Toward a Detoxified, Humanized Federalism

Tags

, , , , , ,

pluribus-unumMuch like the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Tiananmen Square protests, the result of the 2016 European Union Referendum — Brexit, as it’s commonly called — will be one of those memories that stay with me the rest of my life.

Late in the night as the Leave vote amassed an insurmountable lead, I reflected on how Brexit likely would constitute a wakeup call not only for the European Union but possibly for the American Union too.

I was motivated as much as I was inspired by the results.  The next morning, I got busy setting up a devolutionary weblog as a forum for discussing how the Brexit outcome likely would affect federalism in the United States.

Reflecting weeks later on how the results of the referendum had galvanized Scottish nationalist sentiment, I also began to wonder if Britons would take up a serious discussion of drafting a constitution for a new federal British union encompassing England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. And this led me to speculate about whether such a union of sovereign states ultimately would inspire one or more American states to demand a return to the principles of state sovereignty enshrined in the Constitution, particularly in the Tenth Amendment.

Sclerotic, Dysfunctional American Federalism

Brexit should have been regarded as a wake-up call for all Americans.  Indeed, American federalism is arguably just as sclerotic and unresponsive to present-day needs as its European Union counterpart and perhaps equally as imperiled.

Challenges to American Federalism

Some of the maladies associated with American federalism date back as far as colonial times, while others have emerged considerably more recently. The deep cultural chasms stemming from the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam Conflict some 50 years ago certainly have contributed. But so have more recent technological advances, namely, the demassification of media that followed the expansion of cable television within the last 50 years and, more recently and significantly, digitization, particularly social media.

These new media, despite all the good that they have produced, have added an extra layer of complexity to our cultural and political discourse. For better or worse, they have enabled growing numbers of Americans to self-organize into a myriad of subcultures.

Demassification has also compounded the challenges of our current federal model. In the face of this demassification, our highly centralized and sclerotic federal system has only grown more unresponsive, unworkable and even toxic, contributing to the deep regional and cultural divisions, particularly as they are expressed at the national level.

Some readers may regard such disparaging talk about our federal system as shocking.  After all, many Americans tend to regard our Constitution and the institutions and mechanisms that developed out of it as truly singular, if not beyond reproach.  To characterize these vital components of our constitutional system not only as unresponsive but even unworkable comes off sounding, well, downright un-American, if not treasonous, to many.

Deep Cultural Cleavages

Yet, the time for a frank dialogue about the inadequacies of our federal system is long overdue.  American federalism, despite its many notable successes over the last almost quarter of a millennium, has never managed to compensate fully for the deep cultural cleavages that have challenged this country from the very beginning.

Author and columnist Michael Malice was right and, I would contend, rather courageous, to argue that one part of the country, which could be broadly described as the cultural and political heirs of Puritan New England, have spent almost a quarter of a millennium trying to impose their vision of the American Experiment on the part of the country that traces its cultural and political legacy to Jefferson and that could be broadly characterized as the South.

He even argues that America was never that united a nation in the first place. Even in those rare times when we have enjoyed a measure of ideological unity, we have seldom marched in cultural lockstep.

And why should that come as a surprise?

The Failures of Centralized Federalism

Ponder this fact for a moment: The United States now possesses a population of 300-plus million people spanning a continent-sized country, the fourth largest in the world. Yet, we are governed on the basis of a badly antiquated federal model conceived a century ago by a progressive-minded political scientist named Woodrow Wilson, our 28th president.  He and other academics concluded that the country would be better off divesting states and localities of many of their traditional responsibilities, entrusting these instead to a central government manned by technocrats steeped in the emerging insights of social science.

Even today a few proponents of this centralized model would steadfastly contend that the wisdom of these reforms were affirmed by the degree to which they guided us through two world wars, the Cold War, and the Civil Rights Movement.  In the interest of time and space, I’ll defer that topic for a later date.  Suffice it to say that this model is showing its age in the highly diffused and decentralized economic, political and cultural environment of the 21st century.

America’s Oldest Cultural Impasse

Yet, as Malice stressed in his column, the deepest and most intractable problems associated with American federalism stem from the longstanding regional rivalry and animosity between the political and cultural heirs of New England and the South, two regions with competing visions of the American Experiment.

The fact that New England emerged as the nation’s most culturally preeminent region after the Civil War should surprise no one.  Historical research has revealed that New England was the most literate region on the planet following American independence.  Its emphasis on mass education, particularly higher education, afforded the region immense intellectual and, ultimately, material advantages over the agrarian, slave-holding South and parts of the emerging American Back Country.  And even today, this region and other sections of the country directly shaped by its cultural and political vision continue to project their aspirations onto the rest of the country, particularly the South.

To be sure, the South, despite its statesmen supplying the theoretical foundations for many of the founding principles of this country, not to mention, the fact that seven of the first ten U.S. president were Southern, was encumbered by an slave-holding economic system that impeded economic diversification and, as a result of which, provided Southern political elites with less incentive to educate the region’s farming and laboring classes.

The South’s economic disadvantages proved disastrous over the long run. Following the South’s defeat and economic dispossession after the Civil War, New England and its regional offshoots emerged as the nation’s unrivaled cultural and political hegemons.

If one good thing besides the end of slavery followed this disastrous outcome, it was how defeat provided an impetus for the defeated and economically prostrate South to reinvent itself. One even could argue that the South owed its New England counterparts a debt in terms of its being forced to abandon an economic system that had sapped its intellectual and economic potential for some two centuries.

Lessons from Ireland and India

Yet the story is a bit more complicated.  The case can be made — and has time and again throughout U.S. history by Southern political leaders, academics, and writers — that certain traits bound up with the New England cultural legacy have also worked to exacerbate American unity as much as they have mitigated them.  Virtually from the founding of this country, the cultural heirs of England, many of whom comprise the core of this nation’s current ruling class, have tended to regard the South as the nation’s problem region, fit, in a manner of speaking, only to don the dunce’s cap and to sit on a stool of everlasting repentance.

As they see it, the South comprises the central, defining core of the worst aspects of the American cultural legacy, reflected in gun ownership, religious dogmatism and reactionary conservatism.  And, predictably, this animus has sparked a reciprocal reaction not only in the South but in other so-called red-states, many of which not only share significant cultural affinities with the South but also lay equally strong claims to the Jeffersonian legacy of strictly limited government.

Speaking as an amateur student of history and particularly of 20th century nationalist movements, I’ve always found it remarkable that this cultural animus never sparked enduring nationalist sentiment in the defeated, post-war South comparable to what emerged in Ireland beginning in the late 18th century — or, for that matter, India, in the 19th century.

Whatever the case, I think it behooves Southerners and, for that matter, inhabitants of other red states that share strong ties to the Jeffersonian political tradition to reflect on all of this constructively.

History has demonstrated time and again that conquest and economic dispossession are not one-way streets. Even the inhabitants of conquered lands sometime derive immense cultural, material and even political benefits over the course of time.

Many a contemporary Irish or Indian citizen would concede a considerable debt to the British colonial legacy.  Deep historical scars remain, yes, but despite all of this, they credit their former British hegemons with a few things of estimable value: a national communications and transportation infrastructure as well as a legal and parliamentary tradition, which provided both aspiring nations with critical facets of nation-building. These factors contributed immeasurably not only to a united Ireland and India but to their becoming singularly successful parliamentary democracies.

Southerners likewise owe their New England cousins a measure of debt.  New England’s intellectual and material advantages not only proved instrumental in defeating the South but also were major factors that forced the region over the course of time to undergo much needed economic diversification.  But even before the war, New England’s rich religious legacy also left an indelible mark on the South and much of the Back Country.  Indeed, much of the impetus behind the evangelical religious revivalism in the South and the rest of the American frontier were incubated in New England.

Well-Articulate, Vibrant Regional Identities

No doubt about it: Every region of the country, even the relatively disadvantaged ones, have benefited from American federalism.

Yet, this doesn’t obviate the fact that we now regard ourselves as a deeply sundered and increasingly embittered nation, increasingly divided by religion, culture and politics. Indeed, we have arguably grown even further apart within the last couple of years following Donald Trump’s electoral upset.  And this division is exacerbated by the very nature of Wilsonian model of centralized federalism.  Each side of the great political divide in American, blue and red America, still harbors hopes that they ultimately can harness this centralized federal model to impose their will on the other.

As Malice stresses, this has prompted growing numbers of us to ponder the unthinkable: the merits of breaking up this big, increasingly unwieldy federation into smaller, more manageable, and arguably more humane political entities.

Indeed, if an increasingly restive, assertive California has demonstrated one thing , it is that the South’s preeminent Founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, were right all along.  Even at a time when America was overwhelmingly Protestant and culturally British and thoroughly wedded to a single language, these two men categorically rejected centralized federalism on the basis that a country as large and diverse as the United States simply could not be managed centrally.  For his part, Jefferson even occasionally wondered out loud whether liberty ultimately would be best secured across this vast continent through an aggregation of smaller republics, all sharing common cultural and political affinities, all pledged to securing the blessings of prosperity and liberty for their citizens.

In the midst of all these wrenching, seemingly intractable divisions, we are being challenged to return to questions that once preoccupied our Founding Fathers.

We are being called upon to search for ways to detoxify and humanize our federal system. But how?  How do we best govern ourselves in an age of sweeping media demassification?  What political relations are best suited to securing liberty and fraternity among Americans of diverse backgrounds stretched across a vast distance?  Are these relations best secured by some version of Madisonian federalism — a large republic encompassing smaller republics — or are the times calling for a more radicalized, Jeffersonian view?  Has our current political union grown so large, so diverse and so ungovernable that we would be better off living in smaller federations, each of which arguably would be better designed and equipped to serve human needs?

Some readers may regard this last question as needlessly cynical and unpatriotic, if not downright treasonous.  But I would argue that engaging in a frank discussion now about the future of our political association may better ensure that we avoid a disastrous impasse, if not a breakup, further down the road.

Yes, I believe that the cultural and political divisions in this country really are that deep and wrenching.

We must find a way not only to detoxify American federalism but also to humanize it.

 

 

Why We Can’t Whistle Dixie Past the Graveyard of American Unity

Tags

, , , , ,

Grant-Christian-MuralSome 37 years ago, the eminent Southern writer John Shelton Reed posed an intriguing question: Why No Southern nationalism?

I have thought a lot within the last 25 years about the prospect of a renascent Southern nationalism in the face of American decline. And, yes, the South, for several reasons, simply must represent a vital and essential facet of discussion about the future of American constitutional liberty in the midst of this decline.

Here is the problem as I see it: There currently is no coherent Southern nationalist identity to speak of, at least presently. What we currently have in the South is a sense of Southern distinctiveness and identity amid a deep well of hyper-American patriotism, one that is particularly evident in the Deep South, where I live. To put it another way, we have nationalism IN the South but not nationalism OF the South.

Southern Historical Roots

Much of this is deeply rooted in Southern history.

In the last decade of the 19th century, as the South dug its way out of defeat, economic dispossession and grinding poverty, the United States not only was regarded the world over as the most successful post-colonial nation but also the one most likely to overtake and to supplant Britain as the dominant global power.  Reed rightfully noted that this prospect appealed especially to the defeated and economically prostrate South, which retained a strong martial tradition and an enduring affinity for cultural rootedness and identity.

Also, as he stressed, the South’s enduring racial legacy certainly has played a significant role in detracting Southerners, black and white, from forging a strong regionalism comparable to Welsh or even Scottish identity. Indeed, the fact that the South’s legacy remains the focal point of the so-called Culture War has only reinforced the Southern penchant for embracing a wider American identity rather than a distinctly Southern one.

One could argue that the Culture Wars, far from driving Southerners away from American identity, has intensified this sense of hyper-American patriotism.  The left’s unrelenting assault on Confederate symbolism and the Confederate legacy in general has only worked to drive many Southerners, particularly younger ones, away from anything that smacks of a distinctly regional identity.

The South’s Evangelical Christian Legacy

The present-day cultural struggles within Evangelical Christianity have also reinforced this disposition. This brand of Protestant Christianity has historically served as the de facto state religion of the South and still comprises its moral and ethical cultural ballast. Yet, the largest and most culturally influential Evangelical faith, the Southern Baptist Convention, not only officially decries the display of Confederate symbolism but even has considered whether to retain Southern in its name.

It’s worth pointing out that Evangelical Protestantism has never served the South in terms of supplying a nucleus of cultural identity, certainly not in the way that the Catholic Church has historically sustained the cultural and national identities of Ireland and Poland.   And considering the frontier roots of Evangelicalism, that’s not surprising. Evangelicalism, a product of Back Country settlement, was incubated in an environment of strong cultural deracination, just as Southern pioneers were settling the region.  Southern identity is not fused with Evangelical Christianity in the way Irish nationalist identity is Catholicism or Russian identity is with Eastern Orthodoxy.  And the faith’s strong emphasis on soul competency at the expense of tradition and church authority only reinforces this tendency.

The View among Rank-and-File Southerners

A survey of Southerners randomly chosen from the various socio-economic levels would support these arguments.  Most native-born Southerners — whites and, no doubt, a respective number of blacks — are proud of being Southern.  They feel a sense of rootedness with Southern culture, with its faith, its cuisine and particularly with its sports traditions.  Undoubtedly, the minority of those who have followed closely the growing levels of political and cultural acrimony in this country and who have  considered their long-term implications would acknowledge the South as the region of the country best suited to restoring the founding principles of American constitution liberty in the aftermath of some of federal breakup.

But the vast majority of these Southerners, especially the middle-class, college-educated ones among them, would express these views within a decidedly post-racial, post-Confederate context.

This is the great paradox facing the 21st century South.  The region, because of historical and cultural cultural distinctiveness, represents the best prospect for restoring a viable counterweight to the culturally corrosive liberalism now represents this country’s regnant culture and political ideology.  Yet for such a restorationist movement to survive and grow, it must remain explicitly American and not take on so much as a tincture of Confederate restorationism or symbolism.  In time, Southerners could and undoubtedly would conceive a national identity with a more distinctly Southern hue, though one explicitly post-Confederate in nature.

What emerges over time likely would resemble a kind of symbiotic nationalism, one in which an over-arching American identity provides a safe harbor for a uniquely Southern national identity to emerge, one deeply rooted in the region’s culture and faith.

Lessons from Ireland and Taiwan

We can draw lessons from other countries around the world.

Historians have observed that the late Edward Carson, the father of Northern Ireland was arguably as much an Irish nationalist as Eamon de Valera or Michael Collins, only he perceived the British Union as the most congenial context for preserving Protestant Irish identity.  Protestant identity on the island has been sustained through affiliation with a wider sense of British identity.  But the case also could be made  that Catholic and Protestant Irish identities have co-existed in Northern Ireland only because of the adhesive effect British identity has provided.

There is an added lesson here for Southerners:  If the American Union ultimately splits into smaller federations, maintaining a kind of  residual American identity in the South very well could provide the basis on which black and white Southerners can forge a new distinctly Southern identity.

There are also lessons to draw from the besieged Nationalist Chinese redoubt on Taiwan.  Some 70 years ago, the forces of the Republic of China vacated the mainland and established the government on the Island of Taiwan. Initially, this island remained officially Mainland Chinese.  Over the course of time, though, as this exiled republic became more democratic and materially prosperous, it provided a harbor for the formation of a strong, home-grown Taiwanese identity.

Today, Taiwanese identity exists in two forms: a soft nationalism, combining elements of both Chinese Mainlander and Taiwanese identities and that emphasizes separateness of the Taiwanese people, though without necessarily eliminating the official name (The Republic of China), versus a much more explicit nationalism calling for replacing the current official name with “The Republic of Taiwan” and seeking United Nations recognition as a fully sovereign nation separate from Mainland China.

Preparing for the Possibility an American Breakup

Granted, we can’t predict what the future will bring for the South and for the United States in general. Even so, we all should be fully cognizant of the growing number of columnists and other public intellectuals on both ends of the American political spectrum who are taking note of the perilous state of American unity.  We must begin preparing for the possibly of an American breakup.

For us Southerners, the prospect of an American breakup forces us to consider this remarkable paradox:  that the South, because of its very uniqueness, represents the best prospect for restoring a constitutional republic in the aftermath of an American federal crackup.  But we can’t assume that this will initially take any form other than one largely American in substance.

The days of saving Confederate dollars and pining for the Confederate restoration are long gone. In time, we will build a distinctly Southern edifice, though one that closely comports with the realities of the 21st century.

To put it another way, we can’t afford to whistle past the graveyard of American unity, and we sure can’t be whistling Dixie.

 

The Mainstreaming of Secession

Tags

, , , , , ,

texas-capitol

Texas: One of several states harboring a nascent secessionist movement. 

I’ve been bowled over the last few weeks reading the growing number of articles in which mainstream columnists are finally coming to terms with a reality that I embraced more than a quarter century ago: the likely, if not inevitable, transformation of the  American Union into a much looser federation or into a number of smaller nation-states.

Predictably over the last quarter century, I’ve even been labeled everything from a neo-Confederate and a racist to a secessionist and traitor for subscribing to such views.

Actually, far more prodigious intellects, notably, the late George F. Kennan,  foresaw this inevitability years before I did.

I, for one, and despite my conservatism, respect the right of California and other left-leaning states to experiment with different domestic policies. I hope when all the chips are down that these enlightened blue-coast cosmopolitans will afford their counterparts in the red American hinterland the same courtesy.  And lest we forget, that was the concept behind American federalism:  that states possessed the attributes of nationhood but had chosen out of a desire for self-preservation against Britain and the other maritime powers of Europe to delegate a comparatively narrow range of powers to a general government that operated on behalf of the states.

Aside from all the constitutional arguments, there just comes a point when people outgrow relationships, whether these are business contracts, civic groups, friendships or marriages.  And the simple fact of the matter is that America is simply too damned big and diverse to govern, at least, based on the cookie-cutter approach that Woodrow Wilson and the progressives devised for us roughly a century ago.  We have reached the point where cultural evolution throughout through Europe and America has outstripped the ability of the central government to keep pace with it.

I really believe that.  In fact, I think that this is one of the inherent flaws in federations: The constituent parts are often inherently fissiparous, with their own highly evolved cultures and political ideologies.  These constituent parts don’t stop evolving when they enter into a federation: Their cultural and political evolution continues apace, sometimes to the point at which they feel compelled to question the utility of their relationship with the other members of the federation. Maybe it’s time for us to take into account that incontrovertible fact whenever we undertake the design and execution of another federation.

How close is America to a crackup?  I’m not sure.  Even so, I do believe that in many notable respects, we are drawing close to where the beleaguered Soviet Union found itself in about 1990.  Either we find some way to renegotiate federal arrangements in the United States by devolving more power back to states and, most important of all, localities, or we face a situation where internal pressures build up to a degree that states and regions take it upon themselves to address these problems.

Deep-blue California’s nullifying tendencies vis-a-vis the policies of the Trump Administration are merely a taste of what is to come.

In fact, in an unusually comprehensive and informative column posted in the Intelligencer recently, one perceptive columnist, Sasha Issenberg, predicts that growing number of states may enter into interstate compacts to work through a number of intractable domestic problems.  In the end, the United States may comprise up to three de facto federations: blue, red and neutral, each conducting their own unique domestic policies, while remaining parts of the United States.

Yet, even this columnist concedes that these de facto arrangements will only work for a time before the internal stresses build up and rend apart these federations, forcing each to move close to becoming bona fide countries.

For his part Kennan offered a sort of middle way, one to which I’m sympathetic: a union of about 15 or so constituent republics, to which the bulk of domestic powers would be entrusted, leaving the central government to run a common market and defense pact.

Whatever the case, we are very possibly approaching a constitutional impasse in which large states, particularly California, increasingly will assume more and more powers on their own, drawing us closer to a Soviet scenario. By that I mean that, despite our attempts to stay ahead of the problem by introducing institutional reforms, the country inevitably comes apart.

 

Reassembling Humpty-Dumpty

Tags

, , , ,

stained-glass-restoration

Photo: Courtesy of Rodhullandemu.

There’s been a long-stated conviction among conservative Christians, particularly evangelicals, that the path out of the West’s current predicament requires their active re-engagement with culture, the now regnant, post-Christian secular culture, with the ultimate aim of restoring Christianity to some preeminent place in American and Western culture. But given secular culture’s largely hostile regard for all forms of Christianity, particularly evangelicalism, is this even possible?

Almost a quarter millennium ago, the term “Ottantotist” (literally, Eighty-Eighter) was invented to describe French reactionaries who doggedly and vehemently insisted that the clock somehow could be turned back on the 1789 French revolutionaries.  The late American political philosopher Peter Viereck borrowed that term to describe American reactionaries suffering from similar illusory thinking.

I particularly relate to this term having spent 29 years as a Cooperative Extension professional writing extensively about the implications of invasive species to Southern forests, croplands and pasturelands.  I’m well aware of how such infestations, after wreaking considerable havoc for a generation or so, eventually establish a sort of equilibrium within the ecosystem over time, acquiring a permanent niche.

After that line has been crossed there really is no turning back:  The effects of these invaders only can be mitigated; they cannot be reversed.

Restoring a status quo ante is simply impossible in a complex, vastly extended  ecosystem, whether the interloper happens to be human, plant, mammal or insects.

The historically Christian West has been beset with its own invasion over roughly the last two-hundred years: a secular one.

Secularism, has moved far beyond its beachhead and now functions as the unifying ideal of Western culture. The Christian culture of the West now comprises an embattled remnant. Indeed, far from any sort of resilient cultural beachhead with a real prospect of staging a comeback, Christian culture more closely resembles Chiang kai-shek‘s besieged Nationalist fortress on the peripheral island of Taiwan, though lacking anything resembling the backstopping that Chiang enjoyed from the United States.

I recall a remarkable observation offered years ago by the late Oregon State University religion scholar Marcus Borg that illustrates the increasingly marginalized status into which Christianity has fallen. He noted how his students would undergo a discernible change from engagement to one of disengagement and even hostility whenever the classroom topic switched from, say, Hinduism or Buddhism to Christianity.

This hostility has grown from several deep roots, though much of it can be traced to advances in textual criticism and evolutionary sciences.  In material terms, these two advances have carried humanity a long way, but by removing much of the adhesive that has bound together the civilization of the West, they have produced catastrophic effects too.

I am not a conventional Christian.  In fact, I count myself a nontheist – I won’t go to the trouble here of explaining all the differences between atheism and nontheism. Suffice it to say I believe that everything that we have achieved, including our insights into transcendence, has been the result of a network that has developed over eons and that has grown primarily out of language, writing and technology, all of which are fused in this network and, as a result, create a kind of synergistic effect. I have come to call this networking the Non-corporeal Human Exoskeleton, because this dense networking of language, culture and technology enshroud us, much as shells do crustaceans, providing us with all manner of sustenance and protection.

Religion has historically been bound up this network and has afforded humanity all manner of advantages in terms of providing a sense of purpose and keeping all of the psychological furies and common human fears at bay.

This networking amounts to scaffolding – in fact, that term more or less could be substituted for network or exoskeleton to underscore how everything in existence is contingent on everything else.

The Christian faith afforded European civilization invaluable scaffolding.  But with the destruction of much of this scaffolding,  I’m not that confident that we will ever manage to put anything of equal and enduring value in its place.

So much of this scaffolding was bound up in Christian dogma.  The promise of an afterlife and the fear of eternal damnation for egregious offenders provided an integral, if not essential facet of this scaffolding. These unique facets of Christianity, despite the enormous psychological burdens they imposed on millions of adherents, arguably breathed life into the faith and provided it with its strongest and most enduring scaffolding, at least, until the mid-19th century.

Textual criticism and evolutionary science have challenged this.  In the minds of of the most culturally influential members of Western society, these advances put a lie to the faith.

Nietzsche, as memory served, believed that this destruction of old scaffolding would clear space for well-integrated humans who would put aside the old slave morality of Christianity and construct a new ethos more aligned with humanity’s true character and better equipped to maximize human potential.

Some technophiles and techno-utopians even have expressed the fervent hope, if not certainty, that advances in Artificial Intelligence will enable us to construct a viable alternative.

Ientertain serious doubts, frankly.

The faith tradition that provided the unifying idea for Europe beginning in the Fourth Century conferred all manner of advantage on the culture of the West.  But the scaffolding on which this civilization was built is facing structural collapse.  And this has led many of these West’s leading public intellectuals to wonder if these structural deficiencies will lead us into another dark age.

Whatever the case, it seems painfully evident to many that Humpty-Dumpty is broken and that despite the most fervent hopes and best efforts of well-meaning people to reassemble him, he is ruptured beyond repair.

What An Irish Phenotype and an Ivy League Education Will Buy You in 21st Century America

Tags

, , , , ,

BetoMan

Beto O’Roarke (Photo: Courtesy of Wikipedia.)

I am not a frequent listener of talk radio, though I readily concede that conservative talk show commentator Rush Limbaugh frequently offers pungent and even prescient criticism of the American ruling class.

I was especially struck by a recent observation.

Speaking at the Trump rally in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, Limbaugh observed that the hatred associated with the 45th president stems from boundless jealousy among our political class, haunted by the knowledge that not one of them — not Biden, not even the sainted Barack — can approximate the Trump’s star appeal.

Limbaugh’s observation was spot on, though I would argue that this observation, insightful as it is, doesn’t go deep enough.

The jealousy and enmity for Donald Trump run much deeper. And I’m convinced that this liberal disdain stems from a deep well of narcissism, which is reflected in the way that liberals — elite liberals, at least — both view themselves and their place within the American cultural and political context.

At the risk of oversimplifying the issue, I would even go as far to say that liberalism has always been less about ideals, more about perpetuating an image:  one in which the bold and elite-educated beautiful — the heirs of FDR, JFK and RFK —  are entitled by birth and intellect to be held in breathless veneration by the masses.

American liberalism has been bound up in this narrative for most of the past century.  It started with FDR, a handsome, polished scion of the American ruling class who, despite his physical infirmity, selflessly marshaled the slumbering masses toward a greater vision of themselves and the country.  But the young, telegenic Irish-American hero, John F. Kennedy, brought this narrative to the peak of refinement.  In fact, an aspiring professional historian could write a dissertation about how Kennedy’s assassination and subsequent martyrdom has driven this liberal narrative.

There has been a deep hunger among liberals ever since to find someone, some charismatic, Kennedyesque figure to modernize and carry forth this lofty narrative. A new movie scheduled for release on Nov. 21 explores the stellar rise and ignominious fall of the presumptive heir of JFK’s mantle, Gary Hart. But a string of other successful and unsuccessful Democratic contenders have also competed to fill this void: Bill Clinton, John Kerry, and John Edwards.  Once upon a time, a few people even compared Jimmy Carter to JFK.

That is why the recent political phenomenon of Betomania is very instructive.  Indeed, it’s not all that surprising that Beto O’Roarke, notwithstanding this week’s defeat, already is being touted as a hot Democratic presidential prospect in 2020. He underscores how far a tall, lean frame, an Irish phenotype, an Ivy League diploma, and a reasonably aristocratic pedigree will take you in modern America, of course, providing that you’re willing to subject yourself all the outrageous indignities and misfortunes of modern America politics.

O’Roarke, in fact, seems right out of central casting: a fourth-generation Irish American possessing an almost an uncanny physical resemblance to the late Robert F. Kennedy — a dynast from an old El Paso political family that can even point to modest links to the Kennedy clan.  Even better, he hails from the deepest reaches of red America in a region of the country likely on the verge of being flipped purple, if not  blue. And to top it off, he’s nicknamed Beto, which affords something akin to an ersatz Hispanic identity at a time when ethnic ties to rising demographic groups are at a premium.

Indeed, we’re likely to see many different permutations of Betomania in an era when liberalism, beset with disillusionment and division, seems more bereft of ideological substance than ever its history.  In such a context, form will always trump substance.

The changes in American elite education that have occurred over the last few decades will only contribute to this. Earlier American elites such as FDR and JFK arguably felt a sense of noblesse oblige, partly stemming from a sense of guilt that their status was largely unearned.  Way back then, elite universities on both sides of the Atlantic functioned as extensions of Eton, Harrow and Groton.  FDR, described as a man of “third class intellect but first-class temperament,” was typical of his class.

Yet, elite education has undergone a sea change in recently years, becoming far more meritocratic, far more SAT-driven.  And the people who pass through these elite institutions now fit a wholly different set of criteria, conforming very closely to the products described by William Dereciewicz in Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite.

Having clawed their way up to these to these stratospheric heights, they expect a payoff.  Even more than the old guilt-ridden WASP elites, they regard themselves as people worthy of deep respect, if not a healthy degree of adulation.  Many regard themselves as anointed by genetics to rule and to think on every else’s behalf.  And, oddly enough, this has only worked to reinforce the old elite liberal narrative.  Granted, many of them are not as poised and physically attractive as Roosevelts or Kennedys, but the old liberal elite narrative nonetheless resounds among them.

If you doubt this:  Consider what is unfolding even now in Silicon Valley as tech moguls arrogate to themselves the task of reengineering of a basic tenet of American liberty, free speech, simply on the basis that they have conceived something better.  Never mind the corpus of judicial rulings on free speech that have been handed down over the past quarter of a  millennium; they know better.

Simply put, the liberal narrative is undergoing significant revision, becoming even more virulently narcissistic as a new generation of meritocrats rise to assume the place of older elites.

Back to Trump.  He’s not one of them.  He openly mocks their pretensions to power.  Even worse, he even has inspired millions of ordinary Americans to turn their backs on them, the anointed, the heirs of this lofty narrative.

Small wonder why they hate him.

 

The Left’s Real Problem with the Senate

Tags

, , ,

senate-logoThe outcome of the 2018 mid-term elections, especially in terms of how it is reflected in the composition of the U.S. Senate, underscores the perennial wisdom of the Founders. But the left’s dissatisfaction with this outcome and its increasingly strident criticism of the “undemocratic” nature of this upper chamber demonstrates two things: its ravenous thirst for power and its growing awareness of its power, especially as it’s manifested in the most influential facets of American culture, namely academia, the Establishment media and the arts.

Two other important points must be mentioned: First, the Senate represents the essence of America union and nationhood, and there would not have been a United States without this indispensable compromise. Second, no other institution established by the Constitution better embodies the limited nature of our federated republic

Indeed, the compromise reflects one of the primary concerns of the Founders: to establish a federal republic with sharply delineated powers and scope, one that enabled the individual states to carry on with virtually all the attributes of nationhood.

To put it another way, the Senate was conceived as a sort of chamber of state ambassadors to serve as a counterweight to the larger popular chamber: the House of Representatives. Its purpose was to ensure that the United States remained what Madison called a “republic of republics,” a federation with sharply circumscribed powers that chiefly functioned to protect the states against against dissolution and the inevitable threats from the chief European maritime powers, Britain and France.

Through its increasingly harsh criticism of the Senate, the left is calling one of the most vital safeguards of the Constitution and our federal republic into question. And, of course, there is an ulterior motive driving this, because abolishing or, at least, radically altering the composition of  both the Senate and the Electoral College would confer the blue coastal regions of the United States with virtually unbridled power to dictate to the rest of the country.

This demonstrates one of the perennial challenges of large, extended federal republics such as ours: the specter of sectionalism, the desire of one part of a federation to dominate at the expense of the others.  It was one of the factors that led to the outbreak of the bloody Civil War.  And without the vigilance of present-day Americans, it could lead to a similar upheaval.

For more insight into all of this, I recommend a thorough reading of the writings of South Carolina statesman John C. Calhoun – that is, if you are able to wrangle a contraband copy of it.

The Implacable Left

Tags

, , , ,

leftist-protesters

Leftist Protesters in Washington, D.C.  Photo Courtesy of James McNellis

A close friend just passed along this fascinating piece.

It takes me back to an exchange I had with an old Sigma Chi brother a few days ago. In a previous social media exchange with another Sig brother, I bemoaned the divisive trends unfolding in America and offered pretty much the same view outlined in this article: namely, that these divisions seem irreconcilable over the long term. The old fraternity brother, a D.C operative who has been burnishing his liberal credentials and virtue signaling skills for decades, weighed in to decry the breakdown of American civil discourse, harkening back to those halcyon days of political discourse the Sigma Chi House when all of us discussed politics freely and openly.

Here’s the interesting part: He followed these plaintive remarks with a litany of reasons why he deemed conservatism a threat to democracy, engaging in the usual right-wing stereotyping.

In other words, we’re not complying with HIS expectations. And that’s the part that really fascinates me about the modern left. As I’ve stated before, most hard leftists secretly pine to run this country like an old-style Eastern Bloc peoples democracy. They’re all for political opposition, but only so long as it conforms with basic leftist precepts.

The very same rhetoric is evident in this article: If the left doesn’t succeed in the mid-term elections, the country will have hell to pay. As the columnist stresses, major Hollywood events have now become a means of rallying Blue America and disparaging the values and leaders of its red counterpart.

That’s the part about the left I find simultaneously remarkable, maddening and TERRIFYING. They will be happy only when the rest of the country hews to their expectations – only when the right capitulates, in other words.

I’ve read too much history not to know where this is heading. And that is why I remain a fervent proponent of radical devolution and barring that, peaceful secession.

But, to be sure, the left is not going to let us go easily, I know that.

The Ruby-Reddening of Alabama: A Short History

Tags

, , ,

kay-ivey2

Alabama Republican Gov. Kay Ivey. (Photo: Courtesy of the Alabama Republican Party.

Based on the results of the June 5th primary, Alabama continues to affirm its reputation as one of this nation’s reddest of red states.

Case in point: My native northwest Alabama county of Franklin. Based on my quick but possibly faulty math garnered from The New York Times’ election data, I noticed that some 4,500 voters participated in Franklin County’s GOP primary, while only around 600 participated in the Democratic one.

This is a remarkable turnaround from the early 80’s, when I was a young Franklin county voter and GOP poll worker. The first GOP primary was held in Alabama in 1978. Before then, a GOP state convention nominated candidates, who generally served as sacrificial lambs in the November general elections.

The only basis for excitement for Franklin County Republicans way back then was the presidential elections in which GOP presidential nominees were generally competitive. With the exception of 1976, when Jimmy Carter swept the South, Republican presidential nominees carried the state. Franklin County, a historically yellow dog Democratic county, generally proved no exception to this rule, though Democrats continued to dominate the down-ballot offices, as they did in mf the rest of the state.

Early GOP Forerunners

Even so, there were a few talented Republican outliers holding aloft the Republican banner in spite of all these daunting obstacles.

One especially memorable Republican insurgent was an unusually gifted and charismatic GOP forerunner named James Douglas Martin, a highly decorated WWII combat veteran.

james-martin

James Douglas Martin

He was one of a handful of Republicans who secured a seat in Congress during the Goldwater sweep in ’64. How? By positioning himself to the right of Alabama Democrats, which, needless to say, took some doing.

He even employed a phrase about “returning to the principles of ’61 – 1861,” which, needless to say, sounded like a veiled call for secession – certainly a statement laced with irony, considering that he was a candidate of the party of Lincoln.

Martin was an unusually gifted public speaker with a very polished and charismatic bearing that rivaled Reagan’s. I can vouch for that, having attended in the late 70’s a Reagan Rally at the Jefferson County Civic Center, featuring Martin as a warm-up speaker to Reagan.

One of Martin’s most memorable acts of chutzpah was running against the wildly popular Lurleen Wallace as the GOP’s gubernatorial nominee in 1966. It proved to be another ill-fated Republican attempt at storming what remained an all but impregnable Democratic electoral wall. He polled only 31 percent of the vote and carried only Greene County and the maverick and perennial Republican county of Winston, known as the Free State.

He made a last attempt at a statewide office in 1978 against a relatively liberal Alabama incumbent senator named Donald Stewart. His campaign slogan: “Alabama Needs Another Jim,” referring to the late conservative Democratic Senator Jim Allen.

Martin was defeated handily and suffered a severe heart attack shortly thereafter but recovered and lived to be almost 100.

Comparatively late in life, he was appointed director of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. Several of my Cooperative Extension colleagues worked with him and described him as one of the most brilliant and dynamic people they ever encountered.

In a very real sense, Jim Martin was the John the Baptist of Alabama Republican politics, one who entered the political fray as a Republican about 20 years prematurely. If he he had been born a generation later, he not only would have secured high office but also would be remembered today as one of the most gifted and influential statesmen in Alabama history – of that I have little doubt.

The 1986 Breakthrough

Republican fortunes improved markedly after the election of 1986, when the Alabama Democratic Party was widely perceived among voters as stripping conservative Democrat Charlie Graddock of his gubernatorial nomination on highly specious grounds and handing it to party stalwart Bill Baxley. That was the first sign of fissures within what had been the indomitable Alabama Democratic Party.

The obscure 1986 GOP nominee, Amway salesman and former Cullman County Probate Judge Guy Hunt, was swept into office and subsequently won reelection in 1990.

Corruption charges forced Hunt out before the completion of his term and he was succeeded by Lt. Governor Jim Folsom, Jr., who was upset in the 1994 election by former conservative Democrat-turned-Republican Fob James.

James was defeated in 1998 by the Democratic nominee, then Lt. Gov. Don Siegelman, but this Democratic resurgence proved short-lived.

Siegelman was defeated by congressman Bob Riley in 2002. Less than a decade later, the GOP secured control of both houses of the Legislature in 2010, the first time in 136 years.

Today the Republicans dominate the Democrats by more than a 2-1 margin in the Alabama House of Re and by 5-1 in the Alabama Senate.

With the possible exception of Utah and Oklahoma, Alabama, once considered virtually synonymous with the Democratic Party, is now the ruby-reddest Republican of U.S. states.

MSM: American Pravda

Tags

, , , , , , ,

zuckerberg

One can always count on the perspicacious Victor Davis Hanson to put the issues of the day into sharp perspective.

And he’s right as rain on this one: The MSM’s refusal to soldier on in its traditional role as nonpartisan muckraker is deeply troubling.

A Hanson observes, “High-tech corporations have acquired massive power and wealth, dwarfing the might of the robber barons of the past.” Yet, MSM seem to have abrogated their traditional role of investigating corporations whose influence threaten the very sinews of a free society.

Yet, this seems to reflect the wholesale decline of media standards in general.

I watched part of the Anderson Cooper’s Stormy interview and was deeply appalled and, yes, troubled. As Sean Hannity recently observed, it sounded like a Jerry Springer interview. It was simply red meat thrown to the MSM’s liberal base. And ponder, for a moment, the outrage that the left would have expressed if Fox News had employed the same voyeuristic treatment of one of Clinton’s detractors some 20 years ago.

Yes, right-wing media have their own problems with marching in ideological lockstep, but, honestly, MSM’s editorial practices are coming to bear a striking resemblance to Pravada’s in the last years of the Soviet Union – simply put, they seem to regard facts as true only so long as the right people (the accredited segments of society) say that they’re true.

Jefferson as Post-National Prophet

Tags

, , , , , ,

Jefferson-Memorial

The Jefferson Memorial (Photo: Courtesy of SamsonSimpson20)

A recent column in Vox explores the decline of dominant American identity and the ways that this identity could be rebuilt amid widespread demographic division and economic distress.

Ezra Klein, the author, contends that the vibrant, effusive American identity that prevailed throughout the 20th century was forged primarily on the basis of two world wars and the 70-year threat of Soviet communism.

I’m inclined to take a slightly different view. The modest imperial standing America acquired in the aftermath of the Spanish-American War formed a critical component of 20th century America identity too. Millions of Americans were carried on a wave of imperial euphoria, confident that the acquisition of a modest, backwater empire heralded our virtually unimpeded ascent to national greatness. And much of this was bound up in the war’s success in re-enlisting the defeated South in nation- and empire-building that followed in the aftermath of this war.

Up to that time, many people in the former Confederate states spent the Fourth of July commemorating the fall of Vicksburg rather than celebrating American Independence.

At the turn of century, some 35 years after one of the bloodiest struggles in history, the South reasoned that if it couldn’t have its own nation, it at least could participate in the building of a nation destined to ascend to the front ranks of global leadership.

This was a fortuitous turn of events for the American national enterprise: The post-Civil War South ended up supplying this nation not only with a significant share of its patriotic ballast but also a generous portion of men and women to guard the outposts of the global American empire that emerged after World War II.

Yet, we seem to be reaching an critical juncture, if not a major impasse, in defining American identity. And one wonders: How much practical value is derived from doubling down on one-nation rhetoric and insisting on more dialogue?

In the view of a growing number of heartland Americans, the only rhetoric deemed unifying by our ruling classes is that which conforms to the agenda of the left.

Moreover, another vital adhesive of American identity, centralized federalism, seems to be losing its efficacy too. Americans seem less inclined than ever to operate off the same page on issues that were once seen as vital to national security, such as regulating immigration and guarding our borders. Some on the left are even calling for the elimination of the Immigration and Customs Service (ICE).

Perhaps most disturbing of all, though, we seem to be rapidly approaching a cultural impasse that surprisingly few pundits have considered: namely, how this country will manage to soldier on when it is no longer regarded by ordinary Americans as standing at the pinnacle of the world’s most successful and exceptional nations.

So much of American unity and national identity is bound up with its perceived greatness and singularity.

A recent study ranked tiny Finland and several of the other Scandinavian countries as the world’s happiest, although the United States failed to rank in the top ten. Indeed, the results of the study point out a remarkable anomaly: Despite the United States possessing the world’s largest economy, millions of its citizens grapple with rising levels of obesity, substance abuse and high rates of depression, not unlike the problems that plagued the Soviet Union in the years leading up to its collapse.

Some on the left have expressed a desire to build a new national identity on the basis of socialism and identitarian politics, with the long-term goal of ridding the country of what they characterize as a historically evil and malignant white patrimony that has existed since the nation’s founding.

Given all these deep divisions over how to define the American enterprise in the future, perhaps we will return to some version of Thomas Jefferson’s 18th century vision of an American Empire: a continent of smaller states, either loosely tied or wholly independent of each other, sharing some degree of historical and cultural affinity.

Jefferson, it seems, may prove to a prophet of post-national American unity. At least, one can hope, amid all of this national division and rancor, that we can muster some semblance of mutual affinity and continental unity.

Whatever the case, a socialist, identitarian America should hold no appeal for any decent person, irrespective of race or ethnicity, who cherishes ordered liberty and constitutional government.

But if, God forbid, such an America emerges in the next 30 years, I suppose I’ll be one of those passing my autumn and winter years in a socialist gulag, at least, deriving a measure of solace that I will be living among what remains of sane people in America.