting on plenty of food and sex, and reveling in the nonjudgment that is democracy’s civil religion. He makes his move by “taking over a particularly obedient mob” and attacking his wealthy peers as corrupt. If not stopped quickly, his appetite for attacking the rich on behalf of the people swells further. He is a traitor to his class — and soon, his elite enemies, shorn of popular legitimacy, find a way to appease him or are forced to flee. Eventually, he stands alone, promising to cut through the paralysis of democratic incoherence. It’s as if he were offering the addled, distracted, and self-indulgent citizens a kind of relief from democracy’s endless choices and insecurities. He rides a backlash to excess—“too much freedom seems to change into nothing but too much slavery” — and offers himself as the personified answer to the internal conflicts of the democratic mess. He pledges, above all, to take on the increasingly despised elites. And as the people thrill to him as a kind of solution, a democracy willingly, even impetuously, repeals itself.

This monster, a pervasive archetype throughout human history is with us again, and this time he is vying for access to the largest stockpile of thermonuclear weapons on the planet, is purposefully deny human impact on our natural environment, and has pledged to discriminate against immigrants and religious minorities. To not see this as a severe threat to the future survival of our species would be a grave, grave mistake argues Sullivan, and elites of all political affiliation are now tasked with stopping him:

For Trump is not just a wacky politician of the far right, or a riveting television spectacle, or a Twitter phenom and bizarre working-class hero. He is not just another candidate to be parsed and analyzed by TV pundits in the same breath as all the others. In terms of our liberal democracy and constitutional order, Trump is an extinction-level event. It’s long past time we started treating him as such.

It's good to have you back, Andrew. We need you now more than ever. 

(image via Daily Dot)