“A Republic, If You Can Keep It”: The Future of America
The overturning of Roe v. Wade is the latest assault on democracy in our country. It reminds me of Benjamin Franklin’s reply to a woman who asked Franklin a question as he exited Independence Hall after the Constitutional Convention in 1787. “Doctor, what have we got? A republic or a monarchy?” Franklin supposedly replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.”
Whether or not we can keep it will depend on whether we can deal with the reality of the kind of country we truly are. A “republic” is a form of government in which the people hold power, but elect representatives to exercise that power. America is a republic, a representative democracy. The founders, steeped in history, feared direct democracy, as it often led to mob rule. Representative democracy isn’t supposed to, as it’s designed to cool the “passions of the people.”
George Washington in his fatherly Farewell Address, described our nation as a “great experiment.” Can people be self-governed? The founders said yes, creating a constitution that established a separation of powers. This was to dampen the passions and “prevent the rabble from passing sweeping new legislation in response to some passion of the moment.”
We witnessed the rabble in action on January 6, 2021 with an assault on the Capitol in an attempt to reverse the presidential election and keep a would-be dictator in power. In condemning the riot, President George W. Bush said,
“This is how election results are disputed in a banana republic.”
We’re not in danger of becoming a monarchy, but the U.S. has always been in danger of becoming a country led by authoritarian males. Attacking a woman’s freedom to choose an abortion is an act of violence against women, men, our communities, and our country.
Ruth Ben-Ghiat is Professor of History and Italian Studies at New York University. Her latest book, Strongmen: From Mussolini to the Present examines how illiberal leaders use corruption, violence, propaganda, and machismo to stay in power, and how resistance to them has unfolded over a century.
“Ours is the age of the strongman,” says Ben-Ghiat, “of heads of state who damage or destroy democracy, use masculinity as a tool of political legitimacy, and promise law and order rule – and then legitimize lawless behavior by financial, sexual, and other predators. Covering a century of tyranny, this book examines how authoritarians use propaganda, virility, corruption, and violence to stay in power, and how they can be opposed.”
In the book she details seventeen modern-day authoritarian leaders including Benito Mussolini, Adolph Hitler, Vladimir Putin, and Donald J. Trump. All the leaders she details in the book are male.
“Some readers may wonder why I do not discuss strong female leaders in modern history, such as Britain’s prime minister Margaret Thatcher or India’s prime minister Indira Gandhi,”
“While some of these women have had certain strongmen traits (Thatcher’s nickname was ‘The Iron Lady’) or engaged in repressive actions against minority populations, none of them sought to destroy democracy, and so they are not addressed here.”
For more than fifty years I have been working in the field of gender medicine and men’s health. As a therapist, I work to heal wounded men who often wound others and undermine healthy relationships. In an article I wrote on May 7, 2016, six months before the election that brought Donald Trump to power, I warned people about our future. The article was titled, “The Real Reason Donald Trump Will Be Our Next President.”
“Mr. Trump received an unfavorable rating by 67 percent of Americans surveyed in the ABC/Washington Post poll released April 14, 2016, which is unprecedented for a leading candidate during an election season,” I said.
I went on to ask,
“Why do I think Donald Trump may be our next President? What would have to change in the U.S. to keep Mr. Trump from being elected? And most importantly what would have to change in the U.S. to have people in office who reflect the best in us, not the worst?”
Clearly, we hadn’t changed enough to keep Donald Trump from being elected. We hadn’t changed enough to keep him from appointing Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Comey Barrett to the Supreme Court.
We are living in a world out of balance. We continue to engage in practices that are raising the temperature of the planet and undermining our life-support system. Donald Trump is not a strong and capable man. Ruth Ben-Ghiat recognizes that all strongmen from Mussolini to Trump are actually wounded boys who never fully matured. In their book on archetypal masculinity, King, Warrior, Magician, Lover, Robert Moore and Douglas Gillette describe these wounded boys as “Highchair Tyrants and Grandstander Bullies.”
If we are going to address the real problems we face in the world and resist the lethal practices of Highchair Tyrants and Grandstander Bullies who come to power, I believe that mature women must take leadership along with mature men who can truly embody the archetypal energies of the king, warrior, magician, and lover. The overturning of Roe v. Wade may well be the call to action that America needs.
A new kind of leadership is emerging in this country, one exemplified by Margaret Wheatley. In her book, Who Do We Choose To Be? Facing Reality, Claiming Leadership, Restoring Sanity, she says,
“This book is born of my desire to summon us to be leaders for this time as things fall apart, to reclaim leadership as a noble profession that creates possibility and humanness in the midst of increasing fear and turmoil.”
The forces of domination and authoritarianism are formidable, but there are powers much stronger.
“The name I have chosen for myself that calls to me to be fearless is Warrior of the Human Spirit,”
“Perhaps it sounds a bit dramatic, but it has a simple definition: A Warrior of the Human Spirit is a decent human being who aspires to be of service in an indecent inhuman time.”
Wheatley’s view of the warrior is drawn from Tibetan healers. In his book, Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior, Tibetan meditation master Chögyam Trungpa says,
“Warriorship here does not refer to making war on others. Aggression is the source of our problems, not the solution. Here the word ‘warrior’ is taken from the Tibetan pawo, which literally means ‘one who is brave.’ Warriorship in this context is the tradition of human bravery, or the tradition of fearlessness.”
Warriors arise when people need protection and we are at a time in human history where old systems are collapsing and the most vulnerable are in dire need of protection and care. Wheatly also draws on the work of historians Joseph Tainter, author of The Collapse of Complex Societies and Sir John Glubb, author of The Fate of Empires and the Search for Survival. Both Glubb and Tainter have derived the pattern of collapse from studying complex human civilizations since Sumer in 3000 BCE.
Glubb studied thirteen empires in the Middle East, Asia, and Europe. The pattern of decline and fall of every one of them was the same. It didn’t matter where they were or what technology they had or how they exercised power. They all declined in the same stages and it always took ten generations, about 250 years. It has now been 246 years since the time of the American revolution in 1776. We are on track to follow other empires in the last stages of decline. These will continue to be difficult times and Warriors of the Human Spirit are needed now more than ever. What will emerge from the collapse will depend on the leadership that arises now.
“While despair might permeate the greater part of the nation,”
says Sir John Glubb,
“others achieved a new realization of the fact that only readiness for self-sacrifice could enable a community to survive. Some of the greatest saints in history lived in times of national decadence, raising the banner of duty and service against the flood of depravity and despair.”
As Czech statesman, author, poet, playwright, and dissident, Václav Havel reminds us,
“I think there are good reasons for suggesting that the modern age has ended. Today, many things indicate that we are going through a transitional period, when it seems that something is on the way out and something else is painfully being born. It is as if something were crumbling, decaying, and exhausting itself, while something else, still indistinct, were arising from the rubble.”
Warriorship requires hope, but as Havel cautions,
“Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something is worth doing no matter how it turns out.”
Welcome to the future.
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