I’m someone who spends a good deal of time writing. Always have. So, I’m into words because they’re the basis of the craft. Always like to find new ones. A few days ago, I came across a dandy.
KAKISTOCRACY. It’s fun to say. Any idea what it means? Or, like me, is this the first time you’re heard of it?
Well, boys and girls, the old dictionary on the shelf defines it this way: “Kakistocracy - government by the worst persons; a form of government in which the worst persons are in power.”
Next time someone talks to you about America being a “democracy” or a “republic,” you whip out the old Funk & Wagnalls and lay “kakistocracy” on ‘em. ‘Cause the fact is, at the moment, that seems to describe us more accurately.
With any luck at all, it won’t always be that way. If the justice system doesn’t eventually get the current bunch, we’ll have to take ‘em out at the polls. At least that’s the hope at this house.
But there’s an open question. And that’s whether the liar in the Oval Office has taken America’s political fortunes to such a low level that future participants will see his as an acceptable standard. Will role models for future candidates for the presidency continue to be Lincoln, Kennedy, Roosevelt or Eisenhower? Or Trump? Will his blend of lies, arrogance, extreme cronyism and dictatorial behavior be the norm or will the electorate turn to more traditional two-party nominees who’ll try to raise the standards of the presidency?
The answer to that, seems to me, depends on us. Not them. Will we reject this political abnormality and demand - with our votes - a return to civility, a renewed attempt at honesty and a demand for a higher moral code? Will we - with our educated support and with our ballots - select more highly qualified candidates? Maybe not.
The reason for my pessimism is based on poll after poll, survey after survey of citizens in countries around the globe. Polls and surveys measuring what people know about their system of government, their economies and their history.
The nearly unanimous result of all this statistical prying is that we Americans are just about the least knowledgeable about those basic articles of citizenship among all industrial nations. Not just poor knowledge of our governmental structure but real ignorance.
Now, there’s a new corollary showing up. Not only is the American general public more ignorant of our history and governance - we’re also the most dedicated to the falsehoods and myths associated with those categories. Put another way - many who don’t know the basic civics of how this country operates have their own “facts” and are likely to reject real information.
Adding to this lack of knowledge - or belief in mythical facts - is a growing ignorance in the national media of just these same subjects. Examples aren’t hard to come by. NBC reported last week the Governor of Illinois “passed a bill” on some subject. Legislatures “pass bills” not governors. A similar story from New York had the legislature “passing a law.” Legislatures pass bills, not laws. When signed by a governor, bills become law.
Small items to be sure. But wrong. Would you accept “small” errors from your surgeon or a pilot or your banker or your lawyer? “Small errors” left unchecked work their way into our information system and become “facts.” When repeated, more people accept them. People who hear them without knowing the difference become “wrongly” educated. So the error is perpetuated. And accepted.
The value of an educated voter cannot be overstated. But the lasting damage caused by someone ignorant of the political system he/she lives under can be disastrous. Think of all the B.S. we heard in 2016 about wanting an “outsider” for president; someone with “no political experience.” Well, if that was you, you got what you wanted. “How’s that working out for ya? “
The likelihood that significantly more prospective voters will become better informed about our civic and political structure by 2020 - much less by 2018 - is not realistic. About the best we can hope for is there is a reverse education component at work. That disappointment in the 2016 outcome and what it has wrought upon this country has been, in itself, that education.
If not - if more knowledgeable voters stay home - if we repeat the electoral tragedy of the past - we’d all better get more comfortable with that word “kakistocracy.” K-a-k-i-s-t-o-c-r-a-c-y.