Monday, June 15, 2015

Wastrels In High Places

     If the title of this piece seems vaguely familiar, you might be thinking of this old favorite, from which I shall now borrow:

     We have created -- and institutionalized -- incentives for fraud and penalties for honesty and candor. Not just for men of science; for virtually every trade and walk of life. For many men, the touchstone of ethical judgment is no longer "Is it right?" It's "Can I get away with it?"

     We have destroyed the bedrock of freedom: our ability to trust....

     We have lived, collectively, as wastrels. We have consumed much and produced little. Especially, we've consumed the trust and good will of our fellows, with our conniving, our chiseling, and our gaming the laws and the courts in search of personal or provincial advantage. That can only go on for so long before Hobbes's "war of each against all" must resume.

     But a descent into venality is seldom uniform in depth or in pace. There will always be some who move faster and go deeper than others. We call them the political class.

     In some of the more fanciful romances of ancient Britain, the fall of King Uther, father to legendary Arthur, was foredoomed by his deceits. He had squandered the trust of the nobles upon whom his reign depended. When an opportunity arose to put an end to him, they took it, and the rest is (Arthurian) history. The pattern repeated itself with King John and King Charles I Stuart, albeit with variations.

     So it is when men lack trust in their monarch. (Of course, it hardly helped that back then, one attained a throne mainly by killing off all the other aspirants.) A king has specific responsibilities. His rule will be tolerated only for as long as he meets them without unduly burdening the nobility and the common folk. If he shirks his responsibilities, or betrays them, his fall is inevitable, for no man can maintain himself in a position of absolute authority by his own hand.

     This is equally the case in a republic such as the United States. However, owing to the distribution of authorities and responsibilities among our political class, its loss of trust is a more involute development, and its fall a thing of exquisite complexity.

     Merely as a sample of what passes for political talk today, consider the following:

     [JAKE] TAPPER: “First I want to ask you about this breaking news in Washington D.C. today and about Secretary Clinton’s position on the President’s trade bill. In a 2012 speech in Australia, Clinton who was a big proponent of the Pacific Partnership bill said quote, “It sets the gold standard in trade agreements to open free transparent fair trade. The kind of environment that has the rule of law and a level playing field.” It sounds to me like she is a big supporter of it but as a candidate she said nothing about it.”

     [KAREN] FINNEY: “Well, but what you just read, that was from 2012 and we are now in 2015 and this deal has gone back and forth between the House and the Senate and then it sounds like we are going back and forth again another couple of times so that is part of why as you played earlier on your show, Hillary has made it very clear that she has her two kind of standards. Any trade deal has to meet those two tests and she has voted for trade agreements that she thought were good and she has voted against those that she thought were bad.”

     TAPPER: “Okay so she opposes this one?”

     FINNEY: “Well, no, that is why she has said that though that she really believes what’s really important from a policy perspective, not the political conversation, she really believes that the final language is really what is important. Because we can talk about currency manipulation but how do we get there? How do we accomplish that?”

     TAPPER: “But Karen I am talking about policy because Democrats in the House and Senate have now voted on this. This is an issue that every single Democrat who has announced that they are running for the presidency has taken a position on except for the one who helped push it and did she even help write it? I believe she helped write it.”

     FINNEY: “I can’t speak to that because I wasn’t at the State Department. But again I just go back to the bigger picture and that is what she has really been focused on. And I hear what you are saying and I know that there are people who, you know, they have things that they want her to say about this but she and, you know, you played her own words. This is how she has laid out her position on this issue in terms of does it protect American workers, does it keep America safe, what is the final language? I mean again you have seen the ping-pong back and forth…”

     Remarkable, eh? A presidential candidate, one of the co-authors of an enormous bill the contents of which have been concealed from the public while Congress deliberates over it, has refused to take a specific position on whether that bill should be passed. Why? Because she doesn't want to come down on the "wrong side:" i.e., the losing side.

     If the polls can be believed, the general public is heavily against this bill -- now colloquially referred to as "ObamaTrade" -- because of its secret nature. When a government starts to make laws in secret, it forfeits the trust of the people. Why are you keeping secret what you plan to do to us? What you plan to take from us? Is this not a government of the people? These are perfectly sensible questions...but not questions prominent politicians ever want to face.

     It doesn't help that "ObamaTrade" is heavily supported by Barack Hussein Obama, whom no one trusts any longer, or that former vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan, himself in poor odor with Americans, has openly said “By the way, TPA—it’s declassified and made public once it’s agreed to.”

     The GOP's Congressional caucuses' collaboration with the least trusted president in history in making secret law has drained all the remaining trust from the political class. The polls have told us that as well.

     In all probability, the demise of the American political class will not take place through a violent revolution. It's more likely to develop as a rolling disaffiliation from government and governmental emissions: a tide of rejectionism in which growing numbers of Americans simply resolve to ignore Washington, and possibly the state and county capitals as well. There isn't enough enforcement power in the world to reverse such a tide. King Canute had a better chance with the coastal waters of Denmark.

     That wouldn't produce a "new America," or an "America reborn." It would Balkanize the country into dozens, perhaps hundreds, of smaller polities. The cohesion of those polities might be at the expense of peaceful relations with others. Given the fractionation of American commerce and culture into pockets dominated by sectionalism and ethnic concentrations, that would seem the most probable course. Should it be the outcome, we'll have incurred it by standing idly by and allowing our political class to behave as it has these past hundred years.

     The political class has no one to blame outside itself. Politicians' descent into habitual evasion, dissimulation, and deceit has squandered the public trust, tarring their number indelibly. Many of them are aware of this. Some hope to reverse it as it pertains to themselves; others hope merely to outlast it, to "ride the tiger" of popular disenchantment hoping to wear it out.

     If the fates of Kings Uther, John, and Charles I Stuart are any indication, their hopes are overwhelmingly likely to be dashed. Unfortunately, their fall could take the country with them.

They are not long, the weeping and the laughter,
    Love and desire and hate:
I think they have no portion in us after
    We pass the gate.

They are not long, the days of wine and roses:
    Out of a misty dream
Our path emerges for a while, then closes
    Within a dream.

     [Ernest Dowson]

1 comment:

Manu said...

The country is already gone. All that remains is the grisly execution of its destruction. It is an airplane that has already lost stability beyond the point of no return. It cannot be righted again. But so long as there remains air above the ground, the plane remains in one piece. The ground is coming. I don't know if it's tomorrow or several decades away, but it is coming.

My neighbor is what you would call a regular guy. Your average suburbanite, with average priorities, possessions, and wherewithal. He confided in me sometime back that he has several guns, ammo stores, a bug-out plan, and certain high-value trade goods. This is not your backwoods survivalist in the middle of Montana. He isn't like me in that you would never find him putzing around various online debate venues and intellectual blogs. This is a regular Joe in a typical white-collar suburban enclave.

And he's loaded for bear. As he said it: "things can fall apart quickly. Been seeing a lot more of that lately. Just want to be ready if the rot comes here."

I think a lot of Americans, of many different stripes, know deep-down that the collapse is coming. They don't trust the pilot when he says everything is just fine, and the plane will be righting again soon. The passengers are clutching their parachutes, sneaking what they can from others. The mad scramble hasn't quite started yet, but it's just under the surface, seething panic, a muted madness.

Folks are taking sides. When our neighborhood had a little Memorial Day party, nobody bothered telling the HOA like we were supposed to. The one Black family on the block stayed inside, watching furtively from their windows. They don't like us, or want anything to do with us. They are reasonably educated and affluent Blacks, but don't like the idea of hanging out with Whitey. Ironically, most folks would be welcoming to them (again, they aren't the gang banger variety), supposing they were interested. They were invited to the party. But they showed little interest. We're not their people, and they aren't ours. And so there was a little awkwardness, and they declined to come out.

This is interesting in the context of the recent unpleasantness at that Pool party. It's just a little microcosm of my own world, but the point is, I see it everywhere. In stores, neighborhoods, churches... Americans aren't coming together, they are growing apart.

And they are arming themselves, either ideologically, physically or both.

We all know where that leads.