Monday, October 17, 2016

Red vs. Blue

As we all stand transfixed, our mouths agape in horror, our jaws frozen open in astonishment at the slow motion car accident happening before our eyes, perhaps, we should look back at history, put things into perspective, and take comfort from the experiences of our ancestors.  The wisdom of the ages often can be a guide.  Or…, upon reflection, perhaps not.   Sadly, in many ways, the more things change, the more things remain the same.

There is a very prevalent myth that has deeply embedded itself into modern society today.  Like the most pernicious of weeds that choke your garden and kill your tomatoes, its roots are deep and its life squelching poisonous leaves spread over everything.  This fantastical belief is almost universally accepted, and, like most other self-serving mythologies, it is almost completely false.  It is, of course, the ever popular unquestioned faith in the upward progress of history.  We need to break free of this myth.

We all know how the myth goes.  In fact, we know it so well, we could state it like a creed.  It does not quite begin with “Once upon a time” but, it might as well.  It is just as fictitious as Red Riding Hood or Rumpelstiltskin.   At its core, this sacred belief holds, as an unquestioned truth, the idea that modern people are far more sophisticated than those of the past, both recent and ancient.  At first glance, it seems credible.  Now that we have iPhones, Wi-Fi, cable TV and Wikipedia, it seems reasonable to think we have “evolved” into rational beings that will inevitably make rational decisions.  We, unlike our benighted ancestors, are not as subjectable to the follies and whims of popular passions as they once were.    It is bunk, of course.

Although I do not buy this sacred fable, I understand why we maintain it, and find it is a useful fiction to continue.  Something does not have to be necessarily “accurate” in order to be “true”, or even better, useful.  And, of course, many things that are untrue, have very practical purposes (people are basically good, good luck is made by effort, virtue wins in the end, etc…).  Civilization requires these “myths” be largely accepted in order for the gears of society to continue moving.  However, sometimes, a non-jaundiced eye needs to be glanced at reality in order to determine some kind of truth.  This election is one of those times. 

Looking back at history, in AD 532, in Constantinople, the largest and most sophisticated city in the world at that time, an orgy of bloodletting broke out and left hundreds dead and the city in flames.  Two competing factions, the Blues and the Greens, rioted for weeks and nearly brought down the Emperorship of Justinian and threw the Eastern (Byzantine) Roman Empire into near civil war and the brink of collapse.   

History records this event as a political battle, although, as a dictatorship, there were not really “politics” in the true sense of the word as we understand it.  That did not mean “politics” did not exist, of course.  Politics always exist, even in dictatorships.  Perhaps, even more so in such systems.  More centralized power yields more politics, as politics has greater and greater consequences.   This conflict, bloody and hate filled as it was, was, amazingly, centered around the team rivalries of Chariot racers (Blues and Greens). 

Now, as odd as this weird blast from the past seems to us now, I find this obscure historical event to be somewhat instructive to what we are seeing happening currently.  People of the 21st century are not really that different than people of the 6th century.  Tribalism has society by the throat as much in Cleveland Ohio in 2016, as it did in Constantinople in 532. 

Of all of the increasingly depressing and cynicism-inducing turn of events of this political season, and there have been so many, the 180 degree turns made by Republicans and Democrats on a host of issues has been startling, as well as disheartening.  If there is one thing our country appears to have in tremendous quantity now, it is hypocrisy.  We have tons of it!   Examples are many, here are but a few:

  •      Democrats who claimed Bill Clinton’s private sexual misdemeanors were not to be used as a political tool against him, have now become enraged by Trump’s similar (although not as severe) behaviors.

  •     Republicans who were embarrassed and outraged by President Clinton’s sexual-predator-like behavior in office, now sound like DNC apparatchiks, circa 1998, when defending Trump.

  •    Julian Assange, hero to the left, and the worst traitor on earth to the right, now is vilified by his former defenders (Democrats) and celebrated by his former attackers (Republicans).

  •     Republicans were hawks, but now are doves, and Democrats vice-versa.  Who knows who believes what now?

I could go on and on.  Sadly, I can no longer determine where ideology ends and sheer tribalism begins anymore.  The veil, if there ever was one, has been shredded beyond repair. 

There was a time when it was the Democratic Party who were the party of the “big man” theory of governing.  It was they who thought, wrongfully in my opinion, that all our country needed was the “right” person in office to wield the levers of power to “make America great” again.   Big programs needed to be pushed through to do big things and, if people don’t like it, well…, they will, eventually.   Or so the theory went.

It also used to be the Republican party who advocated limiting the size and scope of government.  That GOP, now seemingly faded into history, would have strongly resisted the sort of enormous, big government power seizures now being suggested by Candidate Trump.  Now, all of a sudden, it is Democrats who talk about overreaching Federal power.  Now it is Republicans who are pushing through an agenda that is, frankly, Orwellian at times.   It is enough to make one’s head spin.

I am (or was) a Republican based on a few basic core ideas, one of which is limiting Federal power and returning it to the states where it belongs.  The power of the executive branch also is unbalanced, and congress should reassert its rightful role as written in the constitution.  That was Madison’s intention.  Congress, being voted for every 2 years, is going to be more responsive to the popular will.   The Senate will cool things down, and, gridlock (God bless it) will keep truly bad ideas from taking hold.  We truly were blessed by the genius of James Madison – take that Hamilton!

Regulations need to be reviewed and overhauled to be made simpler and less burdensome and perhaps been reviewed by congress, and free trade should be our basic default position.  Taxes should be low and broad, designed to fund the operations of government and not engage in some sort of “nudge” philosophy that always leads to mischief and unintentional consequences.   Save us from Podesta and his infernal nudging. 

Traditionally, those were core beliefs of the GOP, hence, the reason they always got my vote. 

I see NO party promoting these ideas anymore.  Not even close approximations of those ideas.  If, going forward, it is just going to be a competition between alternating Rightist Big Governments and Leftist Big Governments, well…, that is sort like having to choose between Shepherd’s Pie and Haggis — forever.  Surely there must be another menu option at this restaurant. 

It is a strange year when I can honestly see the logic behind voting for any number of candidates.    Well…, almost.  Jill Stein at least is so wacky and insane as to not be worthy of serious consideration.   Clarity of any sort is to be savored — thanks Jill!

1.       Trump – Pro – theoretically conservative, Supreme Court nominees, yada yada yada. 
2.       Trump – Con – who knows what he ACTUALLY believes, seems unhinged at times, erratic, embarrassing reality show will go on and on for years.
3.       Hillary – Pro – she may be a crook, but she is NOT unhinged.  In fact, many of these Wikileaks discoveries have actually made me worry about her less.  It appears she doesn’t believe any of that Bernie nonsense either, and, although crooked, she seems rational and relatively centered. 
4.       Hillary – Con – long-term leftist, Supreme court nominees, definitely believes in moving the government in the opposite direction in every area I think it needs to go. 
5.       Johnson – Pro – generally holds the view of the role of government I do.
6.       Johnson – Con – 0% chance of winning.  Essentially a vote for Hillary. 

It is a conundrum, but, you gotta vote, right?  So, what do you do?

One thing I hope people do is to question their own beliefs and views closely before they make their choice.  I plan to do so myself.  Everyone should ask whether they hold a particular view on a policy or subject just because their “team” (Red or Blue) pushes it, or is it something they believe independently?  Everyone should pause and ask what happens when the other side takes power (and it always happens, eventually).  Are they comfortable with the other side wielding the powers they just gave their candidate?  People rarely think about that.   We should not blindly support the Reds or the Blues just because they are our “tribe”.  This sort of thinking leads to catastrophe. 

Tribalism, in all of its pernicious forms, must be resisted at all costs.  Our first President, and our best, warned us about this danger very well!

“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.”  -  George Washington.


Monday, October 10, 2016

Let us welcome our Barbarian overlords!

At times like this, I often wonder exactly when it was that citizens living at the end of the Roman Empire realized it was truly over.   There must have been some pretty obvious signs of the rot and decay before the final collapse, but then, as now, I am sure such signs were ignored until it was too late.  Humans have not changed that much over the centuries, really, and I am sure it was possible to look past such signs of impending disaster for decades until eventually, such signs were impossible to ignore.  The natural ability of man to ignore obvious ugly truths staring them in the face is one of our species most amazing skills.  Things are no different now as they were in 476.

After all, Rome wasn’t burned in a day.  But still, there must have been some point when, even the most optimistic and rosey scenario minded individuals got a sense that things had reached a tipping point, beyond which, there was no turning back.  Are we at such a time now?  I often wonder…, but, if Rome hasn’t fallen quite yet, it is hard to ignore the smell of the charcoal starting to smolder. 

This did not happen overnight.  Our decline has been bubbling for quite some time now, like a kettle left on the stove and forgotten about until it bursts into flames and sets the house on fire.  Perhaps we are finally reaching our Visigoth moment.   Unlike our Roman counterparts from 1,700 years ago, however, we managed to burn our own Nation down in advance.

 Maybe this is not a bad thing.  A silly people need correcting sometimes, and has there ever been a sillier display than this last year?   We deserve what is happening to us.  We asked for it.  We got down on our knees and begged for this, and now, the bill has come due. 

I had always hoped that, if or when our nation eventually goes into irreversible decline, it would at least be dignified.  Now it appears, even that final flickering hope has been snuffed.   The jury is in.  The funeral pyre of our republic will have as its last fuel, the spectacle of the 2016 race.  We are going to go out with a whimper and not a bang.   A fitting tribute to the final Jerry Springerification of our culture.

Think about what we are discussing now.  Wrap your head around what the actual “debate” raging in the country is.  With the world flying apart, and the 70-year-old vision of a united Europe dissolving, and Russia returning to its expansionist authoritarianism roots, and the economy bifurcating more and more into a bi-polar reality between haves and have-nots, all the while Isis imposes a nightmarish vision on the Middle East that would have caused Torquemada to blush, we have devolved into this latest mud filled political debate between Clinton and Trump.  Wow! 

Rather than fight this slide into the oblivion, maybe we should embrace it.  After all, we brought this horror, as almost all horrors are, upon ourselves.  We should enjoy the fruits of our labors.

Being a small “c” conservative has its consolations, as well as its odd ticks.  One of those consolations is a predilection for a deep ceded, bone-chilling, morose pessimism about the world.  There are those who see the glass as half full, there are those who see the glass as half empty and there are those, of whom I am a member, that wait for the empty glass to fall off the shelf, shatter into a million pieces and sever an artery in your foot, thus requiring a visit to the hospital.  I plead guilty as charged. 

Civilizational pessimism is fun sometimes.  It is always enjoyable to wallow in the pre-glow of the apocalyptic fires of society’s destruction.  One of the reasons it is such a joy to be a pessimist about such things is, history normally proves you right.  It really requires an almost complete anesthetizing of your cerebral cortex to remain optimistic about human endeavors over the long run (or even short), and if you have any lingering doubt about this dark theory, just review the last 12 months. 

So I say let us stop worrying and lift a glass of ale to our future Visigothic overlords.  Come Conan and all of your buddies, the Empire is ripe for the taking.   We made it so easy for you.