Several prominent directors of samurai films and westerns in the 1950s and 60s shared a mutual admiration and did their art openly with direct reference to one another. For example, in Akira Kurosawa’s brilliant film Yojimbo, a masterless samurai played by the sublime Toshiro Mifune stands at an intersection throwing a stick in the air to “decide” which direction to go. The scene is a direct reference to the John Ford film Young Mr. Lincoln, in which Ford’s version of the American president does exactly the same thing. The western remake of Kurosawa’s classic The Seven Samurai became The Magnificent Seven. In fact, the mutual “admiration” between the suppliers of the two genres became so close that Kurosawa was forced to sue Sergio Leone for the film A Fistful of Dollars, which was clearly a plagiarized version of Leone’s yojimbo.
American leaders have made a clear decision today that they wish to give similar recognition to the despotic leaders of alleged democracies in developing countries who disregard institutional legitimacy, the rule of law and common decency. Evo Morales, Nicolás Maduro and Cristina Kirchner would be proud of the American political class these days and would probably like to act as trendsetters. It’s difficult right now not to stumble upon cases of total disregard for the Constitution, the rule of law, coherence, or moral leadership among American politicians, but in the spirit of samurai films, I wanted to first discuss President Trump and the “Embarrassing Eleven.” ”
Last weekend, eleven US senators, who have no factual basis for their allegations of electoral fraud, decided to vote against electoral college votes from multiple states on January 6th. Following the example of this group of samurai, its chairman, Mr. Trump, was recorded and asked the Georgian Foreign Minister to recalculate the state’s referendum. He said, “I only want to find 11,780 votes,” enough to reverse the state’s election vote. So much for the conservative belief in the importance of states and the constitution.
So that we don’t just have to blame the president and his supporters here, it is important to remember that many politicians on both sides of the aisle have spent much of the year abusing their authority and acting like petty dictators behavior. Whether it’s Spokesman Pelosi and Mayor Lori Lightfoot putting their hairstyles above consistency, Governors Andrew Cuomo and JB Pritzker telling people to skip vacation and meals but get caught doing private trips and big ones Planning Family Meals, Governor Gavin Newsom openly violates his own instructions regarding interiors when dining with a California Medical Association group to celebrate a friend’s birthday or when mayors close schools across the country regardless of the scientific evidence , which demonstrate negligible risks to teachers and administrators, no party has turned to glory in the past year. In fact, it is currently almost impossible to find decent political leadership in the US.
My colleague and editor of this room, Richard Reinsch, wrote a very forward-looking piece in front of the lockdowns, where he compared the Covid pandemic to a war effort, hoping we would pull ourselves together to fight it. By and large, the public (you, me, and everyone but the American political leadership) took these charges seriously. People stayed home to turn the corner. The wearing of masks in other countries is at or above the level that is praised by our executives as “better” examples. We have skipped holiday gatherings and tried to educate our children while working from home and avoiding normal social life. The cost to us was real and difficult, while politicians lacked the moral standing and empathy to effectively maintain our trust.
No matter what you think of the New Deal, at least FDR understood the scale of the crisis World War II faced and spent most of that war not attacking the press, showering itself with shallow praise, or an outright lack to show empathy for the American people. The leaders of both parties of Congress and of State did not advocate rationing fuel and food for the war effort while openly defying these rules and giving lectures to Americans they did not sacrifice enough.
Trump and his allies claim that the entire system is so corrupt that rules and institutions should be rejected if they don’t achieve the desired results. In addition, they have the political confidence to assert such claims.
Publius famously wrote: “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.” People are imperfect, and we need a government to mitigate the effects of those imperfections. Unfortunately, this phrase has occasionally been translated into “Politicians are devils, so we need institutions.” But that’s not what Publius or the founders meant. People – normal people – do not become angels when they take political office. Representative government relies on institutions to curb normal human behavior and divide power among different offices, thereby preventing the concentration of power and possible abuses that might arise.
But our current political class is not made up of ordinary people, but of extreme narcissists. The US survived Watergate, the Clinton Scandal, the Teapot Dome Scandal, and the Grant Administration, to name a few. Americans are hardly politically naive. But this generation’s achievement in leading us through a crisis has been a pathetic failure.
And that failure has led us to a much deeper problem: cratered social trust in America’s leaders and the public at large. Why did the embarrassing elf choose to follow this villain leader? Why do millions of Americans believe, with no concrete evidence, that this election was stolen from Mr. Trump? What does it say about the health of the republic?
Despite losing, Mr Trump received more than 70 million votes in this past election. And these people supported him in the midst of a devastating global pandemic and despite a gigantic and palpable trend in the gossiping class, mainstream media and public health community. Nobody can dismiss this support simply as ill-informed or as the result of a twisted view of the Marxist false consciousness. It doesn’t take a genius psychologist to understand that individuals have previous beliefs, and these beliefs help us filter the way we process information.
But now we face a tremendous crisis in uncovering the basic “facts” that guide our political debate. Did Mr. Trump win or lose? This is now a matter of discussion among millions of Americans. This is not happening in Argentina or Venezuela, but here – and of all places in Georgia, where Mr Trump’s party controls the mechanisms of the state government. Judges – many of whom were appointed by Mr. Trump himself – have dismissed his attorneys’ allegations of election fraud and manipulation. It is reasonable to note that these claims have also been rejected by judges appointed by other presidents and that some of the alleged election rigging has taken place in other Democrat-controlled states, but the breadth of the alleged conspiracy and fraud goes far beyond that beyond one would expect the nation’s health to be strong.
The underlying assumption of the embarrassing elf is terrifying. In essence, she and Mr Trump claim that the entire system is so corrupt that rules and institutions should be rejected if they do not achieve the desired results. In addition, they have the political confidence to make these claims. While experts and the media berate Mr Trump for insisting he won (and rightly so), they lack the bigger point: enough Americans support these claims to encourage the embarrassing Elf and their villain leader to make these arguments to promote American democracy so corruptly that it cannot be trusted. The gap between those who believe the president and those who do not has grown so great that fact-based dialogue has become impossible. The real threat to our democracy is not just Mr Trump, as many in the press and on the left want us to believe.
No, we will only see the real threat if we understand how we got here. How did we get to a place where millions of Americans openly despise all of their political institutions? How did so many of us come to believe that we cannot communicate with and understand those who see the world differently? These are the problems that led many to question the entire eighteenth-century self-government project, and it would be good if we went back and examined the early defenders of liberalism to understand why we were pointing to the grievances and have to hear views from Mr Trump’s supporters, even if we firmly believe that these positions are wrong and that he lost the election. Listening does not accept, it is the art of citizenship and a requirement for democracy.
If this were a spaghetti western or samurai movie, we could count on a filmmaker like Ford or Kurosawa to provide valuable lessons with their storytelling magic and help us recognize the flaws in the human condition and the limits of our world . Much like Publius’ memory of the imperfection of humanity, a recurring theme for both filmmakers has been the inherent skepticism we should display towards the political world. Whether it was Kurosawa’s stupid mayor of Yojimbo or John Ford’s admonition to print the legend of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, none of the artists placed undue reliance on the people who occupied our political offices. We would be well served if we remembered this point. Our political class will not save us. We’re not in the middle of a movie. We need to fix this, and it starts with reaffirming our confidence in the institutions that have brought us this far and rejecting attempts by a leader to divide us. The choice is over – it’s time to rebuild. How we do this remains to be determined. But decide differently? That way lies the madness.