Wayne Heimer: Populism, pluralism, democracy



After pondering present presidential pronouncements of the great “threat to our democracy,” I’ve come up with a hypothesis: What if the threat posed to our democracy exists in the mind of the majority because it has claimed exclusive ownership of our common democracy? 

I think the great threat the president continually references is actually populism. I suggest populism is just “someone else’s democracy.”  That said, while “our democracy” and populism polarize our conversations over President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump, our national history may be seen as one of “pluralism,” rather than either dominant democracy. Let me try explaining.

I usually consider retreat to dictionary definitions characteristic of weak arguments, but I’ll start there because pluralism has been lost in the struggle between “our educated/elitist” and “their populist/redneck” democracies. Very simply put, pluralism represents the grudgingly tolerant coexistence of competing ideologies or interests in the same society. This should not be foreign to us.

As a nation we’ve always been pluralistic. American  cultures were the early result of European colonialism. Colonies were established to make money. My generation is most familiar with the puritan colonies of the Plymouth zone. These colonists signed up to colonize the New World because they had been persecuted for their religion in the Old World. They saw themselves as a “New Israel,” and America as a second “Promised Land” to be governed by adherence to their perception of God’s law. Their influence was significant. Many of America’s social mores/traditions flowed from it (think “the puritan ethic). Also, think a ready-made profitable export — cod from the Grand Banks of Nova Scotia. 

This was not the case with the colonies farther south located (about the distance from Prudhoe Bay to Delta Junction). When those colonies were established, labor-intensive exports like tobacco and cotton produced via the plantation system, were not yet established. It wasn’t until John Rolf married Pocahontas and learned the secrets of tobacco cultivation at the plantation level that the need for labor to serve agriculture introduced imported slavery to America.

When these diverse cultures found it necessary to assert nationhood, they held radically differing notions of economy. One was ready-resource based and lent itself to individual capitalism (the northern colonies). The other was dominantly labor-based” and, dependent on slave labor. Our historians have minimized these disparate factors in our national development. Until the “1619 Project,” the New England account dominated. The “1619 Project” offers a more southerly allegory of our nation’s fundamental founding. Neither stands sufficiently by itself. 

Given the cultural differences between the colonial regions, forming a nation was a significant challenge. For a popular primer dramatizing the differences, I suggest viewing Steven Spielberg’s 1997 movie, “Amistad.”

The unifying approach to nationhood was “pluralism.”  The more detailed dictionary definition of pluralistic society is “One formed by accommodation of diverse interests (ethnic, racial, economic, religious, etc.) to maintain individual special interests within a common civilization.“ Bringing the diverse social perspectives of the northern and southern colonies together to establish a nation required pluralism respecting differing regional perspectives above the whims of the majority. This is less pure democracy than pragmatic rational use of democracy to govern.

Is there such a thing as “irrational” democracy? Pure democracy is majority rule, and without respect for minority interests, that may result in tyranny.  Majority means “one vote more than half.”  So, what I suggest the president and his supporters fear when they speak of a threat to “our democracy,” is that “someone else’s democracy” may prevail over their progressive perspective. Progressive efforts to negate Trump and the Republican Party promise of recriminations against Democrats (should Republicans control the next Congress), are equally chilling.  Both appear irrational.

When our democratically elected representatives value “democracy” over pluralism, they tend toward “one size fits all” policies.  This, of course, neglects the interests of those who lacked one vote of being dominant.  

For example, Sen. Lisa Murkowski created a one-vote majority in committee resulting in a “national” solution to school shootings. We’ll see how that works. Similarly, Murkowski champions making Roe v. Wade national policy in the closely divided Senate. If this happens, it would foreclose an Alaskan decision (decided by an Alaskan majority).  

Then there’s energy.  Whether it is practical to “end fossil fuel” in Alaska, Murkowsi and Sen. Dan Sullivan voted to confirm an anti-petroleum zealot to oversee petroleum development on federal land. This result of majority rule in in the Senate may radically affect the minority of Americans who live in Alaska.

Whether you approve of these actions or not, these examples show how the tyranny of the majority may affect those whose perspectives are not respected.  

Wayne E. Heimer is a profligate user of words who worries that words may not retain meaning as “our democracy” redefines language.


  1. Wayne, Try reading Manifest Destiny : Democracy as Cognitive Dissonance

    George Orwell’s famous novel, 1984, is a masterful fictional account of a state which imposes cognitive dissonance on its citizens to control their perception of reality. It is summed up in the statement, “War is Peace; Freedom is slavery; Ignorance is strength.” The story of this book, Manifest Destiny, is an account of how agencies of US intelligence including the CIA and State Department, in collaboration with private “democracy” NGOs, developed and refined techniques of Orwellian doublethink or cognitive dissonance to create a series of regime changes around the world that sounded noble, democratic, but in reality were not.

    Does this agenda sound familiar in 2022 America?

    • They’ve adapted the tools for effecting “regime changes around the world” to regime change in America, using the very same political and social tools which we approved to be used against foreign nations. Poetic justice? Have we created the weapons of our own destruction?

  2. An extremely accurate observation in this piece is that for most on the Left the threat to “our democracy” clearly means THEIR democracy – the one in which they always win and control the narrative. It doesn’t take much deep thinking to understand that this is what they are talking about. And I respond: Forget it chumps; that isn’t going to fly.

  3. “…….words may not retain meaning as “our democracy” redefines language………”
    Words evolve for many reasons. New technology is an example. Regional accents that eventually become new languages is another. But the worse reason is the manipulation of words done to manipulate others. The attempted change in the economic term “inflation” is an example of that.
    I would suggest that any redefinition of language based on or caused by anything even remotely related to politics or ideology is a bad sign.

    • Agreed. Fairly obvious examples of this are to be found in “white fragility” and “anti-racism” tomes authored by folks that are essentially grifters. The redefinitions are slipped in early, often in the assumptions and the reader/listener is usually unaware that they have sold a falsehood. Once the lies are revealed the entire house of cards collapses. Many otherwise intelligent people fall for it. I look for it and the challenge and reject these ideas.

  4. Why entertain lies? 1619 project is based on the same campaign that brought communism into South and Central America. It worked because they were colonies. We put an end to colonialism over 200 years ago. We should not be smothered in this ridiculous propaganda.or censored for seeing the lie.

  5. Intriguing hypothesis but it stumbles at: “Progressive efforts to negate Trump and the Republican Party promise of recriminations against Democrats…are equally chilling. Both appear irrational.”
    For the nation-killing damage Democrats and fellow travellers have done and continue doing to America and Americans since the last presidential election, the writer suggests recriminations are irrational.
    What seems irrational, doomed to premature passing, is a democratic society whose members willingly abrogate the very principles enshrined in their Founding Documents because they fear recriminations and retaliation against those trying to destroy their society would brand them as irrational, polarizing.
    Imagine what our enemies outside America think, watching us cower before our enemies inside America because we fear being labelled as irrational or polarizing, insurrectionist, counterrevolutionary even.
    We even cede control of our language to America’s inside enemies, let them define our parameters of free speech, lest our use of intemperate words label us as polarizing or insurrectionist, but in all fairness, that’s our fault, not theirs.
    The writer suggests the very thought of Democrat perpetrators being held to harshest account for what they’re doing to our country, and to us, is “chilling”, as if populist, pluralistic, democratic demand for justice in a society whose leaders swore to obey our Founding Documents is “chilling”.
    May we be forgiven for mangling the writer’s hypotheses by looking at the bright side: What if the threat posed to our democracy exists only in the minds of an angry old man and his would-be junta claiming exclusive ownership of our democracy?
    What if President Biden’s mad because he’s afraid the junta’s losing their grip on a populist, pluralistic, democratic majority who, despite dark money, weaponized agencies, and mainstream media influences, appear singularly dedicated to their 246-year tradition of succesfully resisting dictatorships including most of all, his?
    Present presidential pronouncements of the great “threat to our democracy” are not hallmarks of a credible leader, self-assured dictator, or puppet confident in his puppeteer(s)
    … which might mean America’s populist, pluralistic, democratic majority by whatever name is doing something right.

    • I think he was trying to convey that Trump and the threat of recriminations are chilling and irrational from the perspective of the Left, which would support the rest of his argument. It could have been expressed more clearly, though.

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