Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Loyalty and Modern Democracy

I am not a political theorist, and it has been decades since my last political theory class, but this is my blog, so I get to discuss whatever I want without doing extensive literature review (it is my party and I can cry if I want to).

So, excuse me if there are modern treatises that deal with this topic (see here for a great post by Peter Trumbore), but I just come to realize that this whole discussion of loyalty is very problematic.  The context is that Trump has used an anti-semitic trope--that American Jews must be loyal to Israel, which, in this case, means voting Republican.  There is so much wrong with this, but I want to focus on one party: loyalty.

When do we accuse someone of being disloyal in a modern democracy?  When they vote for another party?  Not so much.  Sure in our polarized times, identity with one party (see the post earlier today) becomes so very important.  But we tend not to use the language of loyalty and disloyalty.

Why do democratic citizens pay their taxes and do the other citizen stuff?  Is it because they are loyal to the government?  That might be the case, but we don't say it that way.  We say it this way: that citizens do their share because the government is legitimate, that the institutions are seen as valid, and they led to shared expectations of what is right and wrong.  I don't think Obama or Bush (either one) expected Americans to be loyal to him or to anyone else.

A poor measure, but the one I have handy, are google trends:

I have no idea if the usage of the word means anything, but this is might be the product less of Trump and more of polarization since the trend seems to start before Trump, but it jumps in the winter of 2017.

Anyhow, I can't help but think that the expectation about loyalty sounds either mob-like--don't betray the family--or authoritarian.  That dictators expect unthinking obedience.  So, putting aside the rank anti-semitism and hypocrisy built into Trump's statement, there is something else in it that reeks, and not in a good way.  Trump really has never had any clue about what it means to be a leader in a democracy.  He has never sought to represent or lead the entire American people, just his base.

So, today is just another day in Trumpland.  Maybe it will end in 2021, maybe it will not.  But, for now, the show goes on with the Jester-in-Chief having no clue about the substance or process involved in the job.

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