Can we organize the political reform of America? Our past shows how.

Summary: This is the second post giving a summary of my ideas about how to reform America’s politics. That is, ideas about starting the process. The people involved will have their own visions of reform. Yesterday’s post gave an overview; this post gives details about how a reform movement might begin, looking at the mechanics. We’re at the earliest stage of the process, before stage one (the most difficult stage). This is a bleak view, but reformers must have clear vision if they’re to have any chance at success.  {1st of 2 posts today.}

“Out of small acorns grow mighty oaks.”
— Ancient English proverb.

America is choice


  1. The only path to reform for a democracy.
  2. How do we build organizations to reform America?
  3. What comes next for early reform groups?
  4. Other posts in this series.
  5. For More Information

(1)  The path to reform for a democracy

‘Tis not in mortals to command success,
But we’ll do more, Sempronius,—
We’ll deserve it.

— From Joseph Addison’s Cato A Tragedy (1713).

America will be what we will it to be. A political reform movement requires people with a shared viewpoint and commitment to action, capable of building organizations that convince a large body of Americas to share their goals. The specific steps on that road will depend on the circumstances, and I doubt we today can reliably guess what those will be — nor need we concern ourselves with those details now. Taking the first step poses enough of a challenge for today.

Do we have such a group of people today? The people of the Occupy movement agreed only upon the need for change — which created an organization capable of street theater but not meaningful action.

The Tea Party Movement was in many ways a near-perfect nucleus around which a substantial challenge to the ruling elites could have been mounted (even if born as astroturf).  But they were proud individualists, refused leadership and so were quickly and easily co-opted to become shock troops for the GOP (born as rebels against a bank-bailout government becoming supporters for one of the more bank-friendly Congresses since the 1930s). Their evolution shows the power of the 1%, and the need to build a strong organization rather than a constellation of easily manipulated small groups).

(2)  How do we build organizations to reform America?

How does one design an electric motor? Would you attach a bathtub to it, simply because one was available? Would a bouquet of flowers help? A heap of rocks? No, you would use just those elements necessary to its purpose and make it no larger than needed … {People} will share {your views} when the time comes, or you’ve misjudged the moment in history.

— From Robert Heinlein’s The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress (1966).

We’ve been losing for a long time. The balance of power between the 1% and us has swung far against us, so we will continue to lose for the foreseeable future.

Don’t compare the needed organization to the great organizations that brought victory to the abolitionists, suffragettes, and American civil rights movement. Instead compare our situation to the beginnings of those movements. The Pennsylvania Abolition Society was founded in April 1775 by 24 men. The Testonites, one of Britain’s first antislavery societies, was founded in the early 1780s by a small group of people. The Committees of Correspondence were small groups in each colony. That’s where we are today. Recruiting people for a long program against long odds — it’s not the phase at which mass recruitment is possible.

Where can such people be found? Let’s not be narrow in our visions. It’s possible that a nucleus of people might form inside existing organizations and spread within it. Or among neighbors, co-workers, among strangers brought together on the internet. Hundreds or thousands of such groups will form, from which a few will have the right mixture of ideas, people, resources, and luck that allows them to grow.

(3)  What comes next for the early reform groups?

The great successful political reform movements of our past spent years or decades laying a foundation for growth.  They prepared answers to the vital questions.  Why was change needed?  Change towards what goal?  And they built the basic machinery: organizing, collecting petitions, developing leaders, fund-raising, etc. They built alliances with other groups having broadly similar goals.

We have the same need. I believe the same solution will work, as they’ve been refined by each generation. Look at the abundant raw material! We have hundreds of groups, dozens of coalitions — mostly special interest groups (with focused goals, hence unable to gain broad support). The internet has thousands of websites about politics with millions of readers in the outer party (i.e., the managers and professional classes). These are tinder awaiting a spark.

Today these people are either apolitical or focused on influencing the two major parties (on a local, State, or national level) on narrow goals. This is similar to conditions in the late 18th and 19th centuries. Their reform movements were able to knit their groups into a larger whole. We should be able to do so as well.

The best we can hope for is a long trek (the alternative is a quick defeat).

Please post in the comments pointers to others writing about the steps to reforming America. That is, writing about the mechanics of doing so — not visions of what might be. I’ve found very few, which is a symptom of our problem (as described yesterday).

Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

— From “Ulysses” by Lord Alfred Tennyson (1842).

(4)  Other Posts in this Series

  1. What if Samuel Adams tried to start the Revolution by blogging?
  2. Samuel Adams started the Revolution because he didn’t have Twitter.
  3. Can Constitutional amendments save the Republic?
  4. We’re strong and adaptable, but have a problem that might sink America.
  5. Enough analysis! America is broken. Here are some ways to fix it.

For More Information

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See the links to the pages About the quiet coup in America and Reforming America: steps to new politics.

22 thoughts on “Can we organize the political reform of America? Our past shows how.”

  1. Another thought provoking post,thank you!

    “That is, writing about the mechanics of doing so — not visions of what might be. I’ve found very few, which is a symptom of our problem.”

    Indeed this can be problematic. I was liking Thomas PM Barnett’s vision but we don’t seem to be going that way at all.Based on your analysis,what might be some visions for America?

    1. Elle,

      You ask better questions than I have answers to give.

      I’ve written a lot about Barnett’s work, imo brilliant but flawed. He was used as a tool by the military to justify our wars, then discarded.

      As for visions of America… I suspect my accuracy (see my record of successful predictions) results from being outside the mainstream. For most of my life I’ve been as white bread as anyone in suburbia, but somehow took a wrong turn. It’s a similar perspective to that of Jews in western history, the clarity of an outsider’s perspective with the insight of one on the inside. But it comes at a steep price.

      My analysis is deeply unpopular (can anyone name another website with such traffic whose comments are almost uniformly critical?). I’m pretty sure my vision of a better America would be even more so, and hence of zip political utility.

  2. FM- I am not sure about the web traffic at Kunstler’s web site, as I just started reading his posts, but his thoughts have been mostly critical of our culture’s apathy. A quote from his site, that mirrors your thoughts a bit that I saw this morning, was this one- “One of the hallmarks of an imploding culture is that people lose a sense of consequence. Things just seem to happen and unhappen, and nobody really cares about chains of decision and event. Anything goes and nothing matters.”

    I spend time at your site as not only do you care about “the chains of decision and events” you tie them together (with academic level references if one follows the web links) and challenge folks to focus on what (and currently the HOW to be effective at it) to do about our current state of affairs.

    Reference: The Trigger-

  3. Based on your analysis,what might be some visions for America?

    Based on FM’s superbly insightful analysis, the prospects for America seem similar to those of the former Soviet Union — gradual decay leading to increasing dysfunction and gridlock, with eventual collapse of the basic organs of government and the elementary components of our infrastructure the proximate endpoint. Longer-run, oligarchs will privatize most of what was formerly public institutions and public property (highways, municpal water services, state intelligence services, much of the military) leaving a papier-mâché dressing of empty political organizations to legitimize what is in effect a raubwirtschaft economy.

    In fact we are already most of the way there, except for the privatization of the military and intelligence services. That proceeds apace, but has lagged behind the privatization of public infrastructure like K-12 schools, etc.

    FM has consistently done a superb job of analyzing the various pathologies and dysfunctions in America. I don’t believe anyone has done a consistently better job. Where FM falls down is in his prescriptions for change, which amount to nothing but vacuous pabulum made up of boilerplate from high school civics textbooks — “We will continue to lose until our politics change.” Yes, and things will get worse until they get better. This is empty-headed rote.

    The problems with American politics arise from drastic changes in our society — in our economy, in our communications infrastructure, in our government. Blithely reciting tommyrot about “politics” and the need to “change” represents a foolish and laughably ignorant disregard of the basic reality that things have changed to monumentally in America over the last 40 years that this is no longer the same society it was back when politics “worked.”

    Changes in American society over the last 40 years include:

    [1] Abolition of federal usury limits on interest rates, allowing greed-crazed banks and predatory payday loansharking operations to legally charge Americans thousands of percent interest per annum. This in unheard-of in the history of civilization. Every previous civilization in world history has always had some usury limit on interest rates. Prior to the 1978 Supreme Court Marquette decision, only loansharks could charge these interest rates, by acting illegally. It has never happened before without hyperinflation, and the currrent inflation rate is nil.

    [2] Creation of an Orwellian panopticon militarized surveillance state that now arrests protesters before they can even protest and charges them with trumped-up “terrorism” counts carrying hundreds of years in prison. This has never happened before in American history.

    [3] Conversion of major security services of the American government (the Department of Homeland Security) into corporate cops. This has never happened before in American history.

    [4] Return of debtors’ prisons. This has never happened before in American history.

    [5] Conversion of a major media outlet into Leni Riefenstahl-style organ of extreme fascist propaganda (Fox News). This has never happened before in American history.

    [6] Legitimization of the U.S. president routinely ordering the murder of U.S. citizens without a trial or even charging them with a crime. This has never happened before in American history.

    [7] Militarization of police to the point where police response to citizens in America is no different from the U.S. military response to insurgents in Iraq or Afghanistan. This has only happened before in American history during the New York draft riots from 13-16 July 1863, when U.S. Army troops and federal warships opened fire on rioting U.S. citizens in New York.

    [8] Invocation of a constant state of official fear, in which the civic duty of each citizen becomes mindless panic and acquiescence to any government policy, no matter how outrageous. This has only happened before in America during the CIvil War, WW I, the Palmer Red Scare of the 1920s, and the McCarthy witch hunts of the 1950s. There has never been a period when the U.S. public was subjected to such a quivering state of frenzied official fear for so long without interruption.

    As Naomi Wolf has pointed out, these changes are so drastic and so unprecedented that they amount to a wholesale change of America’s political and economic system into something entirely alien and bizarre.

    To describe these unimaginably huge transformations in American society as a problem “with politics” is akin to describing a 100-pound tumor as “a skin blemish.”

    1. Thomas,

      My first reply was gibberish. I’ll try again.

      “To describe these unimaginably huge transformations in American society as a problem “with politics” is akin to describing a 100-pound tumor as “a skin blemish.”

      No. What I described here was how to do political reform . Which is imo our key problem. The changes in American society range from good to bad to unknowable. I leave such things for speculation.

      As for the rest, perhaps your are correct. But consider that such predictions of doom have been a staple of western society for centuries. The world has always been going to Hell. Yet in fact the world has rolled on, slowly growing better.

      I have faith that progress will continue, with setbacks and catastrophes along the way — as usual. I recommend that you try for a more balanced view of the world. See the light as well as the dark.

    2. Thomas, this comment of yours is spot on:

      FM has consistently done a superb job of analyzing the various pathologies and dysfunctions in America. I don’t believe anyone has done a consistently better job. Where FM falls down is in his prescriptions for change, which amount to nothing but vacuous pabulum made up of boilerplate from high school civics textbooks — “We will continue to lose until our politics change.” Yes, and things will get worse until they get better. This is empty-headed rote.

      I keep looking, here and on other blogs, for prescriptions for change. I tried pressing in the comments for him to elaborate more, to shares some of his ideas for actual change on a post a few days ago. FM does great analysis, but seems to fall short on what to do next. I know the answers are not easily generated, or they would be in the mix already, so I hold nothing against him or anyone else for it. But I keep hoping. And will keep pressing for more.

      1. gbutera,

        Everybody loves the “if I were King” fantasies! Such fine entertainment to counter the ennui of the Outer Party. But the market’s glutted, so I’ll refer you to the Right and Left who do it so much better. After all, you’ll not act upon what you read. You’ll just read it as a gourmet dines out — as a subject of consumerist criticism. #WasteOfTime

        This pop stand sells much rarer goods: advice about how to implement your view of what America should be. These are seeds scattered on stony soil. But this approach has at least the theoretical potential to help someone, somewhere, sometime.

    3. Mr. More, has yet again, done an exemplary job of not only pointing out the value of this blogsite but, subtly reminds us of the deeper issues facing us as Americans. While on the surface one can point to the accumulation of corruption in both private and political arenas of our county as the culprit of our disintegration; “To describe these unimaginably huge transformations in American society as a problem “with politics” is akin to describing a 100-pound tumor as “a skin blemish.” I believe gets closer to the root of our issues.

      From our earliest recordings, where there was society, there have been organized systems of control. In almost all societies, from Samaria to the tribal societies of Africa, these systems included a mythos that provided people with a guidance that cannot be achieved through politics and economics alone.

      We have, in a rather short span of time, gone from being a people who “knew” we were the creation of a bearded man with magic breath; we “knew” the earth was only 6000 years old and we “knew” we were alone in the galaxy; to being a people who is faced with a knowledge that discredits every thing we one “knew”.

      These mythos/religions provided people with a set of guide lines that not only curbed our more impulsive and animalistic desires, but also provided answers for that which separates us from the rest of the Animal kingdom. Who are we? Why are we? And what happens after?

      The transitional period with which we are now faced is not one of only politics and economics, but of humanity it’s self. For this reason political leaders have a challenge none (that we know of) have faced. Redefining an entire species who are self aware yet still primitive in nature, and providing for these people a set of guidelines that not only subjugate their behavior but also provide a reason why said behavior should be subjugated, is that challenge.

      Unfortunately we are all getting to see the answer to the question…Are they up to the task?

      1. KA,

        “point to the accumulation of corruption in both private and political arenas of our county”

        Can you point to some evidence for this? It seems unlikely to me. Many forms of corruption have decreased a lot in the US during the boomers lifetime. The power of the Mafia is far less — and they ruled much of the northeast. I have stories of things you seldom see today, as do so many of us.

        Back then we had a steady stream of politicians busted in life or death with vast sum of cash (Paul Powell is the classic case).

        Determining changes in many social phenomena over time is difficult, such as political corruption and police violence.

    4. Mr. Maximus, to “point to some evidence of this” I need only point to your highly analytical, undeniably accurate blog posts. Discrediting comments which reiterate the very premise of the argument for which this blog is based, dose nothing but invalidate said argument.

      Joseph Campbell’s The Power of Myth, goes into great detail of the role mythos has played in both shaping and organizing societies. It was to this type of information that my above post referred.

      Never having been one who requires a gluttonous dose of flattery to feed my falsely inflated ego, I find myself frequently offending those who feed from this trough. A quality I frequently reprimand myself for but have yet to remedy; for this I offer my most sincere apology.

      1. KA,

        “to ‘point to some evidence of this’ I need only point to your highly analytical, undeniably accurate blog posts”

        That’s an interesting observation. Let’s replay the tape.

        “point to the accumulation of corruption in both private and political arenas of our county”

        Can you point to a post here supporting that statement? Not only don’t I recall any, I don’t believe it’s true. There is much data suggesting that corruption was far higher in the past than today, as I mentioned in my initial comment to you.

        Perhaps you refer to the 1% increasing their influence over the government, using it to benefit their interests over ours? While it’s fun — the joys of self-righteousness! — to call this “corruption”, it’s not. They’re doing so in the open, through the legitimate channels of governance under the Constitution. Rand Paul and the other agents of the 1% are quite open about it; see his budgets cutting taxes for the 1% and cutting services to the 99%. This is no more “corrupt” than the New Deal doing the opposite.

        It’s just rhetoric — common as dirt — to describe government actions that one dislikes as “corrupt”. Indeed Libertarians describe the entire government as “corrupt” for this reason — taxes are “theft”, redistribution is evil, etc.

    5. I am afraid The authors of the FM blog, and myself, have yet again reached a communicative barrier which can frequently occur due to the limitations of speech and it’s inability to accurately relay information. An issue many etymologists blame on the degradation of understanding words that have been often times mistranslated from their earlier origins. So let me help with your some what misunderstood definition of the word “corruption”.

      According to Barnhart’s Concise Dictionary of Etymology… Corrupt…1340 borrowed from old French and directly from Latin corruptus, past particle of corrumpere…destroy, falsify, pervert, debase (cor-intensive + rumpere-break, rupture). The word has no connotation that would relate said use as secretive. There for my use of the word was in fact correct as I was not implying that the corruption was in any way being carried out in secret; the word you are thinking of is conspiracy which is quite different from corruption.

      1. KA,

        Thanks for the additional color on this. But I don’t understand your comment. What were you referring to in my comment?

        “There for my use of the word was in fact correct as I was not implying that the corruption was in any way being carried out in secret”

        I did not say that you did. That was not my objection. Rather it was about the actions you consider “corrupt” and increasing in America. You didn’t say what they were. Thomas’ comment listed a grab bag of things, which were either omnipresent in our history or not corruption.

        Regarding the latter category: the 1% using the government for their benefit is no more corrupt than us using it for ours. The legitimacy of actions in our system comes from the process by which they are implemented.

        Guessing at what you meant by “secrecy” — I pointed to Rand Paul’s openness about his policies. I did not mean that as a rebuttal to an implication by you of secrecy. Rather I cited it to show his intent — one aspect of criminal behavior such as corruption. He is open about it because he believes his policies are not corrupt, and he is obviously correct.

    6. Ah…la-sigh…why I get myself into these discussions is a mystery…why I then feel obligated to engage in counter responses to justify my unique perspective…an even greater mystery!
      However, I will attempt to clarify my thoughts.

      This blog frequently posts thoughts and observations of an America the Authors feel is in a state of decay. An Idea agreed upon by most of it’s commenters even if those commenters don’t always agree on the cause of said decay. I am one of “those” people.

      I do not see the root of the problems in the surface tensions often sited in these posts, politics/economics…but rather see said “corruption” of these bodies as the result of a deeper level of corruption which exists as an inherent feature of our very being. In the past these natural inclinations were curbed by more than just politics/economics but also with propaganda that came in the form of all powerful god’s ready to strike down the “sinful”. An absolutely ridiculous belief system based on fear driven faith…yet effective. (this should (hopefully) help explain parts of previous comments)

      Now…in reference to “corruption” among politics and private sectors and weather or not it exists I will give some examples. You cover quite well some of the issues among the 1% and the government it has been allowed to purchase, so I will leave that to you. However, the corruption of which I speak can also be seen among the “lower” life forms on this planet as well…meaning the other 99%. Heating and Air conditioning companies tampering with equipment that they were employed to fix, rendering it unfixable so they can replace said equipment (much more profitable). Security system companies employing young people to make appearances in communities to invoke proof of growing corruption so said company can later appear in the same communities and sell their product to the now fearful victims. State level government officials giving themselves exorbitant raises despite having placed that which they were employed to manage millions of dollars in debt. Police officers chasing fleeing suspects with bullets instead of their own two feet because they are to fat to waddle let alone run. These among others I feel are the outcome not only of a failing government but a people who have lost the type of guidance necessary to curb a still inherently animalistic race of beings.

      1. KA,

        The confusion results from you bringing in a completely different meaning of the word “corruption” — and an even more different frame of reference — to a narrow discussion. That’s fine of course, but it’s only polite to state that’s what you’re doing. When you don’t tell us you have a different (i.e., non-standard) definition — especially after several rounds of discussion, in which I clearly stated my definition — the audience grows restive.

        It means that everything I’ve said in reply to your comments was a waste of time since they’re not relevant to your definition.

        By the way, the things you mention as specific are common as dirt in US history. In world history, almost everywhere and always. Hence, you are correct that it reflects as an “inherent feature of our being”. That’s been a staple of religion and philosophy for millennia. I’m unsure of it’s relevance here, however.

        “why I get myself into these discussions is a mystery”

        I recommend that you not do so like this again. It’s not fair to anyone talking with you to spring the “I have my own definition of words” game at the end.

    7. Mr. Maximus, once again you have misread my comment and are clearly confused by it’s content. No where did I state I have a unique definition of words, but a unique PERSPECTIVE on issues you simplify by referring to those issues as primarily economic and government. (please don’t make me use the etymology dictionary again to explain the difference between definition + Word and world+perspective, it’s big and awkward to look at while I’m trying to type)

      Maybe reread Mr. Mores original comment which started this thread.

      Which brings me to another point in your latest comment on my comments “It’s not fair” hum.
      I was just going to rebuke Mr. More for his suggesting we reinstate a “Fairness” policy when I discovered you had made yet another response using the same ridiculous notion of fair. Let me explain how the world by it’s very design rejects the notion of fairness.

      At the invent of our existence we are surreptitiously crammed into a body, not of our design or picking, shortly there after born to strangers we did not choose to cohabitate with, who’s policies and regulations we will be expected to follow for the next 18 years. Once reaching adulthood we will walk through life being either punished or rewarded for those predetermined states with which we had no say. Only to finish that hike with death that will result (for most) in our every action being utterly forgotten and in a sense ceasing to exist.

      There is no fair…and because of this we should instead seek understanding and logic. Which once more wraps me back to the point I having been failing to make. To achieve in being a part of a solution to our societies issues one must first seek to understand the root of those issues not simply observing the result of that core cause.

    8. It becomes abhorrently clear that there are many who do not have eyes that see or ears that hear, and for this in all their seeking they shall not find nor will any amount of knocking open that ever illusive door.

      Perhaps the confusion has arisen from my skating around a topic that makes most uncomfortable. But to leave this discussion on a positive note I will ignore the discomfort of others and state simply that which this post asks for.

      Can We Organize the Political Reform of America? To put it as simply as possible NO; because the politics of America do not need reformed. The system was brilliantly designed by exceptional people who understood any systems design would need to allow for the inescapable fact that people change with the times and there for the system must be able to change with them.

      If a solution is to be achieved it will not be done in political/economic forums. If one truly seeks to improve the world (United States of America) that person will do the work by not rallying people to protest politics but to encourage an idea that was unfortunately brought to us by one of the most undesirable men in history, and for this has been largely ignored. Hitler and his eugenics program. Improve the people you can’t help but improve the world (United States of America).

      There is no quick fix and restoring does nothing but return us to a previous state, this will inevitably lead to our ending right back where we are, and have been many times before…in a state of social unrest and political decay.

  4. Kunstler’s blog is a fun read, but basically he’ s nuts ( he wants to go back to the economy of the 1870s or so). He claims that we’ll have to give up the internet due to lack of energy. There also won’t be room for 90% of the current population ( guess who’ll survive). Unlike FM he has about a .000 on actual predictions.

    1. Socialbill,

      You raise something I have long wondered about. So many big names on both Left and right have prediction records far inferior to a coin toss. Some, like Paul Ehrlich, are almost always wrong.

      Predictions about the collapse of the U.S. Dollar, mass attacks by Blacks and Arabs, hyperinflation, overpopulation causing famines, pollution killing billions, mass extinctions (a hot item from my college days in the early 1970s), etc.

      But their reputations remain shiny. Why? My guess is that what passes for analysis and predictions is largely entertainment for the Outer Party. Noting their wrong predictions is like posting the plot flaws in The Avengers’ films.

      I feel bad each time I add another FAIL to the smackdowns page, and do a “lessons learned” exercise. (I published a few of these, but they got little interest). Perhaps this my personal Big FAIL: not understanding the game I am in.

  5. One prescription for reform I can think of, a reform that is practical and reasonable and doable, would be for the president of the united states to issue an executive order reinstating the Fairness Doctrine. Or he could direct the FCC chairman to reinstate it. Either way would work.
    This would at least curb the extreme propaganda elements of Fox News and talk radio that are (I think we all agree) driving an unhealthy level of polarization in American politics.
    Frankly, I’m puzzled why the Democrats haven’t made reinstating the Fairness Doctrine a major cornerstone of their reform efforts.

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