Wednesday, November 15, 2000

In Response to the Question (in November 2000):

What is going on with this crazy presidential election?

All right. The election.

From An Amerian Glossary:

Law. An enormous pile of books containing very specific, very carefully chosen words describing what is legal and what is illegal, thus providing a platform for lawyers to argue that whatever the words mean, they're just not clear enough to justify a decision against their client(s) in this particular case. See also Legislation.
Lawful. Full of law, subject to interpretation by lawyers.
Lawyers. Brilliant men and women of high principle and integrity, who work devotedly for justice on behalf of the Amerian people and/or their clients by translating the law into a meaningless pile of empty bullshit. See also TV lawyers.

From The Boomer Bible, Book of Hallites:

Chapter 8
For example, the whole constitution of the Most Chosen Nation on Earth is based on one overridingly important principle,
2 Namely, the principle that nobody can be trusted,
3 Which used to make people take a pretty active interest in politics,
4 Because of all the things they didn’t trust,
5 Government was the thing they didn’t trust the most.
6 But then things changed,
7 Because they finally figured out that the thing they didn’t trust the most was each other,
8 Which was when they decided that it was the government’s job to watch over everyone,
9 And especially the ones they didn’t trust the most,
10 Like the rich capitalists who might steal everybody else’s money if they weren’t held in check,
11 And the poor losers who might get violent and destroy everything if their basic needs weren’t taken care of.
12 And that’s when the government hired a whole bunch of people like you to do the watching,
13 Which has worked out great,
14 Because now that they don’t want to think about anything at all,
15 They kind of have to trust you,
16 Unless they’re willing to get involved themselves,
17 Which isn’t likely to happen,
18 Anytime soon.

Chapter 9
In short, you couldn’t be in a better position,
2 Whether you do your job or not,
3 Which means that they’ll ultimately accept whatever you do,
4 Even if they complain a lot,
5 Because you work for the government,
6 And who else can you trust in this Most Chosen Nation on Earth?
7 That why there’s nothing you can’t get away with,
8 At all,
9 As long as you remember a few simple guidelines.

And from An Amerian Glossary:

Executive Branch. The branch of government run by the Presdent, responsible for pandering to the Amerian people, collecting their money, writing their checks, and running the country by executive order when the Congress is too busy empeaching the Presdent to pass any legislation.
Executive Order. The means by which the Presdent runs the country without having to bother with Congress, the budget, or other bureaucratic restraints; he simply orders the Treasury Department to write a check and tells the payee how he wants the money spent. Cool.

* * * *

Thanks to the unending scandals of the Clinton administration, a new family of political tactics has been created, based on the rediscovery that the letter of the law can always be interpreted into advantageous meaninglessness. Not coincidentally, this was the means by which Hitler heisted the German government from the Weimar Republic. His entire reign was nominally a legal suspension of the constitution for the purposes of dealing with a national emergency without having to deal with the legislative branch.

I’m not saying that the current election crisis is itself a coup d’etat. Rather, it is an oddly quick second application of the mechanism developed by Democrats to survive the impeachment process. The mechanism is nullification of law by heaping so much negative minutiae on top of the law – including its language, procedures, enforcers, and legitimacy – that its animating spirit is progressively belittled and ultimately smothered. With all of the pyrotechnics we’ve experienced in recent weeks, who is still able to see that the entire Democratic Party position amounts to no more than a pitiful argument by anecdote: “If a single person was unable to vote his preference, for any reason, that is reason enough for rewriting the election laws of Florida from the bench, ex post facto.” Uh, no it ain’t. But aim enough unscrupulous lawyers at a black-and-white situation, and it is speedily reduced to a sticky gray goo that blinds or paralyzes everyone. That’s how the President survived his trial in the Senate, and it’s how the Gore team intends to capture the White House. An amazing one-two punch.

Strangely enough, from the standpoint of a Gore presidency, it may seem one day soon that he had to come to power in exactly this way to achieve the effective coup d’etat that may be waiting in the wings. Yet in the normal course of affairs, such a circumstance would appear to be a remote possibility, not one that could ever be planned as part of a deliberate increase in presidential power. Thus, one is so struck by the oddness of its appropriateness to the overall situation that there is a tendency not to analyze, not to look beyond the circumstance itself for an emerging pattern in which it is, somehow, an obvious necessity.

I believe, however, that the pattern is there. The explanation for the oddness of its timing – coming so quickly after the battering given the rule of law in the impeachment debacle -- probably lies in the collective unconscious of the American people. An urgent moral drama is being enacted on the center of our national stage, and we have this one brief moment – consistent with the rules of Greek tragedy – in which we might but probably will not call a halt. We have asked for this, whether we know it or not, and we will surely reap the harvest of whatever decision we make or do not make.

What is the essence of the drama? A long-delayed confrontation between the origins of the American democratic experiment and its current incarnation, 68 years after the New Deal. These are direct opposites. The founders sought to protect citizens from the worst of all evils: government. The post-New Deal ‘liberals’ seek to protect citizens from everyone and everything by means of the government. The notion, shared by most people, that there can be some working compromise between such polar opposites is naive. Structural opposites can exist in a state of constantly changing compromises, moving back and forth between the absolute limits set by the structural design. But the opposition we are considering here is not structural. It is philosophical. In this realm, nominal compromises are frauds; they exist as optical illusions only, mirages reflected from the surface of convenient words whose roots grow in utterly different soil. One cannot be half-Stoic and half Epicurean, half-capitalist and half-Marxist, half-Christian and half-atheist. Whatever rhetoric is used to disguise the conflict does not resolve the conflict. The ideas are, by definition, at war with one another. They will surface, and perhaps not as philosophical imperatives, but as warriors in a battle for control of the operative structure. Because of the extended timeframe over which such battles are fought, people can be lulled into interpreting the war as a working compromise. The fundamental agreement that must characterize compromise is not present, however; regardless of the positions taken by the superficial manipulators at the political center, the war goes on until there is a clear victor and a clear conquest. This is the climactic event we are approaching now.

The roots of the notion that government exists to protect people from everyone and everything are totalitarian, not democratic. It is worthwhile here to ask a question that has always been more interesting than its conventional explanation: Why were the founders so insistent about creating a clear line between church and state? The usual response – that they feared imposition of a state religion – is only a part, an example in fact, of the larger answer, which is that what they most feared was the power of a government that could claim to hold moral authority over the populace. In this direction lies ultimate tyranny.

I remember being taught the difference between authoritarian governments and totalitarian governments. (Interestingly, divine right kingships were generally included in the category of authoritarian governments, if for no other reason than that totaliarianism was regarded as a twentieth century invention made possible only by advanced technology.) Authoritarian governments exert control over only those behaviors which affect their ability to retain power; thus, they do not care what people believe as long as they do not threaten the legitimacy of the government. Totalitarian governments exert control over everything, expressly including what people believe, because the most dangerous opposition always arises from competitors to the moral authority of the government; thus, Soviet communism must outlaw the Catholic Church and declare atheistic materialism as the cosmological philosophy of the state. But why must moral authority reside in the state itself? Because such a system can retain its legitimacy only by postulating all its actions to be right automatically, in advance, because its claim to be acting in the peoples’ interest will inevitably be exposed as a lie. The equality of those outside the government is the equality of slaves to a state whose every bureaucratic twist and turn are law. And the greatest and most obvious privilege of those who are part of the government consists of relative freedom from the very bureaucracy that demands life-or-death obedience from the people at large. Such a state exists for its own sake only; therefore, it cannot tolerate any value system in which its hypocrisies might be visible.

Notably, the cornerstone of the constitutional edifice created by the founders in their attempt to preempt governmental tyranny was the rule of law. And it is expressly the rule of law which must be kept separate from the ‘church,’ however that is defined. For American jurisprudence was from its outset clear that the legal system was not a moral system per se; true justice was deemed the province of God in His infinite wisdom. The law was a parallel mechanism intended to exemplify morality rather than define it. And the law, in this context, would have to be absolutely governed by rules which might or might not result in justice, but which could be used to achieve outcomes that were approximately just, if the rules were followed and understood in their intent by carefully trained, morally upright practitioners of law. Why the separation? Two reasons. First, acceptance of the notion that true justice was not achievable by men meant that the more important (because more achievable) goal of the legal system was avoidance of gross injustice to innocents, even at the cost of letting malefactors go free. Second, postulating the law as an imperfect human mechanism made it clear that the state was ultimately less important and authoritative than the moral consensus of the populace. As a human invention, the law and its administration could become corrupt. In the same terms, the law could evolve and embody some forms of compromise that would not be possible if it were equated with the divine inspiration accorded to the Bible. It would not have to be right all the time; it would have to be consistent and fair in the application of its own rules. And, implicitly, it would be up to the people to decide when and if the law, and the government it framed, was failing in its moral duties to the populace by becoming corrupt, inconsistent, or unfair. Obviously, any government that could wrap its actions in an all-encompassing morality would no longer be accountable in this fashion. Thus, the rule of law – separate and unequal to the laws of God and the religious convictions of the populace. Still, there was one area of equality foreseen by the founders; that is, equality under the law for all citizens, regardless of rank, wealth, or other privilege. This was to be the prize that forgave the law its many inevitable errors and omissions. Acknowledged at the outset to be imperfect and far from divine, it would succeed in retaining the consensus support of a moral populace by continuously aspiring to justice, in accordance with rules that were the same for all. Not a bad bit of reasoning by a bunch of rich, Bible-beating ignoramuses...

Note that there is an essential humility to this approach. It is neither cynical nor prideful. It says, there is such a thing as justice, known in its entirety only by God, though it is our duty and our best hope to strive for it as best we can, overcoming our own imperfections by remaining aware of the difficulty of the undertaking and the abiding responsibility it entails.

What happens, however, if we remove God from this construct? Since justice resides ultimately in God, as example and arbiter of human affairs, without Him there can no longer be any justice; there is only the law. And without the continuous aspiration to justice on the part of the law’s practitioners – which is to say, without the personal moral commitment to look past the letter of the law to the intent and spirit of the law – there remains nothing but words, words which can be stood on their heads by an agile mind that is bent on circumventing their obvious meaning.

It is here that the totalitarian roots of government as Supreme Protector come into play. The emotional basis of New Deal liberalism may have been compassion, but the worm in the apple is condescension. The intellect so disposed beholds the fact of rampant injustice in aspects of life never dreamt of by the founders as amenable to amelioration by the state. He beholds injustice in the very lot in life to which individual citizens are born – he beholds the millions who are ushered into life with unfair disadvantages of opportunity, intellect, talent, and cultural legacy. He does not ascribe this to God’s will, because God has been removed from the construct by science. He ascribes it to chance, tradition, bigotry, and inaction by those who know better. He therefore defines a new moral ideal, one cast in strictly human terms, which comes to represent a mission whose ends justify the means employed by those who know better. From the peak of this new moral ideal, he condemns the mass of humankind for tolerating and abetting the perpetuation of such a priori inequality. And he therefore forgives himself in advance for what must to done to eliminate such inequality.

What has he done at this point, before he has even taken any action? He has moved himself into the vacant position once occupied by God. Now he is the example and arbiter; he is superior to human law; he is more than equal, in that he may commit, in the name of true justice, what other lesser humans may regard as sin; and he is not accountable to their definitions and beliefs because he has defined their legitimacy out of existence.

Most importantly, he has created a new construct in which the mass of humanity and the consensus that underlies their society are not an ideal to be served, but an obstacle to be overcome. He gives up easily on the challenge of converting them to his way of thinking, because such a conversion process would eventually lead to the declaration, “Trust me because I know better than you.” He scorns accommodating his ideas to the legacy he has supposedly inherited, because he has already declared himself superior to that legacy. Thus, he is not in his private thoughts engaged in any exotic act of upholding the Constitution; he is bent instead on rewriting the Constitution to the extent necessary to make it conform to his self-anointed moral ideal. Yet he feels the weight of convention, the burden of the enduring stupidity of the masses. He knows that in order to prevail, he must appeal on a case-by-case basis to the self-interest of those he intends to help, confident that they will accept the figleaf cover of his rhetoric, and to all the others he is prepared to lie, misrepresent, and intimidate. Without the divine power of God, he must use his divine certainty with utter ruthlessness, always of course in the name of true justice.

He is committing an act of subversion. It is he who therefore inaugurates the war. His tactics are the tactics of warfare: divide and conquer. The goal is creation of a state which controls unto itself the definition of true justice and is equipped with the power to impose it. Since this is antithetical to the Constitution, the law which protects the right of the people to persist in their stupidity is a titanic, contemptible obstacle. In his head, he carries a running tally of old law versus new law; that is, the existing protections for what used to be revered as freedom, as opposed to the new powers and controls available to those who wish to put down bigotry, end inequality, and protect the helpless. He grows stronger as he passes more and more new law, which inevitably seeks to insert government into realms never contemplated by the founders: the workplace, the home, the family, the church (the latter reached by new laws of exclusion...). In the process, his contempt for all law increases. Old law is obstruction of true justice, the enemy to be smashed, circumvented, outwitted. New law is the pretext by which he moves closer to a vision of true justice that will grow ever more hungry for power.

Similarly, the “will of the people” is not a thing to be respected, revered, earned. It is a farce which can be and must be manipulated, used, created out of thin air whenever possible. His contempt for the actual “people” through time becomes so profound that he no longer counts it a lie to tell them what they must be told to accept the next step, the next law, the next initiative on their behalf. If they were not so hopelessly stupid, after all, they would not have to be dragged, step by step by step, to the relative paradise he is devising for them.

Throughout this evolution of political philosophy and practice, a metamorphosis has been underway. The moral idealist becomes by his own choices utterly corrupt. He will say and do anything to achieve the next increment of change. He will say and do anything to defeat his opposition, which is by definition immoral in its opposition to true justice. He reaches the point of no longer being able to recognize that anyone is operating by rules that are different from his own. Therefore, everyone else is also lying, misrepresenting, intimidating, dividing and conquering. The perfidy of their doing so in the name of evil justifies any and all means used to destroy them when they mount opposition of any kind.

Yet the veneer is maintained. The public words are of democracy, the Constitution, the will of the people, the American way. And the people do not recognize the war that is underway, ostensibly on their behalf. It is only when the stakes are truly large that the viciousness of the struggle leaks out into the open: the Bork hearings, the Thomas hearings, the impeachment, the 2000 presidential election. But even this is ultimately to the good, because in bits and pieces the people can be inured to the outrages that must be committed to the law, in the name of true justice. Gradually, they can be taught to understand that the law can and should be battered to pieces when it stands in the way of true justice, as defined by those with the loud, insistent voices. And when outright flouting and contempt for the law actually succeed in matters of national moment, they will learn a fairly easy part of the necessary lesson described below (from the Lounge Conversations, Loyerz Station):

As long as people continue to believe there is some moral component of the law, they will look to the law and the legal system to vindicate their own sense of what is right and wrong. Some will be tempted to pursue matters of principle through the courts. Others will be tempted to disobey laws they believe to be wrong. Still others will operate very close to the margin of the law, believing that they are in the right as long as they do not transgress the letter of the law. All of these behaviors reflect an intensity of individual spirit which is problematic in a country where all important decisions are made by bureaucratic committees and political compromises. You see, in exceptionally large and complex societal systems, the operating rules gradually evolve to a set that benefits the smooth functioning of the system. These rules do not correspond in any sense to notions of individual morality, which are not invented by committees but by human beings. The truth is that the most successful societal operating rules are pragmatic rather than moral. They retain an inefficient moral component only as long as there is sufficient individuality in the culture at large to pose a threat if the operating rules are perceived as amoral or anti-moral. It is therefore a necessary step for a self-aggrandizing system to eliminate the resolve of individuals to mount an opposition. The best way to do this is to make it clear that the law is not to be used, but to be feared. If being right ceases to matter in a court of law, the moralistic individual will learn to avoid the law like a contagious disease. He will learn to obey every law, no matter how foolish, follow every regulation, no matter how stupid, as if his life depended on it. Because it does.

Where do we stand in the ongoing war between the founders and the new moral arbiters? At the brink. The 2000 election divides the populace roughly in half, with a significant minority sitting somewhere in the middle between the two sides, without firm convictions about the major philosophical issue at stake. These are the ones who haven’t thought about it, but it has already been proven that they can be controlled: this is the lesson taught by the majority opposition to removing the president from office for perjury and obstruction of justice.

The next president will therefore face a congress that is virtually doomed to partisan impotence. In his last year in office, Clinton has been dexterously pioneering a new form of executive governance; rule by executive order. This has gone virtually unnoticed. What better way to prepare the populace for a President Gore who will ultimately claim a mandate for ignoring Congress in favor of going directly to the “people” for support of rule by executive order, in the name of safety, compassion, and “true justice.” It will cease to matter that he stole the election; he did it for the “will of the people,” as polls will no doubt confirm. And should George Bush somehow persevere in nailing down the election he won, he will be so constantly accused of having stolen the election himself that the “will of the people’ will be used by Democrats in Congress throughout his term to incapacitate government until the Democrats can be put in charge for good.

That’s the plan anyway, as generously provided for by serendipity... or is it national destiny?

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