My theory about this is that Democracy simply cannot survive the Internet. You see, the average person is already pretty dumb, and fully half of people are dumber than that, so letting the majority decide was never a good idea. However, before the Internet people were shy about their stupidity. If you secretly believed any weird conspiracy theory, you'd typically not talk about it loud for fear that people would make fun of you or worse. The Internet has completely changed that. Stupid ideas travel at the same rate they are created, and people can easily find other idiots who want to believe in them and create their own echo chambers where they convince each other that they're right. We used to think that the Internet was going to bring education and enlightenment to the masses, but it's done the opposite. It has become a massive amplifier of human stupidity. And this is the perfect tool for a populist to hijack Democracy.
I don't see any way out of this, other than somehow switching to the "smart dictator" approach of places like Singapore. It would certainly be better than Donald Trumps everywhere.
Same token, most people are as smart as the average person. Or smarter. Can't agree that people've ever been shy about their stupidity, either. Take, for instance, anything anyone ever said was God's plan. Whether it's charcoal marks on a cave wall, moveable type or podcasts, media carries everything people put into it, not just the stupid. Claiming the internet, in particular, amplifies human stupidity is masking what I think you're really getting at here, which is straight up misanthropy. If what's really going on is that you loathe people, as any right-thinking person should, you could despair of democracy based on far lower technology than that. Or even just people's big fat flapping mouths, and ta-da, that's politics whether in the Stone Age or the Trump Age.
Not to say that democracy exists. Or that it's ever been more than a convenient shorthand term for when people don't seem particularly upset or on the verge of an uprising. So let's skip calling popular government, government by the consent of the governed, democracy at all. To my mind, democracy is more a war cry than a useful term of art. Any popular government can of course be co-opted by conning enough people. If that was all there was to it, it wouldn't be such a disappointment when it happens again and again and again in so many completely isolated historical incidents. That isn't all there is to it, though. The other shoe drops, if you don't mind the expression.
Sure, the notion of a benevolent dictator seems comforting. Most dictators are as benevolent as the average dictator. Or more benevolent. However, they tend not to have quite as much skin in the game, so to speak, as the rest of the people in the world. Widespread public opinion through history seems to agree that dictatorships look so much better in flames. One assumption I think you've made is that, somehow, Trump is a sign of a failed democracy. May I suggest to you that you seriously consider the very real likelihood that the warm, fuzzy, and oh-so-cozy alternative outcome to Trump's election — the presidential electoral victory of Hillary Kissinger — was successfully averted by a democratic republic, and that's how we know popular government worked?
Give it up for the average American voter and the screwball workings of the Electoral College! We got the less effective evil.
Ah, but pushing the idea of God took a lot of work by a lot of dedicated people for a very long time. With current technology this would take a tiny fraction of the time. I don't think people were any smarter before. In fact, I think people are on average smarter (or less stupid) than at any time in prior history (not an optimistic statement though, people in the past set the bar very low). But stupid ideas can propagate and strengthen much faster now.
Of course, the God story did lay the groundwork for a lot of the modern stupidity ("I don't want to vaccinate my kids because it goes against my religion!", "the Bible says the world is only 4000 years old", etc.), but technology is now exponentiating this effect. It's like giving the American nuclear arsenal to a pyromaniac.
Democracy, like any other politically charged term like Fascism, Socialism, Terrorism, Nazism, etc. is a rather silly word, people use it to mean whatever they want it to mean at the time. Unfortunately there seem to be too many people who think that having elections equals "democracy" equals a "good" government system (or, as the cliché goes, the least bad we have). Even if you set aside subtleties like what do the elected do, how they interact with each other, and what checks and balances are built into the system, the reality is that "democracy" has brought us endless wars, a destruction of the environment on a geological scale, the senseless death and/or torture of millions of people, etc. People are very bad at predicting the consequences of their choices, and extremely likely to choose based on emotion rather than reason. And rich people and politicians know very well how to take advantage of that.
In any event, I completely agree with you that Hillary would have been way worse. Like an eviler, more efficient Obama. Trump and the Republican Party are no less evil, but they're much less efficient. This is also something I've always pointed out to people trying to understand Venezuela: the only reason the country didn't get destroyed faster was that the government was so inefficient that they couldn't even be evil effectively. Given the two choices of Hillary and Donald, I guess people did the best they could, but that doesn't change the fact that "Democracy" gave us only those two options.
For the record, I don't really loathe people in general. I only loathe people who are ignorant and proud of their ignorance. That's a lot of them but not all!