Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Agony And The Irony

     No, this won’t be about Michelangelo, and anyway, I’m no Irving Stone.

     I’ve been working, fitfully, on Statesman, the fifth segment of my Realm Of Essences series, and having one hell of a hard time with it. The hard time arises from the nearly continuous stream of real-world events about which I write these op-eds. Those events, of course, center on the current political environment, which is driven by a figure whose ideology, character, personality are the diametric opposites (to put it mildly) of those of my major protagonist, Stephen Graham Sumner, the Onteora County lawyer who rises by an improbable concatenation of events to become president of the United States.

     Lord Acton told us that “Power tends to corrupt.” Indeed, I’ve never doubted that corruption will always be found mated to some degree of power. But it’s always seemed to me that the engine of that correlation belongs a bit further back than Lord Acton put it: Power attracts the already corrupt and the easily corruptible. That such men should aspire to power is natural; that they should exploit it for their own venal ends follows as the night follows the day.

     In Sumner I’ve created a political figure who seeks power to redress the injustices of prior generations of politicians. He wants it not because he lusts after it, but because it’s the only way to “establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity” according to the dictates of the Constitution of the United States. He’s as passionate about justice as my other Realm Of Essences protagonists, but in a sharp contrast with the others, he’s entered the political arena to pursue it.

     If we omit consideration of the current crop of declared candidates, that’s not something we could say about any candidate for the presidency since Calvin Coolidge, with the possible exception of Ronald Reagan. (As for the current crop, let’s just say I have my doubts.)

     So I’m about to promote as a hero-figure a president-protagonist who deviates from the established pattern so starkly that there’s no one to model him on. Power will not corrupt him. It will change him; doubt it not. Nevertheless, his focus will remain squarely on doing justice and reviving the Constitutional order.

     And while I’m doing that, I have to keep writing about current events, the terrible political / economic / social mess the country is in, and the Pretender in the White House, whose behavior is that of a man who resents this country, possibly even hates it, and is working to see it brought low.

     The irony defeats my powers of description.

     I believe that things can somehow be turned around – that with the right aggregation of decent people exerting the right kind and degree of effort, we can return this country to its Constitutional basis. Indeed, I don’t merely believe it; I’m certain of it. What I’m far from certain about is what measures would suffice to do it. With each successive degradation, peaceful means seem less applicable, and a violent revolution seems less avertible.

     The political process has been effectively privatized. The two major parties control it so completely – with which federal law actually helps them – that in an election for a federal position, no third-party candidate has a chance against them. With rare exceptions, federal office holders are effectively immune from legal rebuke. (We’ll see if Senator Menendez proves an exception; so far, Lois Lerner has not.) The most common assessment of our prospects for the near future is bleak. That assessment is probably correct.

     So how can I make Statesman plausible? Is it doomed to be a political fantasy – something we might wish would happen, but that never really could? Or is there still a crumb of hope that a Stephen Graham Sumner could rise from among us “ordinary” Americans, could gain sufficient backing to mount a credible candidacy, and could not only win the presidency but could bring enough like-minded candidates into Congress to give him a real chance to achieve his aims?

     Shadow Of A Sword evoked a fair number of emails that expressed hopes like those above. Yet the majority of my correspondents were equally candid about the low likelihood of a Sumner-like Constitutional movement. Though few were explicit about it, the consensus seemed to be that too many people have too much invested in the status quo, and therefore that any movement to alter it significantly would be defeated by popular assent. Jonah Goldberg’s conclusions in Liberal Fascism were essentially the same.

     Is our only hope something like Hope? If so, pray that a likely planetoid passes by...and that we’ll be ready to exploit it when it does.

     The above sounds gloomy because it is – because I am. Leader figures seldom rise above the context from which they emerge. In our time, movements are more likely to be about some fashion trend or fad in popular culture than about liberty and justice. The exceptions are targeted and tamed or eliminated with high reliability. A real-life Katniss Everdeen would be assassinated before she could become the emblem of freedom Suzanne Collins’s wonderful books allowed her to be. A real-life Kevin Conway wouldn’t be permitted to exist, much less to operate a heavily armed private security force.

     John Derbyshire thinks we’re doomed. He could be right...but I can’t accept it. Perhaps I will someday, if I live long enough, but it would put a permanent end to my fictional efforts, so I’m holding out for now. I have to pay for my animals, my leisure reading, my new barn, my preferred anti-agita remedy,and the C.S.O.’s shoe fetish somehow, don’t y’know.

     Have a nice day.

     UPDATE: Commenter lelnet writes:

     An election is just a special type of war, where the outnumbered side preemptively surrenders before shots are fired. If we have the numbers to win a war, we have the numbers to win an election, as long as elections are still held and their results still honored.

     The most important bits of that observation are “if” and “as long as.” I'm having ever-increasing difficulty reposing confidence in either of the associated premises.


lelnet said...

An election is just a special type of war, where the outnumbered side preemptively surrenders before shots are fired.

If we have the numbers to win a war, we have the numbers to win an election, as long as elections are still held and their results still honored.

daniel_day said...

lelnet, the other "if" is that the election be conducted under honest conditions.

bob r said...

"If we have the numbers to win a war, we have the numbers to win an election, ..."

That *may* be true but the conclusion most definitely does not follow from the premise. See Hernán Cortés' conquest of the Aztec or the Spanish conquest of the Inca Empire for two minor examples.

Rich Fader said...

I read the title and started hearing this in my head, because that's how I roll:

Ominous Cowherd said...

It takes far fewer to win a war than to win an election.

Anonymous said...

Elections are no longer "winnable". That is to say that they're not worth winning.

You can still get one candidate elected over another. What you cannot do is "elect" a just government of exlicitly limited power that is dedicated to protecting the individual rights of its citizens and promoting ordered liberty.

A war of secession is also unwinnable .... at the present time. Fortunately, the long odds of winning such a war will get shorter and shorter. Increasing tyranny assures it.

Rich Fader thinks of Harvey Danger. I think of Pink Floyd:

"Did you exchange a walk on part in the war for a lead role in a cage?"

Many otherwise decent Americans have made that exchange. But, as their "cages" grow smaller and smaller, more and more of them will decide that they'll accept that "walk-on part" after all.

Sad as it to say, it may be that the best hope lies in the concept that "Worse is Better".

lelnet said...

I can envision scenarios of national civil war, citizens vs government, which we might win. But a "war of secession" implies the need to divide the one country we have now into more than one. Even trying to divide it into two was not a successful project, the last time it was tried. But to achieve any coherent political objective by secession today, we would need much more than two. We'd need HUNDREDS. Practically every _county_ in the United States would end up needing its own border patrol and its own army.

When even your "absolute victory for our side" condition is that absurd, you really need to rethink your premises.

RichJ said...

Fran, you mention your struggle with the "Realm Of Essences series"... due to the relentless reportage of this system of things.

To me that sounds like the struggle you should share in your novel... the struggle of an imperfect human with the right intentions... struggling with his ideals. This is the subject of the greatest novel written in the 19th Century, "Great Expectations". To imitate Dickens is no sin.

Also, I need not dwell on the obvious parallels found in the Bible... perhaps the single, irreducible idea of your piece should be Eccl 1:14-15.

Good luck with it.