This morning, as I was headed across town on the subway for a lunch meeting, I was reading my Kindle version of the book “Democracy in America,’” by Alexis de Tocqueville. Although written in the 1830’s, his descriptions of the United States and the character of its people and institutions remain strangely relevant and accurate in the 21st century.
The section I was reading today was on American presidential elections, and I found myself laughing out loud at his description:
“The epoch of the election of a President of the United States may be considered a crisis in the affairs of the nation. The influence which he exercises on public business is no doubt feeble and indirect; but the choice of a President, which is of small importance to the citizens individually, concerns the citizens collectively; and however trifling an interest may be, it assumes a great degree of importance as soon as it becomes general….”
“For a long while before the appointed time is at hand the election becomes the most important and the all-engrossing topic of discussion. The ardor of faction is redoubled; and all the artificial passions which the imagination can create in the bosom of a happy and peaceful land are agitated and brought to light. The President, on the other hand, is absorbed by the cares of self-defence. He no longer governs for the interest of the State, but for that of his re-election; he does homage to the majority, and instead of checking its passions, as his duty commands him to do, he frequently courts its worst caprices.
As the election draws near, the activity of intrigue and agitation of the populace increase; the citizens are divided into hostile camps, each of which assumes the name of its favorite candidate; the whole nation glows with feverish excitement; the election is the daily item of the public papers, the subject of private conversation, the end of every thought and every action, the sole interest of the present. As soon as the choice is determined, this ardor is dispelled; and as a calmer season returns, the current of the State, which had nearly broken its banks, sinks to its usual level.”
It seems that if de Tocqueville were to show up in the United States today he’d marvel at how little has changed since he wrote that. The intrigue and agitation are nothing new!
China is coming up to a major leadership change as well, but the intrigue and agitation are all taking place behind closed doors…..or should I say behind a red wall in the center of Beijing. When a decision has been made, it will be announced.
As far as the American election goes, despite the fuss, I’m grateful for the right to participate. I’ve requested my absentee ballot, and am thrilled that, “as the election draws near,” I’m on the other side of the world, where I do not have to actually hear the voice of either candidate or of a journalist reporting on a candidate.
And if you haven’t read “Democracy in America,” you should. The Kindle version is only 99 cents.
Image source: 123rf.com