"the united states is not a democracy, nor was it ever intended to be"

Gore Vidal was in Toronto this week, speaking in the Grano Lecture Series. Today the Star, who helps sponsor the Series, ran a portion of a transcript.
William Thorsell: Is there a Europe? I mean, this whole idea of Europe has got so diffused. The EU gets bigger, and so on. We talk about Europe as though there were a place or a society. We're not talking about foreign policy or anything, just is there a European civilization any more that can pick up if the United States falters?

GORE VIDAL: Oh, sure there is, and every bit of it is like my fellow illuminata here. It is the Europe of the la lumière. And it is a great Europe since the Protestants' appearance at the Renaissance. One other thing that we neglected to do, and we could have done in '45 when the mandate of heaven, as Confucius would have said, came to us after World War II, we had a chance to develop a civilization. We were number one in everything, really by accident: ballet, something nobody had known about before; literature, poetry particularly; theatre. I mean, it was extraordinary.

After the Depression, in which I grew up in Washington, and I spent three years in the army in the Pacific and the Aleutian Islands, suddenly we all came back, filled with energy, ready to begin a life. And there it was, everything. The world was ours, and from Lenny Bernstein writing On the Town, it was just a chorus of great talent released at last after depression and war, and we blew it all because Harry Truman wanted to impress Stalin, so he drops the atomic bomb, forever darkening our reputation.

This is not generally known but every major military man in World War II, from Admiral Nimitz to General Eisenhower, begged Truman not to use the bombs. They said, "We'll be hated for all time. We have enough problems as it is with the world." He went right ahead and did it, because he wanted to scare Stalin. That's spite. God knows, it's stupidity which makes me very excited but... there is a Europe. The problem is, where is America?

We seem to be vanishing... I spent 30 years doing the history of the United States through a series of novels, through one family a bit like my own, and that's the way I educated myself, since the schools are not going to educate anybody else that I can tell, unless you are from a rich family and you can send them, as I was sent, to Phillips Exeter Academy, which was not all that good. It was more indoctrination than it was education. But we were taught our place as the premiere empire of the world. We filled it. We had a lot of Theodore Roosevelt's rant behind us and Franklin Roosevelt's meliorative, tentative attempts to give us a degree of socialism, which might make us as civilized as Canada.

THORSELL: It's probably a pretty self-centred thing, but what's your sense of this country? Do you have a sense? Does this country project any sense of itself beyond the borders of itself, and do you have any sense of this country or any sense of where it could fit in the world?

VIDAL: It's a good model for us, particularly in medical care, and every now and then there are wistful looks at "Our Lady of the Snows" up here, where you need not die of, you know, whatever happens to be wrong with you at that moment. You might be cured, looked after.

No. I mean, the shadow of England is a dense one. I had a fan letter from a Canadian lady. I had made a reference to the phantom Crown of England and I was talking about the political situation, you know. They have a parliament. They are a far more democratic country than the United States but, I said, "You know, everywhere that phantom Crown has cast a shadow." She said, "What phantom Crown? Lilibet (Queen Elizabeth II) has more power. She drove that awful man you like, (Gough) Whitlam, out of office in Australia." Well, she didn't, but the Tories did. And I thought, What is going up here with Our Lady of Snows? They are still people who are waiting for, well, maybe they're waiting for Charles the III..."

THORSELL: At this point, I think we'll throw you to the circus.

MICHAEL ADAMS: Is the United States of America a democracy?

VIDAL: No. The United States is not a democracy, nor was it ever intended to be. This is where the schools have got it all wrong and where the media daily gets it wrong.

The one thing they feared the most was tyranny, another King George the Third or a dictator, another Cromwell.

Many of us are descended from Cromwell's men. That's how we became to be such vicious Protestants. Well, if you want to see any of the founders, read the federalist papers. Any one of them looks like he's near apoplexy, he's about to have a stroke when he's talking about the people. They hate the people. They want the people out of government. Their idea of bad government is Pericles in Athens. And that's just, you know, forbidden country for our founders. They were Republicans, and they wanted a republic based on Rome, secretly based on slavery and based on imperial progress elsewhere in the world.

So from the beginning, we've been imperial. From the beginning, we've missed the whole point of the republican effort to create a republic in this brave new world. And I think we had a pretty good beginning. We were well served until Lincoln. It's not his fault, but with Lincoln came new elements. The power of money. The power of sheer greed and the power of military might.

You know, Bismarck, who had the best army in Europe or wanted to have, sent observers to our Civil War. He wanted to see what we knew – we had created a war machine the world had never seen. Now, how this little agrarian republic pulled that off is the trick of the week. Bismarck used to say, "God looks after drunks, little children and the United States of America." For a long time, He did.

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