23 December, 2009
We the People
Since November 2008, the role of "We the People" has been claimed by various groups and alluded to by various spokespersons for these groups. After the election, the actions of the electorate and the electoral map were decried and denied by those who resented an Obama-Biden victory and the attendant Congressional consequences. In some ways, this reaction to the election of November 2008 resembled the reaction to the election of 1860. While sufficient, competent evidential matter was conspicuously absent, fervent, frantic assertions of election fraud and abuse filled a portion of the blogs and cable news shows. Some legitimate periodicals also publicized strident allegations that something serious but spurious had taken place. The Democratic Party's triumph was feverishly contested by citizens and officials all claiming to "want their country back!"
More than a year has passed and the frenzy persists. There are several relevant and important issues related to this observable feature of contemporary American Civic and Political life. First, why is this the case? Second, what purpose does the furor serve for those stoking and sustaining it? Third, what do those who participate in the protests, demonstrations, and general clamor gain? Finally, what can patriotic Democrats do to effectively respond to this tumult and advance the process of governance in service to the purposes stipulated in the Constitution and implicit in the ideals of the American Republic?
As to the first issue, I believe the fundamental cause is that the citizenry and the politically contenders are actually divided into two broad blocs although these blocs are not commonly labeled as such and largely do not recognize themselves as cohesive opposing political alliances. These blocs are not conservatives and liberals; they are not Republicans and Democrats. They are definitely not simply Right and Left. In a sense, they are rival "no name" squads aligned and affiliated by their attitudes, actions and aspirations toward, in, and for government and society. In my thinking, I designate these squads the Authoritarians and the Constitutionalists. The Authoritarians seek to rule; the Constitutionalists seek to govern. In regard to the spark that ignited the fury subsequent to the November 2008 Democratic Party triumph, the frustrated, but fervent desire to rule inflamed the Authoritarians. They almost spontaneously combusted. In the elections of 2000 and 2004, the Democratic Party who at this juncture in history is more in the Constitutionalists' squad, acceded to the outcomes even though there were genuine questions about the legitimacy of both. Strikingly, in the election of 1860, the Constitutionalists were more powerful and prominent in the young Republican Party. The Authoritarians were a force within the more mature and long-standing Democratic Party. The frustrated desire to rule in this instance provoked secession in the extremist south and ultimately brought on the Civil War. In April 2009, a vociferous Authoritarian, Rick Perry of Texas, suggested his state might need to secede. The fundamental and driving factors in the Authoritarian mindset persist throughout the centuries and are undiminished by disastrous socio-political experiences. For Authoritarians, the enduring principle is "Rule or Ruin". The preceding eight years of a Republican Presidency committed to the idea of a Unitary Executive had accustomed this particular throng of Authoritarians to the Rule option in Rule or Ruin. Having lost this opportunity convincingly, the core Authoritarian corps of the Republican Party, emphatically chose door number two -- Ruin.
To understand the second issue "the purpose this furor serves for those stoking and sustaining it" one must reflect on the rule or ruin premise animating the Authoritarian squad. Because the Constitutionalists intend to govern, furor and frenzy impedes and impairs their efforts to advance and achieve this intent. This impairment and hindrance makes Constitutionalists seem inept and ineffective. As Vice-President discovered during the Bork nomination hearings when he was a Senator, Authoritarians do not want government to serve the people; they want government to be a weapon allowing them to do what they want. By obstructing the Constitutionalists' efforts to implement responsive governance, Authoritarians foster frustration and doubt among the citizenry. In so doing, they hope to reverse the results of any elections that placed Constitutionalists in positions to govern. If they succeed in this insurrection [so called because it amounts to a disloyal, rather than a loyal, opposition], the Authoritarians regain the places and levers of power. Once they reclaim dominance, the Authoritarians revert to their preferred option, Rule, rather than Ruin. The bad news for the ordinary citizens and the country in general is that Authoritarian rule is ultimately ruinous. Every Authoritarian regime in history has ended in either unforeseen disaster or protracted degeneration and final collapse.
Now we must consider what those who participate in the protests, demonstrations, and general clamor gain? Simply put, many of the ordinary participants do not actually gain anything of substance. As Thomas Frank observes in What's the Matter With Kansas", "People getting their fundamental interest wrong is what American political life is all about. This species derangement is the bedrock of our civic order; it is the foundation on which all else rests." Due to this disturbing, but documented, tendency in America's recent political process, Authoritarians have captured all branches of the Federal government for extended periods and numerous governorships and state legislatures. This derangement as Frank calls it, shifts the political discourse toward Authoritarianism and enervates those who aspire to government and the institution and practice of government itself. Despite this anomaly the foot soldiers and shock troops of the Authoritarian squad, for example today's Tea-Baggers, birthers, militia and neo-confederates, get potent and habit-forming gratification from their participation. This is evident by watching them during their participation and by considering the resources they invest in their participation. They almost certainly do not realize they are engaged in self-destructive behavior, but most of us, regardless of which squad we adhere to explicitly or implicitly, fail to recognize that what feels so good can eventually do so much harm. As an historic example, view and reflect on the ordinary participants in the Nuremberg Rallies. Many if not most of them were rapturous. Nonetheless, they and their country were embarked on the path to catastrophe. This historic phenomenon and the general pattern indicate that although Authoritarians pursue a strategy of Rule or Ruin, it actually amounts to a process of Rule and Ruin. Unfortunately for thousands of common citizens who end up as literal or figurative cannon fodder, the nation and the rest of us the reality of the Authoritarian subterfuge is often not apparent until it is too late. Some transitory thrills and petty reprisals are all the rank and file Authoritarians ever secure for the blood, sweat, treasure and tears they willing [at least in the beginning] contribute to the gaining and retaining of power by the Authoritarian tricksters who incite, command, and exploit their credulity.
What can liberal, patriotic Democrats do to effectively respond to the Divide and Rule strategy now so energetically deployed by the reactionary Authoritarians? First, we must emphasize the Americans are one people and America is one nation. Then, we must highly resolve that this indivisible nation shall have a new birth of freedom and government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth. Make no mistake, this is precisely what the stakes are. The founders gave us a Republic and it is our solemn duty to keep it. We must not allow Authoritarians and their duped shock troops to transform the Republic into a Realm. Patriotic, Liberal Democrats and all Constitutionalists with or without factional identities, must profess, promote and practice responsible governance and preserve, protect and defend a responsive government. In short we must proclaim: "Power to the People!"