Retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice David Souter works with his group to promote civics education in New Hampshire schools during a meeting in Concord, N.H., Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2009. 
Jim Cole/AP Photo

Souter warned of a Trump-like candidate in prescient remarks

Updated
Former Supreme Court Justice David Souter has maintained a very low public profile since retiring from the bench nearly eight years ago, but Rachel highlighted a 2012 appearance Souter made in New Hampshire, and his remarks on “civic ignorance” are striking in their foresight.
The Rachel Maddow Show, 10/20/16, 9:51 PM ET

Perils of eroded civic knowledge forewarned by fmr Justice Souter

Rachel Maddow shares a video of former Supreme Court Justice David Souter talking about the importance of civic knowledge in the maintenance of a democracy.
“I don’t worry about our losing republican government in the United States because I’m afraid of a foreign invasion. I don’t worry about it because I think there is going to be a coup by the military as has happened in some of other places. What I worry about is that when problems are not addressed, people will not know who is responsible. And when the problems get bad enough, as they might do, for example, with another serious terrorist attack, as they might do with another financial meltdown, some one person will come forward and say, ‘Give me total power and I will solve this problem.’

“That is how the Roman republic fell. Augustus became emperor, not because he arrested the Roman Senate. He became emperor because he promised that he would solve problems that were not being solved.

“If we know who is responsible, I have enough faith in the American people to demand performance from those responsible. If we don’t know, we will stay away from the polls. We will not demand it. And the day will come when somebody will come forward and we and the government will in effect say, ‘Take the ball and run with it. Do what you have to do.’

“That is the way democracy dies. And if something is not done to improve the level of civic knowledge, that is what you should worry about at night.”
Souter couldn’t have known about Donald Trump’s rise in Republican politics, but that only makes his fears in 2012 that much more prophetic.

Remember, it’s this year’s Republican nominee who enjoys telling his followers that only he can keep Americans safe. Only he can fix the political system. Only he, as Trump put it, can “make possible every dream you’ve ever dreamed.” Only he will “take all of these slings and arrows gladly” so that the “movement” Trump leads can take “our country back.”

This is the same candidate who believes he can prosecute and imprison his rivals, praises authoritarian regimes abroad, and balks when asked if he’ll accept the outcome of fair elections.

Souter warned of a person, with little regard for democratic norms and political institutions, who could come forward seeking power, assuring the public that he’ll solve our problems, exploiting fears and civic ignorance.

“That is the way democracy dies. And if something is not done to improve the level of civic knowledge, that is what you should worry about at night.”



Donald Trump

Souter warned of a Trump-like candidate in prescient remarks

Updated