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The bad news about reforming America: time is our enemy

27 June 2013

Summary: America has many people interested in reforming its politics and government. But not enough. And ever fewer as the Republic weakens, and the cost of opposing the government increases — and the risk taking the extreme measures necessary becomes severe. Every day these trends dig deeper tracks into our society. Time is our enemy.

The times they are a-changin’…
— Bob Dylan, The Times They Are A-Changin’, 1964

Globe Clock

Content of this post

  1. Time is our enemy
  2. The evolving form of the Republic
  3. Beyond the Republic
  4. Other posts in this series
  5. For More Information

(1) Time is our enemy

Ask me for anything but time.
— Aphorism attributed to Napoleon

Many posts on the FM website have spoken of the need to reform America’s political system, as the Second Republic (under the Constitution) appears to be dying. The first post in this series discussed a possible cause, the unwillingness of Americans to bear the burden of self-government (which includes working to retain control of the State). The second post looked at possible solutions. Here we examine the bad news: how much time do we have? My guess: not long.

Our weakness invites others to take the tiller of America. The nation must be governed — we must be governed — and someone else will take the controls if we find the burden of responsibility too great. It is happening right now.

The Tea Party Movement shows how easily the vital part of the American political spectrum — the Right — can be mobilized. With some seed money, lavish media support from Fox News, slack coverage from the rest of the news media — and a new political force emerged. Rank and file Republicans reforged into GOP shock troops to change their party and pull the center of US politics further to the right. The Tea Party movement was born opposing the Bush-Obama bank bailouts, then led to become supporters of pro-bank legislators. They were fanatical supporters of the Constitution, led to become its wreckers (excerpt for select detritus, such as parts of the First and Second Amendments).

Similarly, the Left was easily reforged from fanatical opponents of Bush Jr and all his policies — into the bedrock on which Obama has institutionalized the economic and national security policies of Bush Jr.

Both Left and Right were easily manipulated. I suspect that our disinterest and passivity in response to the revelations about NSA surveillance has been seen and understood. We can expect bolder, faster action in the future — taking us to a New America.

Time is our enemy.

(2) The evolving form of the Republic

Exploding Watch

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Nature abhors a vacuum.
— Proposition 15 from Ethics Geometrically Demonstrated by Baruch Spinoza (1677)

Few realize how quickly the political center of the US has shifted. The accomplishments of President Nixon would make him a liberal today. Having a Democratic Party presidential candidates as far Left as Hubert Humphrey or George McGovern seems impossible today. Libertarianism, once a fringe political philosophy, has colonized both parties (this also shows the decline of Christianity as a vital force in our society).

Rising inequality of wealth and income (see #8 here) leads to concentration of political power. Our elites then use their power to further concentrate income. Rand Paul proposed revising the Federal tax structure to shift more of the burden from the rich to the middle class. GOP governors Scott Walker in Wisconsin and Bobbie Jindal of Louisiana have made proposals to do the same in their States.

Ahead lies more changes. Faster changes as positive feedback drives us down the slippery slope. Cuts to the social safety net. More tears to the Voting Rights Act (already under attack in many States, this week gutted by the Supreme Court). More power and reach to the security services (no longer accurately called “law enforcement”). Greater inequality of income, wealth, and political power. Less social mobility. More institutionalization of High, Middle, and Low justice.

Clock Spiral

(3) Beyond the Republic

The throne is never vacant
— Russian aphorism

I sense an almost tangible yearning among the American people for a leader. Many held great hopes for Bush Jr and Obama, delusional hopes unfounded on their pre-election history. But time will find a strong leader for us, but not necessarily one willing to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution.” In the Secret Service he already has a Praetorian Guard. When he ascends we will be ready to cheer.

Who might we turn to? Who will we trust? Let’s look for clues in the Gallup Confidence in Institutions poll, conducted annually since 1973 (categories vary over time). Only two institutions still have our respect. Perhaps we’ll go the traditional path to tyranny.

Average percent of people saying they have “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in each institution:

Years Military Court Congress President Police Medical Criminal Justice Syst
2010 – 2012 76% 37% 12% 36% 57% 40% 28%
2000 – 2009 74% 43% 22% 43% 59% 39% 26%
1990 – 1999 68% 46% 23% 46% 57% 39% 20%
1980 – 1989 58% 50% 33%
1973 – 1979 56% 46% 39%

.Sinking Clock

(4) Other posts in this series about America

  1. Confession about a failed forecast
  2. A third try: The first step to reforming America
  3. The bad news about reform: time is our enemy

(5) For More Information

What comes next?

  1. What will replace the Constitution in Americans’ hearts? Let’s check for Fascism., 29 March 2012
  2. Another step towards fascism: “Silencing the Lawyers”, 31 May 2010
  3. The President’s big stick (domestic): his National Emergency Powers, 12 June 2010
  4. A look at the future of America, unlike the expectations of conservatives and liberals, 10 August 2011
  5. Looking ahead to the next step of the quiet coup, and a new America, 3 July 2012
  6. More evidence that the military is slowly cutting itself off from civilian control, 15 July 2012
  7. They need not use force to take over, 16 July 2012
  8. Gallup’s polls show who we trust, pointing to a dark future for our Republic, 15 August 2012
  9. Undercutting people’s trust in the Republic: another step to destroying the Republic, 27 August 2012
  10. Under the cloak of liberalism America slides to Fascism, 20 October 2012

About the weakening of America’s spirit:

  1. Americans, now a subservient people (listen to the Founders sigh in disappointment), 20 July 2008
  2. The American spirit speaks: “Baa, Baa, Baa”, 5 August 2008
  3. We’re Americans, hear us yell: “baa, baa, baa”, 6 August 2008
  4. This crisis will prove that Americans are not sheep (unless we are), 8 January 2008
  5. About security theater, a daily demonstration that Americans are sheep, 25 January 2009
  6. Are we citizens? Or peasants?, 21 May 2009
  7. A Washington Insider looks at America, but does not understand what he sees, 7 September 2011 — Will the American people revolt?
  8. Hear the cattle bellowing in the chutes. Will they revolt?, 8 September 2011
  9. Surgery now underway to transform citizens into subjects, 4 April 2012

Some inspirational notes:

  1. de Tocqueville warns us not to become weak and servile, 21 July 2008
  2. A famous guest speaker visits the FM site to tell us that we are not weak — we are strong, 8 June 2008 — Patrick Henry
  3. A great artist died today. We can gain inspiration from his words., 26 June 2009 — Michael Jackson
  4. A wonderful and important speech about liberty, 23 July 2009 — Judge Learned Hand
  5. Why the Turkey is not our national bird, and a reminder that America belongs to us, 26 November 2010

The Persistence of Memory by Salvador Dali (1931)

Dali
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16 Comments leave one →
  1. Pluto permalink
    27 June 2013 12:15 am

    Two notes, FM.

    1. The governor of Wisconsin is Scott Walker, not Scott Wilson

    2. I’m not arguing with your base logic but the strong leader you fear will probably not come from either the military or the police. History tends to favor candidates from unexpected sources who are acceptable to the major power blocs (in this case, the military and the police)

    Like

    • 27 June 2013 12:44 am

      (1). Thanks for catching the wrong gov name. I knew that! Brain FAIL. Fixed.

      (2). Great point about source of govt leaders. We have a fondness for generals – with 4 presidents (plus others, like Tyler and Teddy R, whose military career was an asset). And the fantastic high status of the military makes this a springboard. Pretaeus might have ran, if he could have kept it zippered — despite his poor record.

      But that is, as you said, just a tendency — with the politics of groups probably the decisive factor.

      Like

    • 27 June 2013 4:11 am

      The peculiar trait of American politics is that our military leaders have never shown much interest in political office, and those rare exceptions (Douglas MacArthur, David Petreus) have tended to self-destruct quickly.

      Like George Washington and Dwight Eisenhower?

      Like

  2. Thomas More permalink
    27 June 2013 12:42 am

    The peculiar trait of American politics is that our military leaders have never shown much interest in political office, and those rare exceptions (Douglas MacArthur, David Petreus) have tended to self-destruct quickly.

    The U.S. military seems primarily to seek continued long-term funding for the military-police-surveillance-prison-torture complex. The seem to prefer to influence policy by working in the shadows (see the article “Revealed: US spy operation that manipulates social media — military’s ‘sock puppet’ software creates fake online identities to spread pro-American propaganda,” The Guardian, 2011) and do poorly when they come out of the shadows and try to influence policy publicly.

    The analogy of the Secret Service with the Roman Praetorian Guard seems historically inaccurate. The Praetorian Guard were an elite corps of the Roman legions whose approval was necessary for any emperor to take the throne. As far as I know, the Secret Service is not part of the U.S. military and their approval is not needed in order to elect a president.

    Unlike the model in other countries for a military takeover, the U.S. military leaders don’t seem interested in personal political power. Indeed, they appear repulsed by the messiness of civilian politics and the ignorance and lack of discipline of civilians. Instead, U.S. military leaders seem to want to militarize U.S. society, a task at which they’ve had remarkable success over the past 30 years.

    Like

    • 27 June 2013 3:07 am

      “our military leaders have never shown much interest in political office…”

      Ummm…. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_United_States_Presidents_by_military_rank

      Like

    • 27 June 2013 3:21 am

      I think that list shows relatively low interest by military leaders, if by that one means leaders of the military. Washington, Jackson, Grant, Ike : 4 of 44. One for most of our large wars. Mexican and WW1 didn’t get anyone in the White House.

      Like

    • T. Greer permalink
      27 June 2013 5:33 am

      Zachary Taylor was a general from the U.S.-Mexican War who became President.

      I suppose the dynamics were a bit different during the 18-19c and 20-21c. Militaries of each era were organized along very different lines – early military was not professionalized, and many generals/officers were political appointees. Electoral politics seems a much more natural fit to such men than those who climbed up bureaucratic ladders of 20c military. (I am curious too how many generals or prominent military men of 19c became senators or governors – in many ways those offices had power or prestige equal to the President’s. Times do change).

      Like

    • 27 June 2013 6:46 am

      Thanks for that detail. I didn’t know Taylor was a general!

      So that makes WW1 our only big war that did not elevate a general to President.

      Like

    • Todd Guthrie permalink
      27 June 2013 8:31 pm

      Thomas
      “The seem to prefer to influence policy by working in the shadows”
      All it takes is for only one of the thousands of Generals and other influential military leaders to catch the leadership bug and decide he wants to be Emperor.

      Maybe this man will have a dream one night, that he’s up on a stage speaking to the nation. He’ll be inspired, and he’ll decide that he’s the only one who can lead the country to greatness.
      One day, he organizes a small squad of Marines into the capital, arrests the President and all of Congress. He then goes on national television and announces that he’s saved the people from those corrupt rulers, and that he will start a new golden age of prosperity for the United States. Behind closed doors, he promises to his fellow military commanders that they’ll not only keep their jobs, but get larger budgets and more influence. He may even promise some of them command of the entire armed forces in one of the next foreign invasion campaigns.
      How much popular support do you think such an individual would have? 30%? 50%? How difficult would it be to silence the rest?

      Could easily be a nice fiction story, but it doesn’t seem too far-fetched to me.

      Like

  3. Duncan Kinder permalink
    27 June 2013 4:25 am

    Given the looming decline of the nation state, as van Creveld and others have noted, we should project a model that looks more like early 20th century warlord era China than the Roman Empire.

    Like

    • 27 June 2013 5:03 am

      Remember that van Creveld’s forecast is just that. It is a theory, not a fact. I do not believe that the 14 years since his book’s publication provide strong evidence.

      Like

    • Duncan Kinder permalink
      27 June 2013 5:52 am

      Then let me put it this way:

      The public opinion polls you cited are fine so far as they may go.

      But what has that to do with the opinion of the Chinese, who are going to pay for the government in whatever form it may have?

      Like

    • 27 June 2013 6:47 am

      I don’t understand. How is China paying or going to pay for our government?

      Like

  4. John Cardillo permalink
    27 June 2013 4:14 pm

    Why so much confidence in the Military.
    They were a failure in IRAQ.
    — 4,488 US military deaths
    — 3,400 US contractors deaths
    — 134,000 Iraqi civilians deaths
    — ~$1 Trillion dollar price tag
    Afghanistan is another mess,
    They operate in secrecy, their own court system, there own rules, laws, policies.
    They are discriminatory, (woman, gays),
    They lack accountability (failure to address sexual harassment cases, suicide problem, …)

    What is it that gives people so much faith in this institution?

    Like

    • 27 June 2013 8:58 pm

      That’s a great question! In our past resect for the military varied from low to so-so. That changed after WW1 a bit, then a lot after WW2.

      My guess, emphasis on guess, is that Americans value income and power. Since WW2 began, the military as had both on a scale possessed by no other institution.

      If so, that tells us much about America. Not a pretty picture.

      Like

  5. Brian M permalink
    27 June 2013 5:15 pm

    John Cardillo:

    Nationalism. Training and propaganda. The inherent sheer bloody mindedness of the American population (bearing in mind we ARE a genocidal colonial garrison state)

    Like

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