What fresh hell can this be?*
But who will bell the cat?
—Ancient fable (predating Aesop)
Stupidity does not consist in being without ideas. Such stupidity would be the sweet, blissful stupidity of animals, mollusks and the gods. Human stupidity consists in having lots of ideas, but stupid ones. Stupid ideas, with banners, hymns, loudspeakers and even tanks and flame-throwers as their instruments of persuasion, constitute the refined and the only really terrifying form of stupidity
-– Henry de Montherlant, Notebooks, 1930-44
Kakistocracy— government by the least qualified or most unprincipled citizens,
—Thomas Love Peacock, English novelist 1829
It is meager solace having a name for the condition that is afflicting 63,000,000 of us. Like chronic fatigue syndrome or sleep apnea, a diagnosis may help provide understanding and treatment. Knowing you are not just a lazy person who snores loudly is some comfort and legitimacy. Months after the election our nation is still in shock. Many of us have physical symptoms like sleeplessness, irritability, and free floating anxiety, We are worried, and feel powerless, cynical, and pessimistic. We compartmentalize and become tearful thinking about the future. Literate readers of this space (oxymoronic) may already know the term kakistocracy.
Amro Ali a Middle Eastern scholar at the University of Sydney, posted a blog entitled “Kakistocracy: A Word We Need to Revive.” (Gotta love that Internet.) He encourages a more widespread application of the word kakistocracy to describe the current government of the United States. Professor Ali warns that an overuse of the term by applying it to any unpopular government weakens its meaning.
Sadly that day is here. We are full-on Captain Quieg, and James Comey smells of strawberries. We have forsaken democracy and its ideals and are currently living under a kakistocracy. In further bad news, we likely have a comorbid condition kleptocracy, or rule by thugs and thieves. Russia, always in the news, is a kleptocracy. Putin and his cronies are amassing vast sums of money and precious resources but they are not stupid, they are not kakistocrats.
This is not a sore loser, aw shucks, “get ’em next time” partisan rant (see Bush v Gore HLP March/2001). We have endured the leadership of racists, paranoiacs, simpletons and jingoists while still cramming ourselves into the bulging leisurewear of democracy. Now we have split our pants.
How we got here is for better minds. What happened to the Constitution? Checks and balances? Our current state is horribly embarrassing, like borrowing money from a relative, having a credit card refused at a busy supermarket, or making body noises on a first date. We do not have death squads, though Attorney General Sessions is ramping up the penalties for drug offenses. We are closing the gap on the banana republics we once scorned. First World nations are treating us as if we have ceased bathing regularly.
When I was a kid I wondered what color the sky was during The Great Depression, because all the newsreels and pictures were in black and white. I catch myself feeling happy and then I remember the president and his minions are oblivious to the principles of Jefferson, the life of Frederick Douglass, and the sacredness of democracy. Our past and our future are being looted. Steve Bannon lurking around the White House is a greater threat than voter fraud or even foreign terrorism. We are living under a kakistocratic form of government. It is mind bending; the sky is still blue but we have all been diminished.
Tom H. Cook is a formerly local writer still spry, terrified for the republic, and writing from a beach in California.