American democracy is fragile, yet resilient. We'll soon see if Republicans turn the impeachment trial of demagogue Donald Trump into a farcical sham (as they'll no doubt attempt to do). How many Republican Senators will refuse to cave to money, power, and autocracy, and actually seriously consider the Constitution, rule-of-law, and founding principles?....
Today (because it seems timely) I am just re-posting, with minor changes, an entry from close to a year ago:
Most readers here likely know the famous story of Kurt Gödel’s 1947 visit to an examiner’s office to apply for U.S. citizenship — it’s been briefly told many places, as I did back HERE.
Gödel, logician that he was, thought he’d found a 'logical flaw' or 'contradiction' in the U.S. Constitution that would allow a dictator to take power in the U.S., not unlike what Europe had witnessed. Friends, Oskar Morgenstern and Albert Einstein, talked Gödel out of bringing this up at his examination, believing, according to some accounts, that his worry was 'far-fetched and outlandish.' No one knows for sure what his qualms centered upon, but the most widespread guess is that he was concerned about Article V of the Constitution allowing for amendments to the Constitution… even amendments that might weaken/eliminate various checks-and-balances and hand more authority to a despotic leader. We could theoretically amend ourselves right into a dictatorship.
The appeal of this explanation is that it reflects Gödel's well-established interest in self-reference: i.e., the Constitution could be amended, the amendments could be amended, the amendments to the amendments could be amended, etc.
While certainly possible, I’ve never been fully comfortable with that ‘guess’ of Gödel’s thought process, because Kurt probably realized what a slow, arduous, unwieldy path amending the Constitution actually is… with ample opportunity along the way to redress or put the brakes on ill-founded changes.
I’ve begun to wonder if just perhaps what Gödel had in mind was, alternatively, something far simpler, more direct, and more mathematical:
He would’ve clearly understood the math of the Electoral College (as spelled out in Amendment XII of the Constitution), and recognized that a demagogic individual could become President with a minority of the citizens' vote (not even a plurality, let alone a majority) by simply concentrating on a handful of key states. Then, with backing of a subservient Party he might run roughshod over most checks-and-balances simply with the judicious use of Executive Orders, Executive Privilege, emergency measures, martial law, judicial appointments, and the President’s function as Commander-In-Chief of the military... may or may not be a better explanation than the Article V focus, and might or might not be viewed as a 'logical flaw.'
In the oft-quoted words of Sinclair Lewis (who was contemporaneous with Gödel):
"When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross."
In short, if enough of the electorate is naive and ignorant enough to elect one, isn’t every democracy at risk of putting a despot-to-be into power, and made even easier with our Electoral College system? The German experience may be more 'normal' than we care to contemplate...
Is THAT what Gödel realized 72+ years ago?