Sunday, November 27, 2016

The Bipartisan Darkness

The Bipartisan Darkness
P. Schultz

            “Bipartisan darkness descends on the public realm [in 1980], preparation for the rule of the Right.” [Liberty Under Siege, Walter Karp, 139]

            Or in preparation for the rule of Trump.

            It is quite amazing how quickly in the face of a threat like the one Trump was alleged to be that bipartisanship emerges. Obama saying, in essence, to give Trump a chance and Joe Biden saying he will work with Vice President elect Pence. The signs are there for those who care to see them. And it is important to understand why this happens. So what was the threat? What is it?

            The threat previously was Trump, that is, before he won. But now the danger is that the forces that brought Trump to the presidency will not be stilled or pacified, thereby threatening the status quo and it protectors who reign in Washington. For there are “forces” abroad in the land that threaten the status quo, e.g., the growing popularity of legalizing the recreational use of marijuana. That this is a significant threat to the status quo is not appreciated by most people because they do not appreciate the importance of “the war on drugs” for maintaining the prevailing establishment. That war, which is usually presented as a somewhat marginal policy that needs some tweaking to be made more rational, is actually as important as “the war on terror” for maintaining “the rule of the Right.” So, to allow the war on drugs to be undermined, especially to be undermined for the sake of individual liberty, is dangerous, even as dangerous as legitimizing “sexual preferences” – as if one’s sexual practices were “preferences” like one’s taste in ice cream – for the sake of personal liberty.  Such “allowances” create cracks in what is called “civilization,” cracks that imply that “civilization” – or as Huck Finn put it, “sivilization” – is more about repressing than elevating or liberating human kind.

            This is dangerous stuff in a regime that embraces or is built on the idea that without a powerfully pervasive national government anarchy will prevail and human kind will descend into darkness. So, such cracks must be sealed up as best they can be, e.g., by legitimating “same sex marriage” so unwed gays and lesbians, those who espouse “the gay life style,” can be viewed with suspicion. Respecting marijuana, then, expect the emergence of “scientific” claims about the dangers of marijuana, followed by attempts by “the Feds” to reassert control over the use of this “drug.”

            And expect too, more broadly, that “the rule of the Right” under Trump will reinforce those aspects of our allegedly capitalistic society that discipline “the many,” that is, we ordinary people. For example, by elevating the very wealthy to positions of power while emphasizing their wealth, Trump reminds the many of their unfitness, that they are “the many” because they do not have the innate or inbred discipline to be among “the few,” and, therefore, need to disciplined by our pervasively powerful government and its controllers. Such people, the many, should not be allowed to use marijuana or other drugs recreationally because they lack the inbred discipline of “the few,” discipline in this case to be provided by the nation’s policy of mass incarceration. These are among the means to still or pacify a people, especially a people grown restless with deference to its “superiors.”

            So “the bipartisan darkness” that is descending – once again – “on the public realm” is the darkness of a “civilization” – actually a regime – that is constantly threatened by the conviction that human beings were “created equal and endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” And as Lincoln put it, these words are ”a stumbling block to those who . . . might seek to turn a free people back into the hateful paths of despotism,” a barrier to any potential tyrant or tyrants who would, in the name of “civilization,” make human kind unfree and rule them without their consent.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Trump, the Democrats, and the Republicans

Trump, the Democrats and the Republicans
P. Schultz

            “The grass-roots political activity of the citizenry and its inseparable adjunct, the entry into political life of nonorganizational politicians, is a constant threat to party organizations. It sparks political ambitions outside their control. It opens new avenues to public renown. It encourages outsiders to enter primaries and gives them a chance to win. It opens to officeholders themselves the opportunity it win public support on their own and thus render themselves independent of the organization. It is therefore the perpetual endeavor of party organizations to discourage and even squash grass-roots movements.” [Walter Karp, Indispensable Enemies, 26]

            Make no mistake: The Republican and the Democratic parties have the same agenda when it comes to Donald Trump, viz., controlling him or rendering him as powerless as they can. That is, they will try to either “mainstream” him or they will sabotage his administration. And this agenda is not the product of malevolence. It is merely the result of self-interest.

            Have you not wondered by Obama and the Democrats have not said that they will take the tact taken by the Republicans vis-à-vis Obama, i.e., rigid, unbending opposition? It’s because such a strategy would inflame, aggravate those who are actively protesting Trump’s presidency, thereby strengthening those groups and their grass-roots political activity, activity that the party might not be able to control. Such grass-roots activity must be “discouraged” or “squashed” in order for the Democratic Party establishment to maintain its control of the party, control that is, as Bernie Sanders’ candidacy indicated, is tenuous at best.

            And for similar reasons the mainstream Republicans are doing their best to “play ball with Trump,” and they will do so as long as the ball game is being played on their field according to their rules. Should Trump try to change the game, as it were, then mainstream Republicans will, by means both fair and foul, place obstacles in Trump’s way. As we all know by now, congressional inactivity, legislative stalemate, is anything but uncommon. Trump will learn that the political arena is not like the business arena at all. As Harry Truman said of Eisenhower: “Ike will say ‘do this’ or ‘do that,’ expecting it to be done, but nothing will happen.” So too Trump will discover that our politicians are most interested in preserving the status quo and, therewith, their own power.

            “A party organization is not like a building which, once erected, requires no further human effort. Keeping a party organization intact requires constant and unremitting effort in the face of perpetual and unremitting peril…. From the point of view of a party organization, every elected official is a potential menace.” [Karp, 22-23]

            This is especially true with the likes of Donald Trump, i.e., an elected official whose debt to a party organization is miniscule. Trump won the election, but that is all he won so far. And given our party organizations, that does not amount to very much.  

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Electoral College v. Direct Popular Election

Electoral College v. Direct Popular Election
P. Schultz

            The 2016 election provides a good example for debating the differences between a direct popular election for president and using the Electoral College. Trump won the vote in the Electoral College but lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by, as present count, about 600,000 votes. That is a lot of votes, surpassing the 500,000 vote majority Al Gore got in 2000 when he ran against George Bush. And why shouldn’t the popular vote decide presidential elections? What could go wrong?

            The 2016 popular vote count illustrates one feature of a direct popular election that doesn’t get too much attention, viz., the fact that such a scheme rewards candidates for president for amassing votes wherever they can. So, for example, Clinton got 2.7 million more popular votes in California than did Trump, and she got 1.5 million more popular votes in New York than Trump got. Under the Electoral College scheme, the size of Clinton’s win in these states is meaningless, whereas with a direct popular election makes such majorities quite meaningful. And given that frequently our presidential elections have been decided by much fewer than 4.2 million votes, it is possible that the election in these two states, given such large majorities, would decide the election nationwide. In the 34 elections since 1824, in 17 of these elections did the winner prevail by more than 4.2 million votes.

            But the question is not only what has happened but what might happen when the electoral scheme is changed to a direct popular election. For example, where would Clinton have better spent her time and effort under a direct popular vote scheme, California or North Carolina? It would have to be the former because winning a close election in North Carolina would not be as important as amassing as many popular votes in California or New York. Votes in closely contested states cancel each other out as it were, while votes in one party states are worth more insofar as they contribute more heavily to a candidate’s popular vote total vis-à-vis that candidate’s opponent.

            Would this be a good thing or a bad thing? I don’t really know but I do know it would be different. Maybe it would be worth a try but what is certain is that mouthing phrases like “Let’s democratize our presidential elections” won’t answer these questions, which it seems it would be prudent to answer before making the change.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

McGovern, Carter, Trump and the Republic

McGovern, Carter, Trump, and the Republic
P. Schultz

            George McGovern in 1972 won the Democratic Party’s nomination for president despite the opposition of the party’s establishment types. He could do this thanks to reforms the Democrats made after the riots in Chicago during their national convention that nominated Hubert Humphrey for president even though Humphrey had avoided the Democratic primaries. Then, thanks to the same reforms and post-Watergate, Jimmy Carter won the party’ nomination for president in 1976, again against the wishes of the party’s establishment. And, of course, this year Donald Trump won the Republican Party’s nomination for president against the wishes of the party’s establishment, while Hillary Clinton won her party’s nomination largely because of that party’s “super delegates,” who were not elected and were intended to serve the wishes of the party’s establishment, as they faithfully did.

            One of the most interesting and important facets of Carter’s nomination and election in 1976 is that it was not hailed by our intelligentsia as “democratic,” “popular,” or “republican.” Newsweek wrote that “Americans [are] sunk in malaise,” while the NY Times predicted the gloomiest of times as the nation lacked a “cause…to quicken [the people’s] energies and national pride…as though the national compass had been lost.”

            As one author put it: “The democratic awakening [was] a spiritual disease.” Barbara Tuchman, eminent historian, wrote that “the idea of democracy survives in disenchantment…battered and whipped.” Daniel Bell, eminent social scientist, feared that popular participation in politics was a threat to “constitutional democracy.” Henry Kissinger was said to be depressed, while President Ford was deeply distressed because there was, he said, a “crisis of authority.” As our author put it: “When millions of Americans have a voice in the choice of a candidate, the result is elitist. When a handful of party potentates do the choosing…democracy in America thrives.”

            Trust me: The same phenomenon will follow, has followed Trump’s victory in our latest presidential election. And it will follow because “the shaken political establishment has no wish to praise the awakened democracy; it expects to bury it at the first opportunity.” According to our intelligentsia, once the political establishment is weakened, it is fair to say that the people have become a mob and must be denied. And because Trump lost the popular vote, this campaign will pretend to be democratically driven, as did the opposition to Carter and McGovern, even though its goal is to re-legitimize what is clearly a de-legitimized elite. And this is evidenced by the fact that no one who supports democratizing the electoral college has a word to say against how Hillary Clinton won the nomination. This is important because, as with the old adage, “I care not who makes the laws so long as I can interpret them,” so too it may be said that “I care not how the people elect a president so long as I can control who gets nominated to run.”

            So, if the past is any indication, prepare for a reaction against democratic or popular government or political processes, just as happened in the 70’s and led to the election of – and bipartisan embrace of – Ronald Reagan, which embrace became apparent when, unlike the response to Nixon’s lawlessness, Reagan’s lawlessness was covered up, covered over so the “Gipper” would not be impeached and removed from office and his “movie” would end happily as he faded, both mentally and physically, from the scene.  Some will find such a prospect reassuring, but the Trump phenomenon is the promise that has always been endemic to the “Reagan Reaction,” as both Trump and Reagan were committed to “making America great again.” McGovern and Carter offered us and even won some degree of popular approval for a different kind of politics, but our establishment, both Republicans and Democrats, rejected and sabotaged it, and did so with great success.

            So the question might be: Where do we go from here? The establishment will seek to undermine Trump but has nothing substantive to offer in its place except more of the same. It merely wants its power back. “Order” and “civility” will be restored while our republic will, once again, become an oligarchy where the few will prosper while the many will not. It is a story as old as the Constitution itself.