A good metric for the degree to which powerlessness and voicelessness are felt among a group of people is the number of protests and mass gatherings. When people cannot rehearse their opinions through political processes, huge energies are spent in mass demonstrations. Therefore, the more protests we see, the more profound and pervasive is powerlessness. With this considered, hundreds of protesters loyal to President Donald Trump plundered the Capitol building Wednesday afternoon, forestalling lawmakers’ debate of the presidential election results and forcing the evacuation of Vice President Mike Pence as Capitol Police struggled to contain the situation. I want to preface this analysis by saying that I disavow all violence and destruction of public and private property that ensued. In my belief, the genesis of the energies behind this calamitous display consists of a whole host of forces manipulating our political climate. Wednesday's demonstration was not the culmination of these forces but a symptom of a cancerous political order that is alien and distant.
Renaissance-era Diplomat Niccolò Machiavelli recognized two permanent humors in any political regime, the nobles, and the ordinary people. If we regard liberalism as a relatively modern effort to quell tensions between the two aforementioned humors, we would have to conclude that it is among the most ingenious efforts to solve the contest in favor of the elites, who would nevertheless claim the mantle of democracy.
The positions of today’s liberals are hardly new and echo the arguments made by earlier leading academics. For example, in the exposition of his book On Liberty, early-modern liberal John Stuart Mill draws a parallel between political tyranny and the weight of public opinion. Mill argues that public opinion — expressed through custom — is more disconcerting than political tyranny because it could one day be consecrated into law in a democratic society. To prevent informal and demotic sentiments from vitiating the polity, Mill recommends an odd prescription. In his work, Considerations on Representative Government, a form of plural voting is outlined, whereby a select few evaluated on harsh criterion would have more say than others. Mill's peculiar ideas established a baseline for subsequent developments in liberal thought that would increasingly ensure government by select elite actors under the guise of democracy.
In early 20th century America, while they strenuously evinced their faith in democracy, Progressive liberals also led initiatives to bureaucratize and professionalize the government. The earmarks of this antecedent political advocacy are reflected today primarily through blind submission to the dictates of mainstream science — “I believe in science” has become the newest provocative slogan touted on bumper stickers and overpriced yard signs. Further, Progressives at the time were in the vanguard of the promotion of the social sciences — including especially political science — as the most objective means of crafting and implementing sound public policy, in juxtaposition to the fickle whims of the electorate. Moguls in the early-modern liberal discipline — including former President Woodrow Wilson — sought to advance the scientific study of politics in the incipient years of the 20th century, laying the groundwork for a more technocratic political order spearheaded and run exclusively by specialists.
To cut to the chase, while the liberal affinity for democracy has only grown stronger with time, it has undergirded the emergence of a permanent political class that does not incorporate voters into political processes but gleans advice from voters to inform expert crafting of policy by expert officials. Liberalism’s sympathy for democracy and popular sovereignty rests on a deeper commitment to a politics of technique, a politics run by bureaucrats and administrators.
Today, there is growing cynicism and suspicion for this very expertise, as all strata of government report lower levels of public trust. This skepticism underpinned much of the discontent of the traumatic 2016 election. The chaos in Washington was likewise a grasping for power by those who have discerned a linkage between claims of democracy and the absence of popular control, in preference to an ever-expanding managerial state. For the powerless who recognized this association, Donald Trump was a living projector for their voices. During his campaign and Presidency, Trump made demonstrative efforts to show that he associated with the common fight — the most notable of which was opting to speak at the March for Life in January 2019. Donald Trump was the first President in history to do so.
The U.S. today is a unique form of liberal oligarchy that was disrupted by a momentary burst of democracy. The elites made sure to roll that back, amusingly, in the name of democracy. Using the media as an extension of their power, the elites will capitalize on recent events to ensure that Trump and his base are forever expelled from perceived political legitimacy. For those who saw themselves in a President like Donald Trump, his departure is utterly devastating because it represents a genuine fight for popular control, deracinated on a whim, and done so in the name of their very cause. Liberal democracy seems to have a propensity to arouse demotic pleas for an illiberal autocrat who promises to defend the people against the pathologies of liberalism itself. But with a mainstream consensus in the West that renders liberal democracy the sole legitimate form of government, we persist, unaware of our own collusion in the birth of the illiberal progeny of the liberal order itself. American patriots must not condone violence of any kind, but they ought to recognize the political developments that led to the Trump revolution and the recent chaos in America’s capital.