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Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024
The Observer

Tribune and tyrant

The night was, like most in Paris, a fashionable one. It was Oct. 1, and a luminous collection of aristocrats had gathered to fundraise for the standard-bearer of the reigning world order. Though in most respects this event was not much different from most of Secretary Clinton's rarefied gatherings — unlike Trump's rallies, which share more in tenor and audience with an Indiana State Fair or a South Chicago flea market than they do with a haute Paris gala; trust me, I've been to two — the attendance of Barbara Bush, daughter of George W., must have raised a few eyebrows. Yet Barbara's attendance at the event, alongside Anna Wintour and other gentility, is not so surprising. George H.W. Bush, Barbara's grandfather, was vice president to contemporary rightist fetish object Ronald Reagan, the 41st president, and the father to a veritable clutch of Republican figures, not least our nation's beloved 43rd chief executive. Yet in a September conversation, H.W. announced he would be abandoning the GOP’s candidate for the presidency, who had been nominated with a deafening majority of delegates by primary voters even before the Democrats could finalize their champion's investiture. What does it say about the Republican candidate that much of his own party runs in fear from him? What does it say about this man that the two great dynasties of American politics — House of Clinton, House of Bush — are unified in opposition to this menace to their interests?

Plato wrote that democracy was doomed to degenerate into tyranny, as the ever-growing freedom that justifies and sustains a democracy eventually becomes so extensive citizens “chafe impatiently at the least touch of authority,” dooming the democracy, as “the excess of liberty … seems only to pass into excess of slavery.” The late-stage democracy finds itself burdened with incompetent rulers despised by those they rule both because of their own faults and the peoples’ own hatred of authority. The ground is now ripe. As the peoples’ eyes are opened to the thieves and scoundrels who rule them and are leading them into ruin, they muster up the last of their energies to thrust into power the only one they know capable of crushing their perfidious masters, a figure greater and more fearsome by far.

Enter the tyrant. He emerges as the enemy of the rulers and the rich, from whose ranks he once came, and as the guardian of the people. The tyrant’s elite enemies recognize him for what he is and hate him, for he portends their ruin. The tyrant promises to cut through the inefficiencies and excesses of the democracy. The people, overwhelmed and burdened by democracy's excesses and failings, flock to his banner.

The following events are far removed from a Paris runway. During last summer's catastrophic flooding in Louisiana, the inhabitants of that state were ravaged by historic flooding. As these people suffered, the sitting president of the United States could not be bestirred from his rounds of golf, and the Democratic candidate appeared barely aware of the tragedy. But to the flood-struck people of Louisiana, tens of thousands of whom were now homeless, this was immaterial — those were not the politicians they wanted to see.

All of a sudden, like a bolt of orange lightning, a shock of excitement coursed throughout the bayou: Trump had alighted upon the devastated land, Trump Force One ferrying the tribune to his people. The crowds came around him, screaming and rejoicing in a scene reminiscent of Dostoevsky’s The Grand Inquisitor (“the people knew him”). In the succeeding scenes, our myopic media elites could finally understand what’s going on this election, if only they were still able to listen. As the people crowded around Trump, as their president fiddled (I mean, played golf) one woman cried out “we knew you’d be here Mr. Trump! We knew you’d be here for us!” Another crowd beset Trump at the Greenwell Springs Baptist Church, where a woman told Trump, “We lost everything and we knew you would come. This makes it all worthwhile.” To many, Trump’s move looks like nothing more than a political stunt. Yet note: While the people of the bayou were ignored by the media, forgotten by the president and neglected by the Democratic candidate, while they were slowly trying to figure out how to rebuild their lives in the mud and the dirt that their earthly possessions swirled around in, someone did not forget them. Remember the words “we knew you'd come.” Remember the image of a titan of industry striding into the misery of post-flood Louisiana and embracing those who have just lost all that they had, telling them he had not forgotten them, telling them he would makes things alright for them. Remember it, for the people of this country will. 

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.