The War on Transitive Verbs
I wish...

(One of) The Deepest Root(s) of Our Political Disaster

I didn't at first include the stuff in parentheses. I added it because of course there is no single explanation for what's gone wrong, and it is going very, very wrong. But this is one important factor.

I'm sure I've remarked on it before, though it would be difficult for me to search out any single post in which I said it: that there is serious reason now to doubt whether a majority of Americans actually want the form of government laid out in our constitution. So I was glad--no, not glad exactly, but interested, and somewhat pleased to see that Trump's recent executive orders caused some to ask the disturbing question:

Do Americans Even Care If There's A Constitution?

The first paragraph in that piece contains a link to a more extensive discussion of Trump's orders in particular, and the fact that they are essentially the same sort of thing that Obama did. And that Trump's orders are fine with Trump supporters, and Obama's orders are fine with Obama supporters. It becomes more clear all the time that a great many people, both partisans who just want their side to win by any means necessary, and simpler folk who think the president should rule as a sort of philosopher-king, have no real interest in the whole idea of rule by impersonal law, of a government of laws and not of men, of checks and balances intended to distribute and restrain power.

Benjamin Franklin's famous remark that the Constitutional Convention gave Americans "a republic, if they can keep it" is frequently cited by partisans as a warning against whatever evil they think their enemies are up to. But at this point it's applicable to the people at large. It's questionable whether they even want a republic.

Comments

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In my experience this is a bigger problem on the "left" than on the "right." I'm amazed by how many younger liberals and progressives either think we have a direct democracy, or who can't tell the difference between a democracy and a republic. The right, for all its faults, still has somewhat of a grip on the idea that a "tyranny of the majority" is a possibility. Thus, say that in November Biden loses the popular vote but wins the EC (highly unlikely, I know, but go with me here). I highly doubt that you'd have many on the right calling for the dissolution of the EC.

Having said that, I think your overall point is correct. I wonder, however, if much of the dissatisfaction is rooted not so much in the idea of a republic per se, but in the linking of it in many minds to the two-party system. Many on both the left and right would love to see the possibility of viable third parties, but there seems to be a misunderstanding among many people on both sides that the two-party system is in some way or other connected to the Constitution, which is again just another manifestation of the same civic ignorance that can't tell the difference between a democracy and a republic.

Sorry, just sort of rambling here, but I guess I'm wondering if perhaps it is this civic ignorance that makes them not care if we have a Constitution?

Oh yeah, definitely. Ignorance naturally breeds indifference. Though I think that only a fairly small number of people even get as far as you describe in thinking about things like the two-party angle.

The ignorance that worries me the most is much deeper. How many people's understanding even gets as far as understanding that it's not a direct democracy? I know more than one person who should know better who thinks that the case against the electoral college is purely and simply that it is in the way of direct democracy. And, lately, how many people think that "democracy" means straight equality of condition? I guess that's been a socialist-communist use of the word all along.

I definitely agree that all this is a bigger problem on the left than the right. I was just trying to be non-partisan. :-) I also think that it's a bigger problem among the young--who also tend to be on the left, so it's hard to separate the two. I have the impression that for an awful lot of people under 40 or so these questions aren't even present. And that includes officially "educated" people.

I would certainly like the two-party system to somehow die. tRump is doing his best to destroy the Republican party, so that's a good start.

To be perfectly honest, I really don't care, and I am way over 40. The country does somehow need to come together, and somehow needs to be a "more perfect union", but I'm much more interested in my own salvation, and the lives of me and mine than I am the USA and patriotism and all of that nonsense. Whatever can happen that is best for the people, I am for.

Our founding fathers were quite enlightened, but that was the 18th century. If we need a new way of existing for the 21st century, so be it.

How can we get Art Deco's opinion on this subject? I'm sure it would be lengthy and instructive! :-)

So you proudly confess to being part of the problem. :-) A new way of existing for the 21st century does seem to be coming, but I don't think you're going to like it very much.

To my way of thinking, any country that would elect our current president who is nothing but an ignorant con-man, and also allow its citizens to walk around with AR-15 rifles certainly needs a very radical change.

"I also think that it's a bigger problem among the young--who also tend to be on the left, so it's hard to separate the two."

Good point. No doubt the bubble-think on each side creates its own unique ignorances, never mind the overall ignorance produced by inadequate education.

"To my way of thinking, any country that would elect our current president who is nothing but an ignorant con-man, and also allow its citizens to walk around with AR-15 rifles certainly needs a very radical change."

I'd argue that generally speaking those sorts of things are a result of our moving away from the Constitution, not the fault of the Constitution itself.

Certainly something to think about, Rob. I'm not anti-Constitution so to speak, but I guess I get a little offended at the idea of it being like the Bible, which is how a lot of people treat it. The entire "American Jesus" analogy so popular with Evangelicals and their ilk. Look in the Book of Revelation and see how it all points to the USA.....etc. etc. Countries probably need to change periodically. They are run by people, who are sinful and for the most part quite stupid. I just hope it is not in the all-out 2nd Civil War that Mac has been predicting for the last decade or so.

Trump is definitely much more a symptom than a cause, though he does advance the course of the disease.

I don't like America-worship, either. But even for those evangelicals you're talking about, the constitution is a human document and subject to change. It's not that they--or as far as I know anybody--think it can't change, because it provides a mechanism for doing so. Evangelicals have been advocating an anti-abortion amendment for a long time. But change requires very broad assent. As it should.

AR-15s and the like are scary-looking and all, but they don't really play a big role in our gun violence.

Science shows that so-called assault rifles are especially dangerous in mass shootings with a large number of victims. They aren't used in a majority of mass shootings, but when they are, the death count is higher.

I do think we know who ought not to have them and we should keep them far away from them.

I figured that out on my own. Does that make me a scientist? :-) I wasn't talking about mass shootings in particular, just homicide by firearm in general.

I amend my statement above, though, to say AR-type guns don't play anything like the biggest role in homicides. Here's what I'm talking about:

https://ucr.fbi.gov/crime-in-the-u.s/2016/crime-in-the-u.s.-2016/tables/expanded-homicide-data-table-4.xls

Even if you split the "not stated" number between rifles and handguns, rifles in general are way behind. And it's reasonable to figure the rifle-to-handgun ratio of the "not stated" is comparable to the stated. (And how many of those rifles are not the scary kind?) Way more people die by drowning every year than are killed with rifles.

I find the gun debate exasperating, because some of the crimes are so sensationally awful that people can't get any perspective on the picture as a whole. There are many millions of AR-type rifles in use, and 99.9 percent of the people who own them are not bothering anybody.

Interesting piece in The Atlantic from early this year -- "America Is Now the Divided Republic the Framers Feared: John Adams worried that 'a division of the republic into two great parties … is to be dreaded as the great political evil.' And that’s exactly what has come to pass." https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/01/two-party-system-broke-constitution/604213/

A bit:

"Though America’s two-party system goes back centuries, the threat today is new and different because the two parties are now truly distinct, a development that I date to the 2010 midterms. Until then, the two parties contained enough overlapping multitudes within them that the sort of bargaining and coalition-building natural to multiparty democracy could work inside the two-party system. No more. America now has just two parties, and that’s it. ...

From the mid-1960s through the mid-’90s, American politics had something more like a four-party system, with liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans alongside liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats. Conservative Mississippi Democrats and liberal New York Democrats might have disagreed more than they agreed in Congress, but they could still get elected on local brands. You could have once said the same thing about liberal Vermont Republicans and conservative Kansas Republicans. Depending on the issue, different coalitions were possible, which allowed for the kind of fluid bargaining the constitutional system requires.

But that was before American politics became fully nationalized, a phenomenon that happened over several decades, powered in large part by a slow-moving post-civil-rights realignment of the two parties. National politics transformed from a compromise-oriented squabble over government spending into a zero-sum moral conflict over national culture and identity. As the conflict sharpened, the parties changed what they stood for. And as the parties changed, the conflict sharpened further. Liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats went extinct. The four-party system collapsed into just two parties."

I don't have time at the moment to read the whole piece. And I'm not knowledgeable enough to comment on the thesis, but on the basis of this excerpt I wonder if it isn't getting cause and effect reversed. Seems like it's the division itself that's the danger, rather than the effects of the division on the party system. But maybe that's misreading the writer?

I read the piece and it seems pretty persuasive. It’s another way of addressing the problem that I’ve thought is revving up the hostility: that both factions see getting control of the federal government as a life-and-death struggle. Whether this would really work I have no idea. Or whether and how it could actually be implemented.

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