Today’s Degenerative Politics: Donald Trump’s Rise Is a Symptom, Not the Cause
In a recent interview on Hugh Hewitt’s Radio program, with guest host Jamie Weinstein, I said that so far the campaign for the GOP nomination for President in 2016 has been the most shameful spectacle I’ve seen in my lifetime. Some would say that this is entirely due to Donald Trump’s intemperate rhetoric, his juvenile name-calling, his almost comically immature self-praise. But the fact that this criticism of the current political farce focuses on a single personality is a symptom of what’s really amiss.
The real problem isn’t just Donald Trump. His performance is like the cloud of debris that rises as a large building collapses to the ground. In this case the edifice is the so-called two party system. It is collapsing because the elitist clique now in control of both parties is in the process of pulverizing the foundation of what is supposed to be the political life in the United States. For years they have assaulted that foundation with the toxic misapprehension that politics consists exclusively in the contest for power among ambition driven candidates, all slyly preselected to promote the selfish interests of this or that element of the elitist clique.
This lie shapes the character of every aspect of the electoral process dominated by the twin-party sham. The Party bureaucracies, the campaign consultants (including fundraisers and media specialists), the election strategists and, of course, the candidates themselves, are all stamped with this character. Their understanding of themselves and the political process has one major premise: that the goal is to win at any cost, and thereafter to use the power and authority of office to make sure that you win again and again.
Gone are the days when this premise still pretended to allow behavior that had something to do with persuading voters that candidates’ understanding of the nation’s priorities correctly identified and articulated issues recognized as vital by the common sense of the people they were offering to represent. In that day they could still appeal to some standard of the nation’s common good, premised first of all on the preservation and integrity of the constitutional self-government of the American people.
Of course, even then this appearance of respect was often just a veil or curtain, behind which powerful, unscrupulous interests participated in a no-holds-barred contest of their various wills-to-power, contests that sometimes spilled into public view in literally scandalous ways. But those scandals still had to be framed for presentation in terms of the standards of conduct appropriate to a process that still purported to respect the basic decency and moral sensibilities of the American people. Facts were relevant. Charges had to be proved. Statements that contradicted the public persona fabricated to promote someone’s candidacy had to be avoided or else.
It was still assumed that such contradictions would evaporate the support the fabrication inspired. On account of this assumption it could still be somewhat taken for granted that elections would produce results that enforced what America’s prevalent Founders referred to as a due dependency on the people. This dependency was predicated on two characteristics that, until our degenerate times, were still taken for granted.
The first was that the American people are still attached to the republican form of government, established in respect of the people’s capacity, and consequent right, to govern themselves. Therefore, they are still willing to exert that capacity, demonstrating their consent to do so by means of periodic elections in which they undertake conscientiously to clarify and express their goodwill toward their community, as they elect people to represent that goodwill in government.
The second characteristic was the decency of the American people themselves—their disposition to sustain the goodwill as the basis for their right of self-government. Of course, this goodwill could only appear as such in light of a common standard, in view of which the people made their judgment about what serves not only their selfish good as individuals, but the good of their community as a whole.
Thus it is evident that the purpose of elections under America’s form of government is to make sure the use of the powers of government constituted by the consent of the people consistently reflect their goodwill (i.e., there will to do what is right by themselves and their community.) This consistency is the sine qua non of justice in human affairs. But the need to make sure that the goodwill of the people is consistently respected makes it expedient that its implications for the government’s conduct be expressed and articulated in some persistent form, so that those in government may more easily take account of it.
This is the reason for a written constitution. It frames and structures the proper conduct of government activities so that people can more readily make judgments about whether or not that conduct conforms to the goodwill their government is supposed to represent. The Constitution of the United States makes provisions for periodic elections on this basis. The constitution calls for American citizens to accept the office of voters, participating in those election. In that office it is their function periodically to make judgments about which of their fellow citizens will wield the just powers of the government they have, as a people associated to empower; and about whether the just purposes of government which, as a whole, they have in view, are in fact being respected by the appointees put in place by their election.
It is their duty as voters to make these judgments conscientiously, in light of the standard of goodwill by which they consent to become a nation. As a matter of historic fact, this standard of goodwill was first articulated, on behalf of the good people of the United States, in the observations and premises set forth in the American Declaration of Independence. It has, from the beginning, been recognized as part of the organic law of the United States, the law that is to the citizen body of the people of the United States what the natural law is to the physical body of each of the individuals that comprise it.
The Constitution structures how the activity of their self-government is to be conducted. The Declaration makes clear the purpose of that activity, and the standard in light of which the achievement of its purpose (or the failure to achieve it) is to be judged. Writing of the successful results of the Constitution and the Union President Abraham Lincoln once wrote:
All this is not the result of accident. It has a philosophical cause. Without the Constitution and the Union, we could not have attained the result; but even these are not the primary cause of our great prosperity. There is something back of these, entwining itself more closely about the human heart. That something, is the principle of “Liberty to all”—the principle that clears the path for all—gives hope to all—and, by consequence, enterprise, and industry to all.
The expression of that principle in our Declaration of Independence was most happy and fortunate. Without this, as well as with it, we could have declared our independence of Great Britain; but without it, we could not, I think, have secured our free government, and consequent prosperity. No oppressed people will fight and endure as our fathers did, without the promise of something better than a mere change of masters.
With a Biblical reference (Proverbs 25:11), Lincoln goes on to say that the Declaration’s timely assertion of principle “was the word “fitly spoken” which has proved an apple of gold to us. The Union, and the Constitution are the picture of silver subsequently framed around it…The picture was made for the apple—not the apple for the picture.”
The present existential crisis of America’s liberty arises from the fact that, in this generation, the so-called two Party system consists of one party that openly abandons the principled logic of the Declaration of Independence, the Democratic Party; and another, the so-called Republican Party, that in silence accepts that abandonment of principle, while actively colluding in the destruction of Constitutional authority that inevitably results from it.
This bipartisan surrender of the principled soul of our nation is the reason for our present and impending failure. It is more than probable that in this election cycle America’s voters are deciding whether the apple of gold, in view of which our Constitution was framed, will be preserved and passed on to future generations. Or, consumed with bitterness, like the vain fruit of the fallen angels in Milton’s Paradise Lost, (Book 9), will our prosperous Constitutional union disintegrate into dust and ashes.
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