By Morgan Deane:
Most Americans never seriously consider a dictator, but occasionally, the idea is thrown out there. During times of gridlock, when our country has a myriad of problems, and when we are completely underwhelmed with our choices for president, it can seem appealing to have a dictator that can cut through the red tape. Moreover, there is a sense of being morally self-righteous in condemning all the choices. While Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump both have significant problems, the foundation of American liberty and our system of government is still stronger than the alternatives.
Nikolai Tolstoy wrote in the New York Times about the attractiveness of a monarchy. “Indeed, the modern history of Europe has shown that those countries fortunate enough to enjoy a king or queen as head of state tend to be more stable and better governed than most of the Continent’s republican states… No British statesman was more supportive of the colonists’ cause than Edmund Burke, yet none was more eloquent in defense of the benefits of Britain’s monarchy.” He compares this to a strong man by pointing out that a monarchy has limits on its power. The advantage, he claims, is that it provides an important stabilizing influence. America’s government for example often changes every 4 or 8 years, and when there is a decade long problem such as the Cold War or Global War on Terror that can lead to precipitous withdraws of soldiers (such as from Iraq in 2012) or investments in foreign wars (such as Vietnam in 1964).
British policy, however, particularly during the end of the 19th century had the opposite problem. They had a lack of change that hurt them in several areas. Long ruling monarchs unaccountable to the people continued policies that were disastrous, such as the early part of the Boer War. The navy had trouble modernizing effectively, though they eventually did. The monarchy arguably prevented meaningful reform because they were not regularly facing re-election. During roughly the same period in contrast, America was experiencing the vigorous leadership and reform of Theodore Roosevelt, who rode into office on a platform of reform and largely delivered.
Others such as Aaron Trask writing for the Business Insider wrote about the values of China: “From Xi Jinping on down, China’s new leadership is trying to cool off the nation’s red-hot real estate sector, stem overall inflation, tackle rising income equality, curb corruption and make the economy more driven by domestic demand — all while managing China’s ever-important role in a still-sluggish global economy…China is holding up pretty well despite what’s happening in the rest of the word.”
This sounds nice, but the benefits of the Chinese system are not as great as Trask makes it sound. China is suffering from a good deal of corruption. With the lack of accountability brought by a messy democracy, the anti-corruption task force is more like the muscle behind Xi’s rule. Government directed investment often ignores market principles. This means that government investment in housing is creating a super bubble, with entire villages worth of houses still on the market. We all know in America how the housing bubble turned out for us. People lived in homes that were suddenly worth far less than their mortgages, with mortgage payments that were increasing. The China policies sometimes look really amazing, but government directed policies created a bubble that will dwarf American problems, and American people do better at removing corrupt politicians than an autonomous anti-corruption force that has become corrupted.
The temptation in having a dictator is not simply a foreign one. Even Detroit got an emergency manager with broad sweeping powers. When the city couldn’t keep the lights on, the police were so understaffed they took an hour to reach distressed callers, and there was so much red tape they had trouble demolishing abandoned houses. The new emergency powers from 2013-2014 allowed Kevyn Orr to slash almost seven billion dollars in debt and reinvest over one billion in projects scheduled for the next ten years. This wasn’t without controversy as he had to unilaterally slash pension funds that many relied upon. If they were incredibly high and bankrupting the city, they were made in good faith and represented the retirements of many people. He also had to make decisions as to where investments would be prioritized without the oversight of city council. It was also quite dangerous, as even a short term emergency manager had the potential for turning into a long term dictator, especially when his marginal success seems preferable to the messy and ineffectual democratic government.
The messiness of a democracy can be both a feature and a drawback. A part of that gridlock is built into the system by the founding fathers. The different branches of government have separate powers, checking and balancing each other so that no one branch, especially the president, can become too powerful. Unfortunately, another part of that gridlock is due to the current policies of both parties. The president regularly expands the power of the executive branch, which often disinclines already partisan opponents in congress not to work with him.
Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton both have significant flaws, but participation in the system earlier and more often would help alleviate them. People could have made their voices known for correct principles and better candidates far ahead of the election to help shape the outcome. The system seems to stink, but checks and balances that produce gridlock, also help protect American’s liberty. They help modify or in fact cease, ineffective government policies as well as assist in preventing corruption. They protect the rights of Americans and hold politicians accountable.
A King or Queen, or even an emergency manager can seem at times a very attractive alternative, however, America’s foundations are too important, warranted, and valued. As Winston Churchill said to the House of Commons on November 11, 1947, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”
Morgan Deane is an OpsLens Contributor and a former U.S. Marine Corps infantry rifleman. Deane also served in the National Guard as an Intelligence Analyst.