Tuesday, June 20, 2017

America: Governance In Silence

As we watch the Democratic Party establishment and their apologists lick their wounds after yet another “moral victory” that saw two additional Republican Trump supporters join their many friends on Capitol Hill, I had to reflect on just where we are now as a nation. I’ll get to the twisted, terribly out-of-date two-party duopoly in a minute, but for openers I really have to marvel at how an entire major party can be reduced to mere Loveable Losers, the ones who try and try and fundraise and fundraise, but gosh darn it just can’t pull out the win. Hey, we only lost by a few points, right? We’ll get ‘em next time. They have become the Los Angeles Clippers of politics, and that might be amusing in a time when we weren’t facing the sorts of serious, history altering existential problems we are right now. We can revisit this a bit later but keep it in mind as we go along from here.

America was founded on the idea of transparent, efficient and minimal federal government. I will not delve into the Anti-Federalist rhetoric carried forth by the Libertarians and Anarchists among us, because I feel that there are roles for federal power in this nation, and in fact the current complexity of both domestic and international affairs with the expansion of automation and technology makes it absolutely necessary. But leaving size and scope aside for the moment, the entire idea behind this nation’s founding was independence from an unaccountable monarch who did not run any of his policies by any sort of public voting body for scrutiny. Transparency in policy making seemed to be a central tenet of what the framers and founders were after, did it not?

They are all surely rolling in their graves today. We now live in a world where a vast, sweeping and far-reaching healthcare bill is being debated in secret without any hearings, without the usual markup process, and with as little scrutiny as possible. That this heinous and brazen act of opaque governance is being perpetuated by the same party that made political hay about the previous heath care bill’s “rushed” nine months of hearings, testimony and public teeth gnashing is particularly galling. Even when Republican Senators that realize this is wrong and not how things are supposed to work admit publicly that they have concerns, they still play the role of good soldier, do what they’re told, and go along with it. This shameful act is brought to you by a corrupt and out of control two-party system the likes of which George Washington himself expressed fear about upon leaving office in his Farewell Address:

I have already intimated to you the danger of parties in the State, with particular reference to the founding of them on geographical discriminations. Let me now take a more comprehensive view, and warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party generally.

This spirit, unfortunately, is inseparable from our nature, having its root in the strongest passions of the human mind. It exists under different shapes in all governments, more or less stifled, controlled, or repressed; but, in those of the popular form, it is seen in its greatest rankness, and is truly their worst enemy.

The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty.

Without looking forward to an extremity of this kind (which nevertheless ought not to be entirely out of sight), the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.

It serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which finds a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions. Thus the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another.

There is an opinion that parties in free countries are useful checks upon the administration of the government and serve to keep alive the spirit of liberty. This within certain limits is probably true; and in governments of a monarchical cast, patriotism may look with indulgence, if not with favor, upon the spirit of party. But in those of the popular character, in governments purely elective, it is a spirit not to be encouraged. From their natural tendency, it is certain there will always be enough of that spirit for every salutary purpose. And there being constant danger of excess, the effort ought to be by force of public opinion, to mitigate and assuage it. A fire not to be quenched, it demands a uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting into a flame, lest, instead of warming, it should consume.

How much of what Washington feared still rings true today? Jealousies, false alarms and animosity? Check. Foreign influence and corruption? Check. Alternate domination of one faction over another? Check. A party strongman riding a wave of popular angst directed toward the other party and using that angst to “the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty?” Have you seen who is currently President lately? We live in the very country he feared most.

So now we live in a country where the modern tradition of the daily press briefing is done in silence, with audio and video recordings banned. We live in a country where cabinet members and Congresspeople alike duck, dodge or just flat out ignore questions from the assembled press, that is if they are even allowed in the room, on the plane, or along for the foreign trip. We live in a country where Russian press gets their question in, but not CNN. Where the man currently in the White House made a joke about murdering journalists on the stump during his campaign, garnering cheers from the assembled crowd. We live in scary, scary times.

But the Democrats are just fine running on nothing, and opposing these things in words, but not in deeds. Too often, we see the only realistic opposition party we have shrink from a fight at the federal level. Shut down the Senate? But how will we work with our Republican colleagues on measures of importance? Refuse to vote for Trump’s unqualified wolves to watch over our various federal cabinet henhouses? But they promised me they would do a good job! And sure, we lost those special elections, each and every one of them, but we’re in the right, and Trump is wrong. His supporters will come around and start voting for us soon enough, you’ll see. Any day now.

Well I prefer to live in the world of reality, the world where the 1% tighten their chokehold on the 99% and their wallets. Where mega-rich business criminals occupy every cabinet post, poised and ready to rob us all blind and line their own pockets. Where the Democrats are content to “express concerns” but still seem to value team play over having principles, where being not quite as bad as a party goose-stepping into full on fascism is good enough. Well, count me as being utterly unsurprised at the upcoming drubbing in 2018, the continued rule of Trump and his ilk, and count on this continuing no matter how Russiagate shakes out. Remember: Trump is only one piece of this puzzle, the front man. Even throwing him out does not change what I said above, and in fact it just streamlines things as Pence is a connected, experienced transactional politician in his own right. No, not until we actually wise up, rise up and resist fully and truly, and actually stand for something besides the obviously broken status quo, will anything change. So our hopes are somewhere between slim and none.

But go ahead, America, prove me wrong.


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