The Democratization of Irrationality, By Osmund Agbo

If anyone is in doubt that stupidity is winning globally, look no further than the United States of America. Recently, the land of Lincoln, Franklin, and Hamilton, once a crucible where inspiring leaders are forged, has been overrun by individuals lacking discernment in overwhelming numbers. Today, a convicted felon is not only aspiring to lead but is a leading contender to occupy the People’s House—the very house he encouraged his goons to desecrate just a few years ago.

There is a prevailing, albeit false, narrative that the core of Donald Trump’s voter base is solely driven by racism and white supremacy. While it’s true that virulent racists and staunch bigots find his actions and rhetoric invigorating, this view is overly simplistic. The majority of his supporters do not fit this profile. Trump’s supporters can be broadly categorized into three overlapping demographics.

Firstly, there is a significant segment of white America that feels increasingly marginalized, believing that whites are losing control and being sidelined in a nation built by their forebears. For them, the threat posed by Russia or China pales in comparison to the fear of an America where whites are outnumbered by people of color and no longer the dominant economic force.

They point to factors such as affirmative action, cancel culture, the emphasis on diversity, the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, and the jaded conspiracy theory that Democrats encourage illegal immigration to boost their ranks. These are seen as practices eroding white power in America. While Republicans, especially those from the alt-right, often discuss these issues, this group believes that no one captured their anger and frustration as effectively as Donald Trump.

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Secondly, there are the billionaires and corporate titans who find the Democratic Party’s fiscal policies, which emphasize higher taxes on the rich, appalling. These individuals will support whoever carries the Republican Party’s banner, regardless of their moral standing. Their bottom line is to support the party that will increase their wealth. This group doles out millions to fund super PACs, many of which work covertly to promote racial tension and continuously attack core American values and institutions.

In October 2010, Pam Martens of Wall Street on Parade authored an article describing how secret slush funds were used to instill fear among Americans to influence electoral outcomes. She reported that about seven weeks before the 2008 Presidential election, Donor’s Capital Fund, a dark money group linked to billionaire Charles Koch, donated $17,778,600 to the Clarion Fund. This money was used to produce and distribute 28 million DVDs of a documentary titled “Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West,” a race-baiting, fear-mongering film meant to incite fear and discontent within white America about the prospect of a black president.

For an average white person who watched that DVD, one can only imagine how it might have deepened suspicions of not just blacks but other racial minority groups in America. You can begin to empathize with such an individual who might see a messiah in Donald Trump, someone positioned to protect their kind. Years later, Charles Koch publicly apologized, expressing regret about the divisive role he played, though he continued to write big checks to candidates who deny Joe Biden’s victory in the last election.

While these two groups exist, Trump’s base is most accurately depicted by a third group, which is the most powerful due to their sheer number and the passion they bring to the table. These individuals are predominantly whites residing in small towns and blacks, particularly of African descent, who perceive a morally dubious individual as a representation of Christianity and a messianic figure advocating for conservative values.

These individuals are very passionate about their beliefs but lack the mental depth required to fully appreciate the broader implications of their actions on society. To them, America is suffering from the “sin” of LGBTQ rights, which they believe has been imposed by liberals. They have been influenced by conservative talk show hosts who portray liberals as mostly pedophiles running worldwide sex trafficking rings. Members of this group are notoriously impulsive and easily swayed by superficial or misleading information.

They carry on like highly devoted members of a Trump cult, rationalizing his most irrational, asinine, and egregious actions. If Trump were to stand in front of a crowd and shoot someone, they would argue that the victim deserved to die and that Trump, out of his love for humanity, did us a favor by eliminating a nuisance. You’ve likely seen them interviewed at MAGA rallies, and you’ve probably shuddered at some of the things they say.

Even amidst the lies and deception, many Americans today can see through the noise and are profoundly disgusted by Trump and the extensive damage he has inflicted on the American brand. However, one wouldn’t deduce this from their actions. They only express their disgust among friends but fail to take any further action. In contrast to Trump supporters, who are willing to donate their last penny to his campaign, these individuals rank voting low on their list of priorities, let alone donating to a campaign aimed at defeating Trump and his allies. In essence, they possess the wisdom to recognize the peril of Trump’s ascent but lack the fervor to translate that recognition into action.

During the 2016 U.S. presidential election between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, I heard my friends who chose to stay home, confident that the majority of Americans were wise enough to prevent a candidate like Trump from reaching the White House. The outcome, however, proved otherwise. This phenomenon underscores an unfortunate reality: in many cases, it is those with passion, rather than wisdom, who often shape the world. Passion drives action, while wisdom often hesitates.

That 2016 election also underscored a critical dynamic in democratic systems: the ability to mobilize passionate, albeit less informed, voters can be more decisive than appealing to a well-informed but less engaged populace. In a system where every vote counts equally, the intensity of support can outweigh the depth of understanding.

Trump’s campaign, characterized by its emotional appeals, sensationalism, and stark deviation from political norms, resonated deeply with a significant portion of the electorate. His supporters, galvanized by his unorthodox style and promises to disrupt the status quo, turned out in droves, propelled by a fervor unmatched by the more measured and policy-oriented Clinton campaign.

One thing democracy has done to our world is to let fools rule over the wise. This may sound harsh, but it reflects a fundamental flaw in democratic systems: the principle of one person, one vote does not discriminate between informed and uninformed, wise and foolish. In such a system, those who can ignite the passions of the masses, regardless of the substance of their platform, often prevail.

Fools are guided by their hearts and not their heads, but they are passionate, impulsive, and by far outnumber the wise. A candidate who is able to capture the heart of this majority, no matter how terrible, wins. This creates a perilous scenario where emotional appeals and sensationalism can triumph over rational discourse and evidence-based policy-making.

There is a saying that the greatest argument against democracy is a one-minute conversation with an average voter. This saying underscores the notion that an average voter is often unable to look at issues dispassionately, being ruled by emotion rather than reason. This emotional susceptibility can lead to the election of leaders who are skilled at manipulating these passions rather than those who are genuinely competent and wise.

The tension between passion and wisdom in governance is not a new phenomenon. Throughout history, charismatic leaders who could stir the emotions of the masses have often risen to power, sometimes with disastrous consequences. Julius Caesar’s populist tactics in ancient Rome, the fervor behind Napoleon Bonaparte’s rise in post-revolutionary France, and the emotionally charged rhetoric of leaders like Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini in the 20th century all demonstrate the potent force of passion in shaping political landscapes.

In each of these cases, the appeal to emotion and the mobilization of fervent support played a crucial role in their ascent. The consequences of their rule, however, were often catastrophic, leading to wars, widespread suffering, and the erosion of democratic institutions.

In the modern era, the role of media and technology has further amplified the power of passion-driven politics. Social media platforms, in particular, have revolutionized the way information is disseminated and consumed, often prioritizing sensationalism and emotional engagement over factual accuracy and rational debate. The algorithms that drive these platforms are designed to maximize user engagement, often by promoting content that elicits strong emotional reactions.

This dynamic creates a fertile ground for populist leaders who can harness these tools to spread their message and mobilize support. The echo chambers and filter bubbles created by social media can further entrench individuals in their beliefs, making it difficult for reasoned discourse to penetrate. The rapid spread of misinformation and fake news exacerbates this problem, leading to a political environment where emotions reign supreme.

Addressing the imbalance between passion and prudence in democratic systems is no easy task. It requires a multifaceted approach that includes education, media reform, and institutional safeguards.

Education is perhaps the most critical component. A well-informed electorate is less susceptible to emotional manipulation and more capable of making reasoned decisions. Investing in civic education that emphasizes critical thinking, media literacy, and the importance of evidence-based policy-making can help cultivate a more discerning and wise electorate.

Media reform is also essential. Encouraging responsible journalism, promoting fact-checking, and creating incentives for media outlets to prioritize accuracy and depth over sensationalism can help counteract the influence of emotional appeals. Social media platforms, in particular, need to take greater responsibility for the content they promote and the impact it has on public discourse.

Dale Carnegie, the renowned American writer, once said, “When dealing with people, let us remember we are not dealing with creatures of logic. We are dealing with creatures of emotion, creatures bristling with prejudices and motivated by pride and vanity.” This quote underscores the reality that humans are emotional, often misinformed, and driven by insecurities and a desire for status.

When faced with the choice between understanding how the world should work in theory versus how it actually operates in practice, prioritize the latter. Historian Will Durant aptly put it: “Logic is an invention of man and may be ignored by the universe.” Embracing this perspective allows us to navigate the complexities of human behavior more effectively and achieve more realistic and impactful outcomes.

One of the fundamental flaws of democracy is the belief in the wisdom of the masses. However, this belief can be tested when passion overrides reason, and the uninformed dictate the direction of a nation. This is not an indictment of democracy itself, but a call to address the vulnerabilities within democratic systems that can be exploited by those who seek to manipulate emotions for personal gain.

The democratization of foolishness is a phenomenon that transcends borders and political ideologies. If you were to try to convince some of my brothers and sisters east of the Niger that IPOB is not the solution to our problems, they would likely see you not just as a fool but as a bloody traitor. They will refer to you as an “Otelectuals”, a derogatory term for the man who thinks with his bunghole rather than his cerebrum. You will become that “someone who did not understand life and was cut off from the people”, in Milan Kundera’s The book of Laughter and Forgetting.

This is a reminder that in a democratic society, the responsibility to protect the integrity of the system lies with the people that know better. While the challenge of balancing passion and prudence in democratic systems is significant, it is not insurmountable. By fostering a more informed electorate, promoting responsible media practices, and strengthening democratic institutions, we can create a political environment where wisdom has a greater chance of prevailing over folly.

To secure the future of democracy, it is imperative that we vigorously counter misinformation, prioritize empirical evidence over emotional reactions, and maintain a steadfast commitment to holding our leaders accountable. Passive observation is not an option; our active participation is essential. Those who possess knowledge but choose not to act are no better than those consumed by ignorance. The wise should choose action over apathy, ensuring that democracy continues to illuminate the path toward progress and hope for generations to come.

Osmund Agbo is the author of ‘Black Grit, White Knuckles: The Philosophy of Black Renaissance’ and a fiction work titled “The Velvet Court: Courtesan Chronicles,” along with other publications.

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