Sunday, December 24, 2006

STRAWS IN THE WIND

I’m working towards piecing together a picture of things by trying to identify the ‘Alpha stream’. That phrase denotes the primary and most relevant thread of seemingly unconnected events or factoids that – when seen for what they are – yield a usable lode of information or an accurate overall vision of what’s going on. The trick is to isolate that stream from the massive boombuzz of ‘events’ in general. To pick out the key pattern in the picture, to isolate the sound of the submarine from the ambient ocean sounds, to grasp the significance of the one result from a battery of tests that is diagnostically significant … that sort of thing.

Chalmers Johnson has a fine short piece “Republic or Empire” in the January 2007 “Harpers” (not yet online). He proposes that while the U.S. is “for the moment” (excellent point) “the most powerful nation in history” there are “violent contradictions” between its identity as a Republic and “its more recent imperial ambitions”.

First among other telling symptoms he lists “military Keynesianism”, the basing of the national economy upon the maintenance and upkeep of the national war machinery broadly defined. Such a gambit results inevitably in a bias toward things military and – increasingly – an addiction to ‘military solutions’ to a nation’s international concerns. From this basic skew would logically follow a more command-centered national authority (such as “the unitary Executive” theory currently wielded by assorted Administration honchos and roadies).

Among the possible checks available to re-balance the American system, Johnson passes sorrowfully over Congress and the Supreme Court (whose role in forcing the outcome of the 2000 presidential election must be – I’d say – declared infamous), and then turns to “the People”. His discussion of the formidable problems facing The People’s stepping in – for all practical purposes – to save their own ball game is sobering. But in light of the statutory and now-formal structural problems afflicting Congress (the stunning influx of cash and swag that burst in when corporate political contributions were declared a form of protected speech in 1976), the media (the 1996 Act that allowed for corporate consolidation of mainstream media ownership) and the Court (its being ideologically ‘packed’), it appears that The People are the last source of rescue upon which any hope can be pinned.

And hidden off to the side, among the many possible show-stoppers, is national bankruptcy – which can happen whenever our creditors (the Chinese and the Japanese, among many many others) decide to stop buying dollars to fund American indebtedness, or when oil-producing nations start doing their business in euros instead of dollars – and Iran has just begun to do that. A national bankruptcy is not something most Americans can even conceive of, but the defeat and serious degrading of our ground-force capability was inconceivable just four years ago.

So it comes back to The People. And maybe that’s not such a bad thing. We are – and I think in the not too distant future – either going to preserve this Republic or lose it. This is our rendezvous with Destiny. We distract ourselves if we spend too much time pretending it’s only 1946 or 1956, and that the sun never sets on the American dream and on American success.

Of course, now, the question is whether We The People are up to the task. Andrew Brown makes a telling point in an article on Salon magazine’s website (“Diana’s Last Days”, www.salon.com/news/feature/2006/12/14/diana_report/print.html). He notes the late Diana’s similarity to Edward VIII, the Windsor kinglet who gave up the throne in 1936 (1936, with all that was going on in Europe!) so that he could marry the American divorcee Wallis Simpson, justifying his actions to his mother with the whine “Can’t you understand that nothing matters – nothing – except her happiness and mine?”. So many things stun about this plaintive wail. But for our present purposes, what stuns is that to Americans of the Boomer generation – coming of age in the 1960s – Edward’s attitude would seem the height of enlightened consciousness, “hip” and … so on. And it doesn’t seem that things have gotten much better among subsequent American generations. There was one B-level film I can recall in which a young Mark Hamill plays a state trooper – apparently taking up not only a job but a responsibility and a duty because of some repression or other flaw in his make-up; the final scene has him in his cruiser chasing and stopping his love-interest as she drives down the highway (on her way to California or ‘the big city’); he takes off his uniform, gets in her car, and leaves the cruiser sitting there by the side of the highway with engine and emergency lights running. And this was apparently meant to symbolize some ‘achievement’ – and to demonstrate some new level of ‘maturity’ - but no, in those days ‘maturity’ wasn’t even a goal; ‘liberation’ was the goal). “Luv” is all. Feeling all warm and gooey inside.

But even more telling, is Edward’s petulantly pompous assertion that “nothing matters – nothing – except …”. This mindset, this heartset, is death for politics and for a republic. It is the revolutionary set of mind and heart. Not the mindset and heartset of 1776 – which was a fairly conservative affair, modest and prudent in its aims. Rather, this is the Jacobin/Leninist revolutionary set: nothing (and nobody) matters except insofar as they relate to THE revolution’s overarching Vision. Everything and everyone is reducible to that Vision: either they fit into it or they are toast. When the Democrats embraced the Revolutions of the Identities 40 years ago (about which see elsewhere on this site), they introduced the ‘revolutionary set’ into American politics and into the American body politic, with consequences that are corroding The People even now (about which, see below).

The nub of the thing, Brown points out succinctly, is that for Diana “it was precisely her lack of self-control and her helplessness in the face of her own desires that were meant to constitute her humanity”. When We The People are being debauched by the deep strong undertow of yielding to desire, of accepting that we are ‘adult’ merely because of the helplessness – our helpless status – against the urgings of our own desires, then we are being corrupted as persons and as a People and we become incapable of fulfilling our appointed task and duty as The People. And this – as has been noted before on this site – is for all practical purposes exactly the way a lot of the ‘interests’ in this country today want things to be: the government wants a militarized people obedient to a unitary Executive; the corporate sellers want consumers who are not only helpless against their urges to consume but are also safely satisfied that in doing so they are fulfilling their patriotic and citizenly duties at the same time; and the Advocacies – those 3rd and 4th level manipulators for this or that ‘good cause’ – want a herd of stampedable Outragees who can be spun as the base for political influence and the mallet for jamming through dubious if not also dangerous policies and laws. All to the Republic’s great detriment and injury.

Our ‘humanity’ is now defined – and trumpeted – as our weakness, lubricated by the emotional rush of feeling. One might observe that decades ago the unreconstructed would have objected to a too-‘female’ influence in national affairs for fear that Americans would become passive, dependent, emotional rather than reasonable, easily swayed and fickle rather than resolute. Our modern American reality – now exported to much of the rest of the world’s peoples – is some version of Diana-ism. This is not to make a plea for good old days and good old boys – for Southern sheriffs or well-heeled adolescent frat boys initiated into the highest circles of business and government. But the Oprah-ites and the Springer-ites hardly seem an improvement over the NASCAR-ites and the frat boys. We were given to understand that the Revolution of this particular Identity would bring us release from adolescent-macho idiocies at the highest level of our society.

We have watched Janet Reno explain that her police troops opened up on Waco that day in order to save the children, all of whom were killed before sundown, a failure that surpasses the Russian ‘rescue’ of the hostage schoolchildren a few years ago. We have listened to Madeline Albright opine that the deaths of a couple-three hundred thousand Iraqi children isn’t an unbearable price to pay for our national interests. We now read that Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, eyes on retirement, allowed as how she went along with stopping the Florida recount back in 2000 because she didn’t want a Democrat to appoint her successor. And we are still watching Condi Rice do whatever it is that she does as the Eastern front wends toward whatever conclusion might be arranged, consequences to be dealt with at a future date as yet unspecified, for which no one in authority can now be criminally prosecuted. Such an upland. Such bright sunlight.

This in no way is intended to subtly imply that everything pertaining to each of the Revolutions should be reversed or that the Clock should be turned back. Only that yet another broad sunlit upland that was promised by yet another impatient Revolution has yet again turned out to be something far less. The People need to kick a few more tires before agreeing to drive these things off the lot. But of course, the used-car salespersons that are advanced-level Advocates precisely want to avoid such deliberation. Revolutions brook no delay. Truth is thus their enemy. The ‘Emergency’ is all; later the victors can spin the Truth and write the History, after ‘facts’ are created on the ground and there’s no going back. As, with vicious irony, in Iraq.

Our humanity, an essential component of our People skills, has been reduced to Feelings; to this single, insufficient hot-skillet dimension of appearances; to passively ‘consuming’ the stories that are ladled out to us like mush in an old-time orphanage; our only active participations are to go shopping and to tell our personal horror stories and bask in the sympathy of others like unto ourselves.

And into that vacuum has seeped the unitary, prosecutorial government. Paul Craig Roberts (“America’s Injustice System is Criminal”, www.counterpunch.com/roberts12122006.html) notes that we have now imprisoned 700,000 more citizens than China, a country with almost five times the population, and 1.3 million more imprisoned than Russia. And if it be proposed that we can’t believe ‘commies’ when they report their figures, then we can take little comfort in the fact that at least we aren’t China or Russia. A substantial fraction of Americans – don’t forget – think that we are God’s presence on earth, and do a far better job at it than – say – the stodgy, sex-addled Kathlik Church. Go tell it to the Iraqis.

Roberts limns in jaw-dropping detail just how an innocent person, especially if advised by counsel, might well figure that there is slim to no chance of getting a fair trial these days. A plea-bargain might be the best way out, given that prosecutorial malfeasance has burgeoned, secure in the knowledge that there will be enough telegenic ‘outrage’ to carry them over the dangerous shoals that develop when the prosecutors commit more crimes in arranging ‘justice’ than the one that the alleged perpetrator committed in the first place. Law has become a weapon of ‘outrage’, to be deployed against the enemies of the Revolution (and we have several raging simultaneously, don’t forget), and Truth – as aforesaid – is perceived as an obstacle to achieving the desired results. Ancient walls designed to cage the governmental police power within a well-defined preserve are being ripped down or punctured in the name of ‘reform’ and ‘sensitivity’ and ‘responsiveness’, the unstated assumption being that the King Kong corralled by the Founders can be unchained and without consequence or difficulty be made to pull this or that milk-wagon. Nor, when the beast runs amok, can we expect that the military will fly in to the rescue; ‘posse comitatus’ is on the ropes and the armed forces have already been briefed for ‘going domestic’.

Getting results is what the military is supposed to do; the military is built around achieving that objective. It’s what militaries are all about. But it’s what revolutions are all about too. Truth and Justice are far too expensive for wars and revolutions. They work too slowly and too subtly; they respect too much. Great things must be achieved, like surgery, with a certain amount of blood and – frankly – violence. “Blood and iron” was how Bismarck put it. If they succeed, the original enabling violence can be sentimentalized or converted into glory. If they fail, more violence must be liberally applied in order to prevent that fact from being recognized. And so History staggers on.

Nor was the American system put together by its Founders for the purpose of maximizing efficiency. If anything, the opposite. Given the awesome potential power of a national government and the certainty of that national government’s seeking to engorge at the citizenry’s expense, thereby stifling the very font of Liberty, their objective was to erect speedbumps to prevent its working up momentum in that direction. Thus the checks and balances. It is hell and gone from the military approach: mass your power and conduct operations efficiently. Thus, the attack on checks and balances in the post-9/11 era is an unmistakable sign of creeping militarization, which – in the ethos of ‘military Keynesianism’ would be precisely what a national government would need to be. The ‘unitary Executive’ is polite-speak for a military-like command authority.

But let’s not forget that an established national government is also a tempting tool for revolutionaries. It is only anarchists who seek to destroy national government, and there haven’t been many of those on the hoof these past 80 years and more. The Revolutions of the Identities – especially when spackled up by 3rd and 4th level Advocacy – did not seek to abolish government. Rather, in an eerie similarity to the militarization crowd, they sought to capture it for a tool to achieve their own vision of hell and heaven. Thus the end-run on checks and balances and due process in the 35 years prior to 9/11.

Of course, the Advocacies, creatures of their times, are excellent at spin. They did not overtly further ‘revolution’, except in a metaphorical and upbeat sense. No, they were simply making the national government more ‘responsive’, and doing it in response to Outrage and in the name of victims. The twin faces of the Revolutions were the Victim and the Outraged, but all in a Good cause. And there was no little truth to the victimization (has it not been ever thus in this cracked, groaning world?) and no little justification for real outrage (what decent adult can not be outraged at what goes on in this world?). But to use these realities – deftly, shrewdly, and repeatedly – as tools for prying open the bars of Kong’s cage … that was the folly, if not the trahison. Knowingly and with deliberation aforethought, the Victim was erected and used as a shield for breaking into the bank. Stupidly and arrogantly, the consequences of the breaking were pooh-poohed as insignificant collateralities next to the glorious and urgent ‘corrections’ which the Revolutions would effect. I say that the war in Iraq was lost on the playing fields of the Revolutions. The burning question for our time is: will we allow that the Republic was lost there as well?

Because it is little wonder then that by 2002 this Incumbency figured it didn’t even need to hide its agenda. The agenda was put out there by this or that roadie: the unitary Executive. Of course it was spun; even Hitler had to do that: his first Law was “For the Protection of Nation and People”. Who could argue with that? Who wouldn’t want to support giving him plenary power to override the Constitution (Weimar’s) when he saw fit in order to meet the present ‘emergency’? Wasn’t that old Weimar Constitution a clanky and inefficient old thing? Chermans ver too efficient to be hampered by such an old-fashioned, bloodless, abstract 18th-century scrap of paper. This was the 20th century: bright, stream-lined, modern! Ja.

As was said long ago, ‘the truth is a heady wine and most men cannot drink much of it’. But a People, We The People, must be able to drink from that cup, now more than ever. As Chalmers Johnson notes, Congress and the Supreme Court are no longer up to their task of checking and balancing, and we are entering hugely dangerous times. Military derangement and national bankruptcy are as possible as the melt-down of the environment. We’ve already lost a major city, something not even the Soviets managed to achieve back in the day. Instead, we lost it ourselves, in a fit of absence of leadership.

The law enforcement folks have been militarized. I’m not just talking about SWAT chic and small-town police chiefs wearing as many stars on their uniforms as Eisenhower and Bradley and MacArthur and Nimitz, almost twice as many as Washington and Ulysses S. Grant. Far more profoundly, there is an overriding focus on ‘results’ instead of Truth and Justice.

In William Marshall’s fine little novel of about 15 years ago, “The New York Detective”, set in the New York City of the early 1880s, the short, ever-thinking City Detective Virgil Tillman and his assistant, six-foot Irish immigrant beat-cop Muldoon of the Strong-Arm Squad, exchange thoughts as to what police work is all about. The gist of the conversation: Tillman wonders if he’s really on the right track, trying to use his mind to figure out a crime and bring the guilty party to justice. Muldoon sympathetically advises him to do his job the regular way: find somebody who you’re pretty sure is guilty of something, arrange the evidence to convict him, and call it a day’s work – you’ve punished a guilty party and even if he’s not ‘your’ guilty party, well, some other decent copper will someday catch your man and frame him for some other crime that needs a perpetrator, and so it all balances out without your having to worry yourself into an early grave by putting too fine a point on things.

It’s as succinct a nutshell as you could hope for, explaining a certain approach to police work. And it certainly fits into a certain philosophy of government and into the agenda of revolutions. It’s a sturdy peasant sort of ‘wisdom’, presuming that there lies some rough Balance, deep down things. It’s also hell and gone from the Founders and the Republic they bequeathed us. To prevent government from flooding into the lives of its citizens, the American system would require a very fine point to be put on things indeed: truthful proof established through careful due process. The key wasn’t to catch – let alone ‘punish’ - every crime, nor to enable and preserve patriarchal oppression, but simply (!) to protect Liberty from the sleepless omnivorous appetite of government power, seeping or rushing into every space, even if, as in our day, in order to be invited in, it must assume the guise of the helpful, night-strolling Count from the castle on the rocky crag above the village.

Were there no drug abusers in 1789? Were there no domestic violence and no sex crimes? If assorted grounding myths of recent Revolutions are to be believed, such things were rampant. And yet no exceptions were made to the Constitutional guarantees, no primly huffy asides to the effect that: of course, none of this applies to such-and-such an offense, or to such and such a ‘type of person’. (There was, most surely, the hidden-in-plain-sight exception of blacks, the glaring exception, vigorously debated even then, which was – to the universal relief of all except the Southrons – finally erased in the Glorious ’65 of the last century). Nor would the Founders have ever contemplated raising up new ‘excepted’ persons or categories of persons. A citizen is a citizen. And a Constitutional guarantee – like pregnancy – is an all-or-nothing sorta thing. A more-or-less Constitutional protection is – they shrewdly saw – no protection and no guarantee at all. And worse: once Constitutional guarantees could be fiddled with, no matter for what ‘good’ cause or emergency – short of actual military invasion or insurrection, and justifiable not one moment longer – then nobody would be safe. The ship of Liberty would start to fill, becoming less responsive to her helm, less capable of remaining buoyant, as the waters of government intrusion made their way into every vacant space within the hull.

There is too much vacant space in the hull now, created by the absence of The People even more than by the far-advanced abdication of the Congress and the Supreme Court and the media. Vachel Lindsay, around the time of the Great War, imagined Lincoln, rising in spirit from his tomb, restlessly walking the streets of his beloved Springfield late in the night; “he cannot sleep upon his hillside now”. But We cannot allow ourselves the luxury of hoping that Lincoln – or any of the Republic’s great figures of times past – will magically arise and come back to save our bacon now. They may indeed help, from where they are now. But “we, even we here, hold the power and bear the responsibility”.

Lindsay envisioned Lincoln rising because Freedom was threatened by the rise of militarism in Europe. But we have a far greater urgency confronting us now: the undoing of our Republic itself. We are facing what Franklin warned about when, in response to a bystander’s question as to what sort of government ‘we’ were going to have answered: “A republic, if you can keep it.”

The trial of this generation of Americans as a People revolves around much the same challenge posed to the teary-eyed, whiney Edward VIII: what MATTERS to us? If we forsake the hard path of Liberty in order to shop for ‘happiness’, then – as Churchill warned in another time of trial – “we shall have neither”. We shall become victims all right: of ourselves. And our humanity and our Republic shall be hugely diminished thereby.

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1 Comments:

Blogger Davidco said...

A shocking instance of prosecutorial misconduct is reported today in the NY Times account of the Duke Lacrosse team rape case wherein it would appear that, for months, the prosecutor, in collusion with a private science lab, withheld from the court & the defense disculpatory DNA evidence crucial to the defendants' case.

11:58 AM  

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