Thursday, December 5, 2019

Status Quo Ante Uber Alles

     Yes, yes, I mixed languages in the title. It was deliberate. Most of what I do here is deliberate. Consider the title to be a summation. You’ll see why by the closing.

     First, a brief video of a statement from Congressman Mike Johnson (R, LA-04) at (...groooaaannnnn...) the “impeachment inquiry” hearings:

     Congressman Johnson’s well intentioned statement, while important in its sentiments and its context, contains words and phrases that raise some unpleasant questions:

  • Are we in any sense a “self-governing republic?”
  • What was Americans’ level of trust in their “institutions” prior to this farce?
  • Do “institutions” deserve trust? Under what conditions?

     “Self-government” is a phrase with a long history. It was intended to denote a nation whose citizens select their own lawmakers and other public officials, nothing more. But it suggests something more: i.e., that those We the Governed select will faithfully represent our intentions and interests to the best of their ability, rather than haring off on personal initiatives or jaunts into fantasy. To be maximally gentle about it, that is not the case today. Perhaps it never was.

     Concerning trust in our “institutions” – Congressman Johnson plainly had our governments in mind when he used the word – it’s been a long time since Americans have reposed their trust in those bodies. It didn’t take the impeachment farce to destroy public trust in government. America’s 88,000 governments, which comprise over 500,000 elective offices and many millions of appointive and Civil Service positions, have given us ample reason to distrust them. For one thing, the majority of them constantly strive for more and more power and money. For another, they treat any opposition to their actions as seditious at the least. Why should We the Governed trust such persons, especially since they’ve been tireless in their efforts to disarm us, while arming themselves ever more threateningly?

     Now, concerning trust in our “institutions,” I’ve often cited this piercing statement from a great economist of the century behind us:

     There is no need in human life so great as that men should trust one another and should trust their government, should believe in promises, and should keep promises in order that future promises may be believed in and in order that confident cooperation may be possible. Good faith -- personal, national, and international -- is the first prerequisite of decent living, of the steady going on of industry, of governmental financial strength, and of international peace. -- Benjamin M. Anderson, Economics and the Public Welfare: A Financial and Economic History of the United States, 1914 -- 1946

     Given the almost complete record of untrustworthiness governments have compiled since the presidency of Grover Cleveland, what basis is there for trusting them? Was there ever a basis for doing so, or was it a phantasm from the beginning?

     With regard to Dr. Anderson’s exhortation above, consider that he made that statement in a very particular context: FDR’s seizure of Americans’ privately held gold. Think about it.

     About five years ago, I wrote:

     Why anyone would ever trust an institution, be it a private corporation or a government, I cannot imagine. Yet the phenomenon is appallingly widespread, even in these days when governments appear determined to prove that they cannot and should not be trusted.

     What's that you say? You think an exception should be made for eleemosynary organizations such as the Red Cross and the United Way? Bubba, are you ever in for a shock. The annual balance sheets of such institutions are matters of public record. Take a close look at a few of them. Tell me afterward if you still feel the same.

     Trusting an individual can be hard, given what each man knows about his own fallibility and corruptibility. Trusting an institution -- a faceless, bodiless construct which, in the usual case, was created specifically to shield its members against personal responsibility for what "the institution" does -- is insane.

     Yet trust is the sine qua non of a decent, functional society. We literally can't conduct the least of our affairs without it. But to extend it foolishly turns it into a blade we hold to our own throats.

     Five years before that, I’d written:

     Whenever and wherever men decide that they cannot trust one another to behave honorably, to meet their obligations and honor their commitments, or to cleave to fundamental moral principles about violence, theft, fraud, filial duty, and false witness, the sequel is always the same: we recur to the State, the institution whose sole instrument is force. We accede to laws innumerable, expecting them to substitute for trustworthiness in our fellow men. They seldom have that effect, for every law, however well intentioned and carefully designed, creates a black market in the behavior it forbids: an inducement for evil men to sell their willingness to accept the risks of violating it.

     The State, of course, is perfectly happy to take the burden, for its operators are past masters at the twinned arts of taking credit for good outcomes and sloughing the odium for bad ones onto others' shoulders. By gentle, all but imperceptible degrees, it pares away our freedom, our property, and what remains of our willingness to trust one another, gobbling down the slices with Pantagruelian voracity. The progression can have only one terminus, yet most of us remain willing to accept politicians' protestations of devotion to the commonweal in the teeth of all experience...until the day we find our own oxen being filleted for our masters' tables.

     That's usually the day we discover that all the sand has fallen to the bottom of the hourglass...that the vector of our subjugation can no longer be reversed.

     The salient thing here is that the State, a.k.a. government, that ominously potent institution, is really only a concept behind which we find human beings. The State doesn’t actually do anything. It is merely the protection for the deeds of men: deeds forbidden to those not protected by the State.

     If we have lost our willingness to trust the “institution” of the State, or of any of its identifiable components, it is because the men who shelter under its aegis have proved that they cannot be trusted. Worse, “turning the rascals out” come election time has only resulted in the installation of a new and more rapacious gang of rascals...when it’s been possible at all.

     And this morning, in reflecting on those pieces, the conclusions they oblige, and the despair-tinged anger that fueled them, I’m moved to ask myself whether anyone is listening.

     Today, we confront a spectacle that might have come directly out of the Grand Guignol: a mass of elected legislators of one party, who currently constitute a majority in one House of Congress, are straining to impeach the first president in decades who actually seems to have been sincere in taking his oath of office: Donald J. Trump. To do this they have committed every known variety of dishonesty: misdirection, misrepresentation, slander, and outright lies. They have adduced not one single offense for which an elected official might be Constitutionally removed from office. However, their fixed determination to bring about President Trump’s downfall has been evident since shortly after he was inaugurated. With a majority in the House of Representatives, and united in purpose, it seems they cannot be halted.

     Yet these legislators are such lowlifes that a decent American wouldn’t invite any of them into his home. They’re living embodiments of what Ferdinand Lundberg wrote in 1968: is a settled conclusion among seasoned observers that, Congress apart as a separate case, the lower legislatures -- state, county, and municipal -- are Augean stables of misfeasance, malfeasance, and nonfeasance from year to year and decade to decade, and that they are preponderantly staffed by riffraff, or what the police define as "undesirables," people who if they were not in influential positions would be unceremoniously told to "keep moving." Exceptions among them are minor. Many of them, including congressmen, refuse to go before the television cameras because it is then so plainly obvious to everybody what they are. Their whole demeanor arouses instant distrust in the intelligent. They are, all too painfully, type-cast for the race track, the sideshow carnival, the back alley, the peep show, the low tavern, the bordello, the dive. Evasiveness, dissimulation, insincerity shine through their false bonhomie like beacon lights.

     In our era, it is flatly impossible for a public figure to evade public attention. The cameras are everywhere. The media are relentless. In consequence, the public is aware of what the officials are doing – and what they’re not doing. The amount of outright lawlessness among them would qualify any other group as a criminal organization. Yet the truly shocking thing about it is neither its magnitude nor its ubiquity, but that they’ve contrived to get away with it so regularly that it constitutes “business as usual:” i.e., the status quo ante that prevailed unchallenged before the elections of 2016.

     Trump has made it plain that he opposes that order of business. He’s threatened it on several fronts. To those who have profited by it, that notion is worse than intolerable. It is a literal menace to their lives and incomes: enormous fines and prison terms.

     Before you ask: Yes, there are Republicans complicit in the corruption, too. Their shield – Trump’s willingness to support them out of party unity – is thin, but it has a chance of holding. The Democrats in this affair have no such shield.

     All the forces aligned against the president:

  • The Democrats;
  • The NeverTrumpers;
  • The Republican Establishmentarians;
  • The mainstream media;
  • The Deep State;

     ...are united around a single objective: Return federal politics to the status quo ante Trump. To them, nothing else matters.

     That, not some phantasm of presidential abuse of power, obstruction of justice, or maladministration, is what current political maneuvering in the nation’s capital is all about.


Observer said...

The US is the one government founded on DISTRUST. This is why we adopted a constitution that sets out what the government may do and what it may NOT do.

Ryan said...

new follower. good stuff! do you have a source on the 88,000 government and 500,000 elected officials? Never thought about it that way and I want to dig in....