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The Last Reality TV Show: Democracy in America by Dale Kuehne

Today is the first day in the Presidential selection process. The voters of Iowa gather for their celebrated first in the nation caucuses. Yet it seems that tonight’s results will only generate excitement if they yield something genuinely unexpected, since both the Media and the Public presume that they already know most of what will happen.

The obituaries and the laments for most of candidates have already been written and sit in the editor’s box awaiting approval for tomorrow’s edition.

The epitaphs for the has-been candidates who will fall short tonight will be published tomorrow and will largely go unread, because the funerals of these candidates actually occurred last year. The ministering prophets of our age—public opinion pollsters—have already told us which candidates will win, who is on life-support, and who needs a proper burial.

This is reality TV at its finest. It is the 2016 version of the reality TV drama: Coronation and it is playing on every network. Coronation is the political version of Survivor, or the Bachelor without unnecessary suspense concerning the outcome. Pollsters have given TV producers, writers, and director’s all the demographic data they need to write a script for a show. What’s better, the actors come free.

All this has been done before a vote has been cast. Like Extreme Makeover, Coronation travels the country. Tonight Iowa, next week New Hampshire, then Nevada, South Carolina and finally a state near you.

All of this before a vote is cast.

You may well expect that I will now direct my wrath toward politicians, political parties, Political Action Committees (PAC), Super PACS, Supreme Court decisions, etc.

No.

Certainly I will condemn the public opinion pollsters who have become so adept at polling that they have rendered the process of voting useless?

No.

Who then is to be indicted?

Those who have allowed the public opinion pollsters to become the ministering prophets of their lives and who have become determined to live according to the pronouncements of the new prophets.

You, me, and millions of other Americans will be indicted for dereliction of citizenship because if we vote, we will vote not for the candidate of our choice based on their ideas, their character, or vision for our country. Rather we will vote for a candidate based their popularity as determined by a majority of our fellow Americans who are making their decisions based on what a majority of their fellow Americans believe according to the polls based on our beliefs of a majority of Americans. We will stick to our convictions only as we have the support of the polls to back them up. If the polls change so will we.

All of this has been determined before a single vote has been cast.

Tragically we have allowed our lives and the affairs of state to become a caricature of “reality TV.” Alexis de Tocqueville predicted as much in 1840 in his 2 volume Democracy in America. In it, Tocqueville writes the following about the future of democracy in America.

“It may be foreseen that faith in public opinion will become a species of religion there, and the majority its ministering prophet.”

How could he have known us so well, gazing from such a historical distance?

A French aristocrat, Tocqueville was a keen student of religion, history, and politics. His writings reveal that he believed Democracy as a form of government would sweep the world. In 1831 he came to America to study democracy and consider its future. He became persuaded that the single idea at was changing the world was the idea of equality. He believed that it was Christianity that introduced it to the world in an irresistible sense. Once a culture believed that everyone is made in the image of God, and that salvation was available to everyone, the inequality on which the world used to be based, and on which the reign of Kings and Queens was predicated would one day cease. Once people believed that it was possible for someone to be born an impoverished orphan and end life having the world bow before you as Pope, Tocqueville believed democracy was inevitable. Belief in equality demands democracy.

But, Tocqueville also believed democracy was fragile and contained the seeds of its own destruction. For democracy to succeed, its citizens needed to develop the capacity to govern themselves. Citizens needed a moral compass. To do the right thing when no one was watching. They need to take the affairs of the city, state, and nation seriously and learn to think independently while working collaboratively.

His concern, however, was that citizens would lose touch with their civic responsibilities and become focus on self-gratification. Tocqueville was concerned that in such an environment, people would cease to think for themselves and become part of a herd in a majority where, their only guiding principle would be to mimic the majority. In such a world public opinion would become the new God.

Tocqueville believed that in such a world democracy is unsustainable, and that it was just a matter of time before people would gladly elect a dictator (despot) who will handle public matters so people can become fully absorbed in themselves. Tocqueville writes about us in his conclusion.

“I seek to trace the novel features under which despotism may appear in the world. The first thing that strikes the observation is an innumerable multitude of men, all equal and alike, incessantly endeavoring to procure the petty and paltry pleasures with which they glut their lives. Each of them, living apart, is as a stranger to the fate of all the rest; his children and his private friends constitute to him the whole of mankind. As for the rest of his fellow citizens, he is close to them, but he does not see them; he touches them, but he does not feel them; he exists only in himself and for himself alone; and if his kindred still remain to him, he may be said at any rate to have lost his country.

Above this race of men stands an immense and tutelary power, which takes upon itself alone to secure their gratifications and to watch over their fate. That power is absolute, minute, regular, provident, and mild. It would be like the authority of a parent if, like that authority, its object was to prepare men for manhood; but it seeks, on the contrary, to keep them in perpetual childhood: it is well content that the people should rejoice, provided they think of nothing but rejoicing. For their happiness such a government willingly labors, but it chooses to be the sole agent and the only arbiter of that happiness; it provides for their security, foresees and supplies their necessities, facilitates their pleasures, manages their principal concerns, directs their industry, regulates the descent of property, and subdivides their inheritances: what remains, but to spare them all the care of thinking and all the trouble of living?

Thus it every day renders the exercise of the free agency of man less useful and less frequent; it circumscribes the will within a narrower range and gradually robs a man of all the uses of himself. The principle of equality has prepared men for these things; it has predisposed men to endure them and often to look on them as benefits.

After having thus successively taken each member of the community in its powerful grasp and fashioned him at will, the supreme power then extends its arm over the whole community. It covers the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd. The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided; men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting. Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.”

Tocqueville wrote this not because he believed in predestination, but because he believed in freedom. He believed that people could resist the song of the siren seeking to lull us to sleep and instead rise up and once again be free. That we could again think for ourselves, govern ourselves, and responsibly work with others to govern the nation.

How can we begin to take back our country?

First, by becoming a voter and not someone else’s rubber stamp.

Politics doesn’t have to be a reality TV show.