Years ago, I had a conversation with my dad about how neither the Republicans nor the Democrats were any good for the nation; that both were for ever-larger government, just for slightly different agendas and beneficiaries. Given that the conversation took place in an election year, and that I was actively seeking alternatives, he was quick to remind me that “only two parties have a chance of winning.”
That wasn’t the first time I’d heard that, and in fact was tired of hearing it. So I pointed out that in Germany by late 1932, only two parties had a “chance of winning” (to lead a coalition): the Nazis and the Socialists/Communists. I asked dad which I should vote for under those circumstances. He wasn’t particularly thrilled with my response.
My thoughts returned to that conversation last night as I watched the news about Trump cancelling his rally in Chicago (where else?) due to threats of violence. Whatever you think of the man politically or personally (and I admittedly don’t think much), yesterday’s events are a poor portent for where our society is headed. The current generation has been indoctrinated by their college experience to shout down and deny a platform to anyone they believe to be “hurtful” (my poor feewings!). Naturally, that usually means traditional, truly conservative, patriotic and/or Christian speakers — after all, when’s the last time you heard of Noam Chomsky or George Soros encountering unruly protestors disrupting their speeches? Now this juvenile leftist campus atmosphere is bleeding into our national political processes, aided in no small part by the current administration, which was elected eight years ago while urging supporters to “get in their faces” and “punch back twice as hard.” After largely ignoring the thuggish rhetoric of Team Obama and the growing intolerance on college campuses, the press has suffered an attack of the vapors at discovering the targets of that approach (a large percentage of whom are now Trump supporters) are rhetorically responding in kind. In fact, a case could be made (and has been) that Trump is to some extent the GOP’s Obama (must-click link here!) — more an organizer than a thoughtful leader. That said, I also don’t believe Ted Cruz covered himself in any glory by using the thuggery of leftist activists primarily to attack Trump. Trump didn’t ‘create‘ this environment, Ted — he exacerbated one that already existed and was largely created by Gramscian leftists. You missed an opportunity there, much to my disappointment.
With both sides fanning the flames of passion rather than appealing to reason, is it any wonder the physical tensions are rising? We would do well to remember that the politics of Weimar Germany, to which I alluded earlier, were filled with literal street fighting between supporters of the opposing camps (this is where the oft cited, but rarely understood in context term “brown shirt” comes from). There are days when I wonder if we are very far from such circumstances in today’s America. In the same way Northerners and Southerners held each other in increasing contempt and dehumanization during the first half of the 1800s, we’ve had about half a century of the same process between alleged “liberals” and “conservatives” today. This is complicated further by the fact that ever-larger numbers of people grab onto those brand labels while following a crowd, with no real understanding of what they mean (truly studying history and political theory is, after all, work).
There is more to this, though, than the simple fact many people are hurting as a result of our government’s failings over the last couple generations. Every election cycle partisans all across the political spectrum are told “this is the mostest importantest election EVER!” Fears of a reshaped Supreme Court, or radical legislation in Congress, or the “wrong” person holding the inordinate and unconstitutional power of Executive Orders are trotted out to get everyone to hold their nose and vote for “the lesser of two evils.”
And all along, that means they’ve been voting for evil: for ever-larger government that does everything EXCEPT what it’s supposed to do (i.e. protect the people and punish wrongdoing regardless of the criminal’s social status). And the more government power has grown, the more dependent its various constituencies have become, so that the chance of the opposition gaining control is seen as an existential threat by both camps. It is virtually impossible today to roll back any of the Federal government’s power, influence and control because of these well-entrenched constituencies. THIS IS NOT WHAT THE FOUNDERS INTENDED!
I can confidently make some predictions: regardless who wins the White House in November, the federal debt will continue to increase, we will continue to engage in pointless overseas combat with no well-thought strategic framework guiding the mess, immigration will continue to flood our nation with people who have even less knowledge of how things are supposed to work here than do the Americans for whom this system is supposed to be a treasured birthright, citizens (and illegal invaders) will continue to demand more bread and circus services from Uncle Sam, and the government will continue to increase its police powers, destroy the middle class, and dumb down education so that the citizenry can neither fully understand nor effectively fight what is being done to it. These are not sustainable practices. So while we may not be living in the Lord’s “last days” yet, I believe we’re living in the last days of America as we’ve known it. As Glenn Reynolds recently put it:
When you have a society that can’t do things that need to be done because every change threatens somebody’s rice bowl or offers insufficient opportunities for graft, you’ve got a society that is due for a reset, not for incremental change.
The thing is, resets are often kind of ugly.
Indeed. And as I’ve often told students, history shows that revolutions are far more likely to result in worse circumstances for the people than they are to improve them (French Reign of Terror and Emperor Napoleon, anyone?). For that reason alone, we should treasure the unusual results of 1776, however imperfectly they may have realized the ideals of the Declaration at first.
Instead, we sold our birthright for a mess of political pottage and patronage, and it’s far from certain we can win it back. Now it seems we’re truly hoist between Scylla and Charibdis. Maybe after another trial by fire we can remember that it’s better to solve differences with discussion and ballots, rather than disruption and bullets. If we ever do successfully reset, I hope we’ll also remember that the best way of preventing desperate struggles to gain the “prize” of political power is to make that power not so all-encompassing to start with.