Too Much Democracy? What Would Thomas Paine Say?

"When Donald Trump asks us to make America great again, he's not suggesting a return to the past, he's running to lead us back to that bright future". -Peter "Back to the Future" Thiel

"I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible." -Peter Thiel

When you run one of the biggest surveillance companies in the world, working with the CIA, among other organizations, what else could you believe?

Tech billionaire Peter Thiel spoke at the last night of the Republican Convention in support of the presidency of Donald Trump, something at first sight unusual since Silicon Valley has shown close to zero support for Trump. But as an article "Donald Trump, Peter Thiel and the death of democracy" by Ben Tarnoff in The Guardian, UK suggested on July 21st, Thiel has long seen an epic battle in America between democracy and capitalism, and he knows which one he wants to have win. Capitalism. And he is with Trump. Thomas Paine, the one truly radical Founding Father, saw the same battle looming, but he opted for democracy to win the day, eventually. I doubt that he would be with Trump!

This election year presents yet another moment of reckoning as to who will rule America, "Your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore..." or, as John Adams suggested, the "most wise and good, the rich and well born, and able." Or as Alexander Hamilton said "the rich and well born should have a distinct, permanent place in government to check the imprudence of democracy".

So, this debate/battle has been going on since before America won her war and became an independent country. The question was that if you take away the power structure of Monarchy, with its hierarchy of Kings and nobles and their lieutenants and enforcers, who could run the new country? Surely not the peasants, the illiterate and uneducated, the lowly farmers and indentured servants. How would they even understand what voting was? Better the successful, the landowners and rich merchants who had shown, through their success, the ability to lead and rule. But they still had to check that "imprudence of democracy". "And having achieved power, how could the rich and well born check the imprudence of democracy? By restricting the right to vote, which they did". Thomas Paine from the film Thomas Paine's To Begin the World Over Again.

Back to today and, as The Guardian article points out, Thiel has seen for some time that democracy and capitalism are, in the end, incompatible, but there is a very thin line to navigate if you are looking for capitalism to win. How can you concentrate more and more of the benefits of capitalism -- money, power, and all that it brings -- into the hands of fewer and fewer people while at the same time reducing the power of the masses, particularly by enacting endless restrictions on the right to vote, without causing civil unrest? It is easy in political primaries to talk to a very small portion of the population, even a small portion of the older, white, European immigrant population, about deporting 11 million and closing borders and vetting Moslems, and have success. But when you are systematically reducing the rights of so many groups of Americans -- women, blacks, Latinos, students, people of "other" sexual orientations, people who are simply "other" -- you are reducing the rights of a considerable majority of the population. Not the population of Republican primaries, but the population of America. And that is a very thin line to be walking.

At some point, if there is not a change in direction, that thin line just might become a blade that slices the feet of those walking it.

Ian Ruskin Director, The Life of Thomas Paine Productions
His film Thomas Paine's To Begin the World Over Again is being distributed to public television stations this year.