Democracy is an imagined order and it’s being wrecked by Trump

Thanks to my friend and colleague Remon Rooij I am reading the book “Sapiens: A brief history of humankind” , by Yuval Harari.

The author argues that, from an evolutionary perspective, our biggest “advantage” over other mammals is our ability to imagine things that don’t exist in an objective way. Basically, every form of human organisation is based on “imaginary orders”. Money is a good example: it doesn’t have an objective value, but we all “agree” that money expresses value (time, work, worth). (And I am aware that not all of us “agree” on any of this, but still we all use money).

Language has a crucial role to play, because it is through language that we create these imaginary orders. The work of Chomsky, Foucault and Habermas revolves around language as a tool to organise reality and relationships (also as a way to oppress. But let’s remember that language is also a tool of liberation).

Democracy is one of these imaginary orders (with its many flaws) and it largely depends on language and other imaginary orders to function. So, what we are living today is a crisis of this imaginary order, to the point where some people are so skeptic about politicians and democracy itself, that it is a miracle anyone bothers to vote at all.

But if democracy doesn’t work, we must be able to articulate another imaginary order under which we can live and thrive. So far, I haven’t read anyone who articulates this post-democratic future, so I am sticking to the devil I know: it’s flawed, but it is what we have.

Elements of democracy can help us steer actions that will guarantee our survival on this planet: accountability, for example.

What Trump is doing is an assassination of democracy. Whenever he speaks or tweets, he distorts that imaginary order (democracy) through his language of polarisation and hatred.


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