The following is an Essay by Member William:
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world”
—William Butler Yeats, “The Second Coming”
I could write a book on this issue, and its many implications. But this will just be an essay. Bear with me a bit, as I do some generalizing and extrapolating. I hope that everyone will agree with most of it.
For any egalitarian social system, or democratic political system, to flourish, there must be an accepted method of fair dealing, a kind of “golden rule” as to how people and institutions act toward one another. It was in the Talmud. Jesus was credited with expressing the same principle at a later time. Kant made it his “Categorical Imperative.” You can call it, “doing unto others as you would have them do unto you,” or you could simply call it behaving in a decent and fair-minded manner.
Many of us grew up learning those principles from our parents, and maybe our teachers. As we become older, we are invariably disappointed at how so many people fail to live up to them, and even take advantage of those of us who rely on someone’s word, or promise, or fair play. Some people become so cynical that they don’t trust anyone. Some even go to the other side, and try to lie to or manipulate people in the same way it was done to them. As this kind of amoral and even sociopathic behavior increases in a society, it becomes more difficult to sustain it. Ultimately, you risk the society devolving,and going back to the “war of all against all,” as Thomas Hobbes described his view of early human interaction in his 17th century book, “Leviathan.
Now combine that concept with the horrifying future imagined by H. G. Wells in his novel, “The Time Machine.” Wells described a time in which humankind has split into two races, one deciding to live underground, because after many wars, the planet was unsustainable. Ultimately there develops the Eloi, a race of cheerful and passive people who live outside, and have their food and comforts supplied by the underground race, the Morlocks. The Morlocks are skilled with machines, and toil away underground. They have become cannibals who raise the Eloi for their food. I saw the movie before I read the book, and I have never forgotten it, literally and figuratively.
In the ’60’s, I thought that the flower children were akin to the Eloi; and Nixon, Agnew, and their bully boys were the Morlocks. In the Nixon-McGovern election of 1972, the innocent idealists were at least figuratively devoured by the lies, dirty tricks, and appeals to racism and fascism of the Republican “law and order Southern strategy.” And Watergate, and all that went with it, were the natural outgrowth of all of that.
Now, I am not naive enough to believe that American politics was ever honorable. There was always chicanery, smears, and deceit. But I do believe that there was a time where there were some decent people to whom winning was not everything. People who believed in some principles of fairness or comity. Handshake deals which actually stood. Some kind of code of conduct. If you do not have anything like this, you ultimately end up where we are right now. The Republican Party lost its soul back there in the Nixon era, and it has only gotten worse since then.
That party is a very strange mixture of corporate oligopolists and their political arm, the radical religious RIght. It is an uneasy alliance. The activist Right has been used by the corporatists to win elections. The activists usually don’t get the kind of radical social and political change they want, but they love the battles, and they hate the other side. Now that group has gotten so strong that they are virtually out of the control of the corporate bosses. Even that group has become more radical, more fascistic, as exemplified by the evil Koch Brothers, who apparently would be happy to see the entire planet burn up, if it meant a few more billion dollars for them.
The essence of the Republican Party has become, “Win at all costs.” There is not even a pretense of playing fair, or compromise, or reasonable discussion. The goal is to use the corporate money and the corporate media to disseminate a string of lies which can convince the voters to elect them. From Lee Atwater to Karl Rove and Roger Ailes, they pursue a scorched earth policy of character assassination, and fearmongering.
We all know this, of course. What we are seeing this week is perhaps the furthest extension of it, as it gets worse each year. This time, the Republicans want to argue that President Obama should not be allowed an appointee to the Supreme Court, because it is his last full year in office, and because, “the people should decide.” Now, according to constitutional expert Lawrence Tribe, six times since 1912, has there been a President who appointed a Supreme Court Justice to fill a vacancy which arose in his last year in office; and all six times the President got to have his appointee confirmed. In 1988, President Reagan faced a vacancy on the Court, and said that the country needed a full court; that it was his responsiblity to appoint a Justice; and that the Senate must immediately fulfill its duty and confirm his choice. He ended up picking Anthony Kennedy, who of course is still on the Court, as a member of the Conservative majority of the last 40 years.
The Republicans believe that the are entitled by divine right to control the Supreme Court. They will do anything to maintain this power. They now make idiotic and untruthful statements about Presidents not having the right to appoint Justices in their final year. They say that this should a matter to be voted on in an election. Of course, the Supreme Court is not supposed to be elected. It is supposed to be a branch of government not subject to a plebiscite. Yes, the Executive appoints Justices, and the Senate advises and consents. That was the way that the Founders wanted to make the Court sort of a balance between the other two branches. Most importantly, they are life terms. The Founders did not want the choices to be political, but born of an effort to find the best legal minds to protect the constitutional values.
Of course Justices were almost always appointed with some political intent. But the Presidents before the 1970’s did not make a scientific study of vetting, the way that the Republicans learned to do. FDR chose his friend, the highly respected Felix Frankfurter, who somehow ultimately became one of the most conservative Justices on the bench. Eisenhower picked Earl Warren and William Brennan, who became two of the most liberal Justices. Kennedy picked Byron White, who became very conservative. Even Nixon picked Harry Blackmun, another ultimate liberal icon. That was the way the Court was supposed to work. Now, it has become absolutely, fixedly partisan. This by itself is terribly detrimental to the democracy, because it turns the Court into the rubberstamp of the executive branch. The infamous “Bush v. Gore” decision was naked partisanship shorn of even a pretense of judicial rationale But it got the Republicans what they wanted when they picked those Justices to begin with.
This time, it is as simple as that the Republicans do not want the court to swing to the moderate side. So they won’t confirm an Obama nomination, and that’s that. That is how the Republicans behave now. They are akin to the Daleks of “Doctor Who,” whose only motive is to “Destroy!” “Exterminate!” The terrible problem is that by doing this, they also bid to destroy the republic. They force the Democrats to either do things the same way, or to be eaten up by the radical Right forces. They cannot be negotiated with; they have no regard for history, or governance. They just want what they want, and like the Nazis or the Stalinists, they are determined to get it.
There have now developed some people on the American Left, who have become the flip side of the Right’s win at any cost approach. They are the people who perverted the caucus system to get Obama nominated last time. They literally locked people out of rooms, so they could not vote. They tore up their voting sheets. They threw some of them away so they would not be turned in and counted. These things were documented a thousand times over. They accused Hillary Clinton and her husband, the former President, of being racists. They thought that this all was okay, because they had a greater good in mind, the election of Barack Obama. Just like the Right thinks that God has given them the right to do anything they want to do, in order to build the theocratic oligarchy they believe in.
This year, while the Tea Party radicals are trying to elect one of their own as President, the Left is trying to get Bernie Sanders elected, because they believe in him as fervently, if not as religiously, as the RIght believes in Ted Cruz. So they think it is just fine to pretend to be members of the Nevada Culinary Union, in order to get into the meetings, and proselytize for Sanders. They think that calling people up in the late night, and pretending to be for Hillary, is a clever game which will cause these voters to not vote for her. They try to get Republicans to vote for Sanders in any primary which has foolishly been left “open.” They engage in the same kind of dirty tricks which the Republicans perfected.
I would contend that there is a kind of “internet amorality” which has sprung up in the last twenty years. People who have become comfortable with making up multiple identities; pretending that they are someone else; lying or “trolling” for gain; hacking or trying to delete their enemies, find it an easy step to rationalize any degree of perfidiousness or cheating conduct, in the service of their ends. It has somehow become some sort of fun contest, divorced from any notions of honor, decency, or ethics. Winning is the only goal, just like in a video game.
And as this continues apace, we wonder if we even have a democracy left to preserve. Can this country function? If Hillary Clinton is elected President, will the Republicans let her govern, or simply try to obstruct her at every step along the way? Will the Conservative owned media ever call them on it, or will it urge them on? Will the Left Wing of the Democratic Party try for their perverse version of “winning,” by trying to defeat Hillary in the general election, out of spite or hatred, or simply not wanting to be on what they see as the losing end of their game?
Tip over the board, ruin it for everyone, just to have their way. That is what spoiled children do, that is what adult sociopaths do. How many people do we have left in this country to try to do the right things; to act fairly, as they would have others treat them; to have their word be their bond; to think of the greater good, and not just their own self satisfaction? And are such people so outnumbered by the instransigent “true believers,” who think that any nefarious means justifies their ends, that we cannot ever get back some kind of confidence in our democratic system; and the ability to rely on the better judgment and decency of both our voters, and our political leaders?
“And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?”
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