Democracy: Handle with care, failure is an option

Although democracy has undeniable strengths and advantages – and it can be argued, is the least bad method for governing – the current highly dysfunctional American president and US politics, show certain limitations to this method of governing. Democracy comes not without risks, when not handled with care, and responsibility.


Illustration from a recent Newsweek article: ‘The most dangerous man in the world’: Trump is violent, immature and insecure, psych experts say.

In a democratic system, a majority of the population decides who will become its next leader. But the democratic system as such cannot guarantee ‘success’; that the system works.

Voters can – knowingly or unknowingly – elect a person to become its leader, who does him- or herself not share the democratic principles that underpin the system he or she represents, is not hundred percent sane, or disguises his or her real intentions preceding the election.

In all these cases, the democratic system is stuck with the consequences, and is rather vulnerable. To depose of a democratically chosen leader is easier said than done. Failure, for a democracy, also is an option.

In case of the United States – president Trump – (at least) two of the three just mentioned conditions seem to be at play: Trump has shown a disdain for democratic and other basic human principles and values. Trump considers himself ‘above’ the law, and does not hesitate to manipulate the system to his own – and family’s – advantages. In many respects, Trump qualifies is an old style dictator. He not even bothers to disguise his unruly motives.

The other factor at play in case of president Trump, concerns his mental health.

Newsweek, in an article with the title “The most dangerous man in the world?” published reports from renown scientists and psychiatrists about the mental state of president Trump. I remind you, Newsweek is not a gossip magazine.

Their conclusions are very disturbing. The question is answered in the affirmative: “Some prominent experts put Donald Trump on the psychiatrist’s couch and come up with really scary observations that might have you hiding under your sofa”.

Because the United States is the most powerful and ‘central’ state in our current (increasingly fragile) international order, and is key in maintaining its stability, Trump’s dysfunctional behaviour reverberates through the whole System. Trump not only is an issue in the United States (as far as this is recognised), but for sure is for the rest of the world.

As I explained, reorganisation of the international order is periodically unavoidable. But now Trump’s – and the United States’ – selfish behaviour ‘frame’ this process in a very negative and disturbing way. In a stunningly short amount of time, Trump has undermined America’s global goodwill, and exposed its weaknesses. In a record time, the United States has degenerated from a beacon of ‘hope’, into a beacon for reactionary ideas.

What makes the whole drama that now is unfolding even more disturbing, is that the obvious and severe damage Trump is causing is not corrected. Despite the efforts of a select few of his advisors, who are said to contain Trump.

Most Republican politicians surrounding Trump support and serve their dysfunctional ‘leader’, well aware of his divisive role and his dubious ambitions: Power not only corrupts, but power also degenerates. The United States has also developed from “a land of opportunities”  to “a land of opportunities just for me, but not for you”.

Trump has further aggravated the already dysfunctional and highly divisive politics in the United States. The political system in the United States is in a dead-lock.  The ‘self-cleaning ability’ of the American democratic system is insufficient, at a critical point.

But America’s allies – including the European Union – also keep their distance, afraid to draw attention from the bull in the China shop. Above all, the European Union is (again)  preoccupied with itself.

But America’s struggles and vulnerabilities have not gone unnoticed by its main rivals, like Russia and China. Russia, puts more oil on the weaknesses that are now exposed in and by the United States’ struggles. China takes a different course and promotes its own idea of governing – Chinese style – to the world. And the timing for such a Chinese campaign is right.

In the System, there is a continuous competition for values that underpin the international order. Trump’s display of arrogance, the United States’ military power play, and disdain for basic human values, do not serve democracy as an attractive method for governing well. To the contrary.

During a systemic crisis – which is just a matter of time – values that underpin the new order that will then be created and imposed (a UN 2.0?) are at stake. And what is (especially) true for democracy: “Handle with care, failure is an option“.