December 2019

Resource Articles:

  • Rigging the Vote: How the American Right Is On the Way to Permanent Minority Rule / Ian Samuelson in The Guardian (UK) (here)
  • What Unites Trump’s Apologists: Minority Rule / E.J. Dionne in The Washington Post (here)
  • The Republican Party Is Laying the Foundation for Minority Rule / Egberto Willies in Daily Kos (here)
  • Memos Reveal Scope of GOP Gerrymandering Ambitions / David Daley in The Intercet (here)
  • Why Republicans Play Dirty / Steven Levinsky and Daniel Ziblatt in The New York Times (here)

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When in the course of human events the truth gets distorted by gaslighting, a lot of adolescent shenanigans in the House of Representatives broadcast on national television, and various and sundry other disfiguring realities to which we are currently vulnerable, it’s good to call a time out and take stock.  That’s just what I’ve been doing over the past couple weeks with regard to the real situation in the political landscape of the country.

I’ve not seen the phrase “minority rule” mentioned in the press very much at all.  The article by D. J. Dionne cited above is perhaps the most on point with regard to what seems to me a fundamental agenda item of the GOP.  Things have been headed that way for a long while, obviously.  I’ve been observing things for a good while now and I remember watching the shift happen.  I was living in Germany when Ronald Reagan was elected.  I remember the reaction in the German press and from people I met as I went about my business — “OMG an actor, you people elected an actor.”  Had Reagan been a good one I might have been able to come back with some retort however weak, but when all you have to work with is Bedtime For Bonzo you’re screwed from the get go.  And then came the Bush sequence.  It looked to me like we were going to end up doing the goose step after the creation of Homeland Security.  Fortunately we’ve been the land of the free and the home of the brave for a very long time so it’s not easy to toss all that overboard and take your cue from Europe in the 1930’s.  It was another big nudge in that direction, however.

Observing the current goings-on makes me think less about political processes in the United States than it forces me to consider our phenomena under the light of human history writ large.  I got a head start on that back in the day when I was a university student.  Reading a lot of history and political theory turned my thoughts in such directions.  Some twenty years ago I read Arnold Toynbee’s fine book Mankind and Mother Earth where the march — although “stumble” might be a better word — of human civilizations is laid out in succinct form.  As a result of reading Toynbee’s schematic of human history I came to the conclusion that human history is unredeemable and humanity simply cycles round and round the same few dynamics of power and greed.  Humanity from such a perspective shows its primate nature more than anything else — Kant and the Founding Fathers end up lost in the shuffle, or stumble or whatever you care to call it.  When you’re in the middle of such a dynamic — say, the end of the Roman Empire or the buildup before World War I — it’s unusual for people to be aware of the larger dimensions of what’s happening.  That includes most of the people running the show — more’s the pity.

The point to which we’ve come at present is the predictable outcome of processes that have been active for the last few decades.  I saw it coming that long ago as did many others.  It’s not possible to predict in exactly what way the outcome will manifest itself, but sooner rather than later it will spring out of the guts of the political machine like the horrid creature in Alien.  What we’ve ended up with is old white men attempting to stop the march of history and turn the clock back to 1950.  Oops.  Bad idea.

It’s not surprising to me that all the current GOP aggressors are white men.  They’ve never been my favorite category of human being although I happen to be one myself.  The Trumps and Millers and Jordans and Gohmerts have been there all along.  Remember Archie Bunker in All In the Family?  Bingo.  It played throughout the 1970’s to general amusement.  In current parlance, it “resonated.”  Why was that?  Because there were a lot of Archie Bunkers floating about the place, that’s why.  There still are, and they’re mad as hell.  They’re sick to death of being told to be PC and they’re not gonna take it anymore.  Just look at the GOP antics during the impeachment hearings.  A complete shitshow with about the same level of intelligence and knowledge you’d expect from Archie Bunker.  The modus operandi appears to be: if you can’t make sense, just shout.  That same sort of thing was popular in Europe in the 1930’s, too.  Fancy that.

Well, let’s call the thing by its proper name in our day and age: minority rule.  The shouting white men and the lunatics in the White House want it their way and to hell with everybody else.  That’s what minority rule is all about.  Thanks to our “framers” (the term that has replaced “Founding Fathers” it seems) who put in place the Electoral College in order to dilute the effects of the popular vote, we ended up with a minority president.  That minority president has always played only to the minority, never to the majority who were done dirty by the Electoral College.  As the course of Trump’s presidency has gone on it appears that not only is the majority of the American electorate to be dismissed as superfluous, so is everything else that might get in the minority’s way — like the Constitution, the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary, etc. etc.  Anybody who’s studied European history of the 20th century will find it all very familiar.  Been there, done that, don’t need the T-shirt.

The article cited above written by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt is particularly important as a pointer to what’s actually going on.  They recently published a book with the telling title How Democracies Die.  It’s a topic worth taking on board these days even if you’re not up on your European history.  Here are some particularly salient points from the article:

The greatest threat to our democracy today is a Republican Party that plays dirty to win.

The party’s abandonment of fair play was showcased spectacularly in 2016, when the United States Senate refused to allow President Barack Obama to fill the Supreme Court vacancy created by Justice Antonin Scalia’s death in February. While technically constitutional, the act — in effect, stealing a court seat — hadn’t been tried since the 19th century. It would be bad enough on its own, but the Merrick Garland affair is part of a broader pattern.

Republicans across the country seem to have embraced an “any means necessary” strategy to preserve their power. After losing the governorship in North Carolina in 2016 and Wisconsin in 2018, Republicans used lame-duck legislative sessions to push through a flurry of bills stripping power from incoming Democratic governors. Last year, when the Pennsylvania Supreme Court struck down a Republican gerrymandering initiative, conservative legislators attempted to impeach the justices. And back in North Carolina, Republican legislators used a surprise vote last week, on Sept. 11, to ram through an override of Gov. Roy Cooper’s budget veto — while most Democrats had been told no vote would be held. This is classic “constitutional hardball,” behavior that, while technically legal, uses the letter of the law to subvert its spirit.

Constitutional hardball has accelerated under the Trump administration. President Trump’s declaration of a “national emergency” to divert public money toward a border wall — openly flouting Congress, which voted against building a wall — is a clear example. And the Supreme Court’s conservative majority, manufactured by an earlier act of hardball, may uphold the constitutionality of the president’s autocratic behavior.

Constitutional hardball can damage and even destroy a democracy. Democratic institutions function only when power is exercised with restraint. When parties abandon the spirit of the law and seek to win by any means necessary, politics often descends into institutional warfare. Governments in Hungary and Turkey have used court packing and other “legal” maneuvers to lock in power and ensure that subsequent abuse is ruled “constitutional.” And when one party engages in constitutional hardball, its rivals often feel compelled to respond in a tit-for-tat fashion, triggering an escalating conflict that is difficult to undo. As the collapse of democracy in Germany and Spain in the 1930s and Chile in the 1970s makes clear, these escalating conflicts can end in tragedy.

It makes me thing of Michelle Obama’s dictum, “When they go low, we go high.”  That’s the Neville Chamerlain approach and we all know what happens by taking the high road and assuming the moral high ground will save the day.  You get done dirty.  Havoc and great damage ensue.  Sound familiar?

The course of human events is often predictable in its trajectory even if its circumstances remain unknown quantities.  The GOP in its current incarnation makes it rather easy to project it into the future because it has made the fatal strategic error of abandoning reality.  The GOP is a minority party.  The “blue wave” of 2018 was not a fluke.  Did they GOP pay any attention to it?  Not at all.  They simply pretended it didn’t happen.  The GOP has lost the ability to deal with reality.  They think they can magically fashion their own and make the rest of the country who happens not to agree with it disappear politically.  Does that sound quite sane?

The main flaw in that strategy is that the old white men cooking up all this nonsense will eventually die, and in a future not too distant.  This year of our Lord 2019 is the first year in which the Millennials overtake the Boomers as a percentage of population.  The GOP base is shrinking and will continue to shrink by reason of attrition if not because of a failure of political viability.  So what we see playing out before us is a GOP suicide, pure Thanatos in action.  The old white GOP clings to a disjunction with reality that can only lead it to what it most fears: extinction. It can do nothing to stop changes in the demographics of the nation.  So it’s just a matter of time.  Sooner rather than later the political asteroid will hit that takes out the dinosaur-laden GOP like the Chicxulub impactor that took out the dinosaurs with four legs rather than two.

I don’t think of the current GOP inhabitants of the executive or legislative branches as the root of the evil, they are its flower.  They are in full bloom at present but flowers don’t last forever — we all know that.  Moreover, the GOP’s political inflorescence will be sterile and form no seeds for its future.  The demographic reality of the country with regard to age and race will continue to change.  There’s nothing the GOP can do to stop that, no matter how many crimes against humanity Steven Miller dreams up to implement as immigration policies.

For those of us who are students of history there comes to mind the phrase “round and round we go” — and where it stops, everybody knows.  It stops with extinction.  The road to that point is fraught with madness and chaos, so not only is the destination crap, the journey toward it is also crap.  We see the madness and chaos climbing its way to fever pitch now, at this late stage of the process.  How long it continues before the asteroid hits is anybody’s guess.

But the outcome is clear if one holds to reality rather than sliding off into some lunacy fuelled by the existential panic of old white folks.  Things will change and the societal clock will not be set back so that the United States resembles The Donna Reed Show.  Things were never that way, in truth.  There were black and brown people on the ground even when Leave It To Beaver was on the air.  And let us never forget: all us whities in the USA came from somewhere else — there’s a truth the GOP conveniently forgets in its determination to prevent anybody else from coming in.

A final thought from the article by Levinsky and Ziblatt:

The only way out of this situation is for the Republican Party to become more diverse. A stunning 90 percent of House Republicans are white men, even though white men are a third of the electorate. Only when Republicans can compete seriously for younger, urban and nonwhite voters will their fear of losing — and of a multiracial America — subside.

Such a transformation is less far-fetched than it may appear right now; indeed, the Republican National Committee recommended it in 2013. But parties only change when their strategies bring costly defeat. So Republicans must fail — badly — at the polls.

American democracy faces a Catch-22: Republicans won’t abandon their white identity bunker strategy until they lose, but at the same time that strategy has made them so averse to losing they are willing to bend the rules to avoid this fate. There is no easy exit. Republican leaders must either stand up to their base and broaden their appeal or they must suffer an electoral thrashing so severe that they are compelled to do so.

Jennifer Rubin, bless her never-Trump heart, put a sharp point on the matter in a panel discussion on Joy-Ann Reid’s AM Joy (link to the video here) where she opines that scorched earth is the only way to deal with the problem.  She may have a point.  But all we have to do is wait and the processes of history will accomplish that outcome.  It’s just a matter of time.  During the impeachment hearings commentator Eddie Glaude said that what we were hearing in the folderol from the Republicans is the death rattle of the GOP (video here).  Given the demographic changes set to occur in the next 10 years coupled with the number of old white folks likely to die off in that period, I think he’s probably right.

For my part I say: the sooner the better.  I was over the whole stupid business 20 years ago and my patience has been worn to a nib in the intervening years.  All it does is confirm my awareness that history — and the humanity that makes it — is unredeemable.  We’re so bloody stupid that we’re in process of committing species suicide through climate change.   The only lamentable aspect of that collective dance with Thanatos is that we’ll take the entire biosphere down with us.

Now in the last phase of my own life I look at things on the ground with eyebrows raised by a combination of irony and disdain.  Bloody well figures, doesn’t it.  Of course one might have hoped that life in one’s “golden years” would have a bit more 24 carat to it.  As things stand, we’re barely to the level of gold plating and it rubs off at a touch to show the dross underneath.  What a pity.  The world is such a marvelous, beautiful place and human life could have been a kind of paradise if only we’d had the intelligence and decency to bring it about.  But no, we choose death and destruction every time.  That’s what happens when you gin up apes to start acting like gods.  Just look at the course of human history if you think I’m making up stories.

Consequently, to focus one’s attention on humanity and the history it stumbles into is to sully one’s consciousness and to waste one’s time.  So be it.  I will look to the hills from whence cometh my strength.  The Planet never lets you down — I’ve known that for donkey’s years.  That’s the story I’ll stick to.

mountain solitude