Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Divided, But Not Conquered

In his Farewell Address, George Washington, our first President and Father of our country gave explicit warning against the creation of political parties.  In his view, the negative effect of party politics on the justice of our laws would:
Serve to organize faction, to give it an artificial and extraordinary force; to put, in the place of the delegated will of the nation the will of a party, often a small but artful and enterprising minority of the community; and, according to the alternate triumphs of different parties, to make the public administration the mirror of the ill-concerted and incongruous projects of faction, rather than the organ of consistent and wholesome plans digested by common counsels and modified by mutual interests.
We all have a tendency to focus on the Office of the Presidency, because of its glamour and position as military authority, but both realistically and legally, the Presidency is an inherently limited office.  No President has been legally able stay in the Oval Office for longer than eight years since the 1940’s.  Not so with Congress, where House Representatives and Senators can return and return with no limits on the number of terms.  Executives come and go, but Congressional members often have more lasting impact due to their longer and more-readily repeated terms.  If we can be sure of anything in our current climate of party division, it’s that as a nation, we’ve long since forgotten Washington’s most prescient advice when it comes to Congress.  
The effects are out for all of us to see:  Congress has been notably inactive in its duty of governing the nation and is currently gridlocked at unprecedented levels.  The Constitutional heart of our Government, the Legislature, has been shut down over what amounts to political temper tantrums by the major parties and further shut-downs are now threatened as a regular negotiation tactic.  Elected Representatives spend more time focusing on re-election than they do on the business they were initially elected to pursue.   The election process itself has become more of a football game than a referendum on the state of the nation and has resulted in concerted efforts to rig election districts to suit party one-upmanship  rather than tailoring party actions to the empirical needs of local jurisdictions.
This football team mentality, fostered by our media-fueled political process, has the American citizenry at odds with itself at levels we haven’t seen since the 1850’s and the on-set of the Civil War.  One thing I've noticed in all this, though, is that the extreme Right and Left do in fact agree on certain problems in the country, if not on the solution.  One of those places of agreement is that our government has become so plagued by partisan jockeying that it’s stopped serving the interests of the average person.
Let’s ponder for a moment:  If a person is out to conquer a nation, the easiest way to do so is to divide it.  The question therefore becomes, who is directly benefiting from this division in our own nation?  Washington himself said :
However combinations or associations of the above description may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely, in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.
So we have to look at those who meet those criteria.  Within Congress and in the local governments on the State level, we can certainly find many viable candidates who, like the Machiavellian protagonist of House of Cards, have played the partisan game so effectively as to have remained in powerful office – both elected and appointed -- for decades with little fear of dislocation. But even they are beholden to other un-elected interests.  
So, how do we find the men behind the proverbial curtain?  How do we recognize those cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men who have usurped for themselves the reins of government?  Following the money is a very good place to start for nowhere in our society is there more absolute power than at the top of the economic food chain, where resources are divided on the scale of nations, and where those who control those resources are almost completely unaccountable to the citizenry.  Boards of Directors aren’t elected by the citizenry, but the policies they set in their companies often affect our daily lives more directly than any legislation.  No parliamentary line in your average 2000-page bill has a greater impact than the wages set by one’s employer or the environment of the workplace.  
Following the Citizens United and McCutcheon Cases, the door to the out-and-out bribing of public officials and the purchasing of legislation has been blown wide open.  While this has been sold to the public as a triumph of Libertarianism over Tyranny, the reality of the situation is that the very organ of consistent and wholesome plans digested by common counsels and modified by mutual interests has been directly infected with a cancer through which a small, unelected and powerful economic minority has usurped the power to directly control all of our lives.  In the situation we’re currently facing, where you have private corporate interests literally writing legislation passed by representatives paid up front for their service, you have to ask: who’s really regulating whom?
Consider this:  No public servant is going to listen to the needs of voters when their coffers are being filled to the tune of millions by nigh-aristocratic interests and when the system of re-election is rigged to make irrelevant the actual will of the voting public.  
As long as we allow ourselves to be goaded into attacking one another over petty and hyped-up differences that boil down to attempts to publicly legislate private taste, we will remain divided – and easily conquered by an enemy we have as yet chosen not to see.