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Thursday, December 21, 2023

Civilizational Jenga - Bit by bit, our ruling class is eliminating our societal safety margins

 Politics makes me sad sometimes.

Oh, not just because politicians are doing dumb things.  Not even because politicians are corrupt.  Politicians have always been dumb and corrupt, as any study of history will demonstrate. 

And it doesn’t matter if they hold office by election, inheritance, or swords distributed by strange women lying in ponds.  Stupidity and corruption are human characteristics, and politicians are very, very human.  (Though recent history is strange women lying in ponds distributing swords look better as the basis for a system of government . . . .)

Sometimes their stupidity and corruption make me angry, and sometimes they make me laugh.  But, given my low expectations, it takes a special kind of stupidity and corruption to actually make me sad.

What makes me sad now is the ongoing game of Civilizational Jenga that our ruling class is playing.  One by one, they’re withdrawing the supports of civil society, in a process that will inevitably lead to a collapse.  They’re taking what was a very robust society, and consuming all the safety margins, bit by bit.

What really makes me sad is that while some of the people involved – let’s call them “the morons” for convenience’s sake – are doing this out of shortsightedness, cupidity, or sheer partisan bloodthirstiness, I’m increasingly convinced that there’s a contingent at the top that knows exactly what it’s doing, and is fine with it.

Roger Kimball gets at it in a recent piece:

“This is the same old trick,” Trump said when he got the news that the Colorado Supreme Court voted 4-3 to keep him off the primary ballot for the 2024 presidential election.

Oops. Sorry. I got my papers mixed up. That was actually Abraham Lincoln in 1860 when he got the news that some Southern states had voted to keep him off the ballot. Eventually 10 states did so.

So here we are again. It’s a bit like that Army Major in the Vietnam war who explained that they had to destroy a village in order to save it. Just so, the virtuous people of Colorado have decided that in order to save democracy they need to destroy it.

In fact, what they have just voted to preserve is not democracy but “Our Democracy™.” Here’s the difference. In a democracy, people get to vote for the candidate they prefer. In “Our Democracy™,” only approved candidates get to compete.

Donald Trump is the opposite of an approved candidate. The untrammeled hermeneutical ingenuity of the American legal profession had be let loose against Trump. As I write, he faces huge legal battle in four states. . . .

Trump is guilty not because of anything he has done but because of who he is. He is an enemy, not of the state, exactly, but of the state of mind that constitutes “Our Democracy™.” When he unexpectedly won the presidency in 2016, the beautiful people, beginning with his opponent Hillary Clinton, couldn’t believe it. They denounced the election as fraudulent. “Our Democracy™,” you see,  means “rule by Democrats.”

Now they are warning that, should Trump be reelected, he would be a “dictator,” a new Hitler, etc. He would weaponise the Department of Justice against his enemies, they claim, and use the FBI to harass his opponents. Stay tuned for the seminar on what the Freudians call “projection”: it meets this afternoon in a democratic redoubt near you.

In a more civilized version of America – one that existed just a few decades ago – the notion of waging this sort of unrestricted lawfare against a leading presidential candidate, much less a former president – would have been considered ridiculous, and had it been taken seriously, would have been seen as enormously risky.

When considering any political tactic, after all, one question is what happens if it doesn’t work.  But sometimes an equally important question is, what happens if it does?

Say the various Democratic flacks, special prosecutors, and state attorneys general somehow manage to eliminate Trump.  What happens?

Half the country – maybe more – will conclude that the whole system is rigged, that the establishment doesn’t follow the rules, and that it will gang up on anyone it sees is a threat.  They will conclude, in short, that the government, and indeed the entire system, is illegitimate.

And they will be right.  And the politicians of even a generation ago recognized that as enormously dangerous.

What bothers me the most is that the powers that be today  don’t seem to care.  Perhaps they feel so secure in their grip on power that they expect never to be held accountable.  (They seem very smug about their mastery of slipperiness and complex rules, but you know, the Gordian Knot was solved through a different approach. )

Maybe they don’t think they need legitimacy as long as they control the sword, the purse, and the press.  But even dictatorships do their best to promote legitimacy, and think twice before going out of their way to convince half the population of their lack thereof.

Perhaps, as some say, the Never-Trumper crowd is actually gearing up for a second Civil War.  Certainly there seem to be some idiots on X (formerly Twitter – do we still need to say that, and why?) who are all in for it.  Larry Correia has a minor hobby in batting them down.

You’d have to be a moron – or China -- to want an American Civil War.  But then again, the Biden Administration is removing the Reconciliation Monument – a post Civil War memorial marking a return to American unity – as part of the post-George Floyd revisiting of the Civil War.  As David Strom writes: “Speaking practically, history has shown that even though the Southern states rose against the federal government, over the past century, our most patriotic and self-sacrificial defenders of our country have come from citizens of the South. Tearing down the reconciliation monument is spitting in the face of the memory of these citizens’ ancestors and a rejection of recognizing the complications in America’s history. It is, in other words, both offensive and stupid. I say this as an admirer of Lincoln’s cause and a strong opponent of the Southern ideology.”

Not far from my office is a memorial, erected by veterans of the Union and Confederate Armies, dedicated to a similar post-war reconciliation.  Will it go next?

This picture accompanied a blog post I wrote over 20 years ago.  And while I have been unsympathetic to the rather tiny and pathetic fringe of actual neo-Confederates, I’ve always felt that we need to admire the post-Civil War reconciliation.  As I wrote then:  “The monument shown above illustrates that; it sits about a block from my office. . . .  As late as the Spanish-American War, there was considerable doubt about whether southerners would turn out to fight for the United States. They did. (My great-grandfather was one of them).  There are a lot of reasons for that, but the American experience of reconciliation after one of the world’s bloodier and more divisive conflicts is one that perhaps ought to get more attention.”

Instead, it is being erased.  There’s little enough of reconciliation in today’s politics, and Roger Kimball is not the only one comparing the present to the pre-Civil War period.

The thing about Civil Wars is, they don’t come from the bottom up.  They come from the top.

And looking at who’s on top today, and what they seem to want, makes me sad.

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