Monday, June 25, 2018

THE TURNING OF THE AGE

"In government as well as in trade a new era came to the colonies in 1763."
--Albert Bushnell Hart

Through history there are periods of political change which, in retrospect, are easy to identify and study.  Times that things shifted to a different paradigm, a different structure and model of doing things.  You can see sometimes to a very small time period when it takes place.  In the mid-1800s for example, Europe suddenly began to shift away from monarchies to representative democracies, usually with a figurehead monarch.

At the time its not possible to see how this will turn out, and usually the people living then could not even see the shift, only the turmoil and chaos that results.  The game Civilization allows you to change your civilization to another style of government when you have learned that form.  Tyranny to Monarchy, or to Republic.  Doing so results in years, sometimes decades of chaos and upheaval.  All your production ceases, there's civil unrest, etc.  That's not far off from the truth.

I wonder now, if we're not in one of those transitions.  Things look pretty chaotic now, and people are talking about a civil war in the USA.  Things seem irredeemably divided, and getting worse.  There are murderous attacks on political opponents: a congressman shot in a softball game.  A church shot up.  A Senator attacked while mowing his lawn.  Police shot by a sniper.  Violence in the streets, with cars burned and shops attacked.  People in political rallies being beaten by opponents.

This kind of chaos results when society is in turmoil, and particularly when the power structure in place is threatened by a new movement.  The last time it was in the late 1960s when the left started to seriously challenge the establishment right.  Bombs, shootings, kidnappings, highjackings and so on were happening as part of that turmoil.

Now, we're seeing the establishment left being challenged seriously.  And the fighting is getting to the same level of fever pitch (with the same side as before being the most violent).  Yet what is going on overall?  Its not so much right vs left, as it is people who really just want to be left alone sick and tired of the crap.  This isn't really a political battle at all in the same stark lines as before, its more a cultural battle of people who want to run your life vs people who want to run their own.

Mind you, that's largely how the left portrayed the fight in the 60s, but really in the end it came down to "we have the perfect utopian answer and you're in the way, old man."  They sold it as free love and peace and tolerance, but as we can clearly see, that was just a front: they wanted themselves tolerated, not anyone else.  They wanted themselves to be left in peace, but not for you to.

A NEW PARADIGM?
In any case, the shift is moving today in a different kind of direction, less a shift between political factions than a shift between entire systems and political structures.  The old system, since the late 1700s, has been political parties who gather to offer up candidates and run things as a coalition.  In America its basically two parties, and in other nations its a parliamentary system that's still just two parties, but there are more little parties who can, if they manage to build a group together, can for a short time challenge one of the main two parties.

In time, political parties start to, as H.L. Mencken said, believe their own lies.  They start to be about less the people they allegedly represent and more the party its self as a body and an organization.  The pressure becomes not about electing but preserving and increasing power of the party not its goals or the people it allegedly represents.  And when that happens, both parties tend to drift toward the same sort of place, a corrupt center left where its about what keeps you in office and makes you rich and powerful.

Today though, with the internet, its a matter of some debate whether political parties really even need to exist at all.  Can we have a more direct system, where candidates just reach out to the public directly without going through a party structure?  Are we getting to where the funding and politicking, the campaigning is more direct to the voters and less through an organization?

If so, that would destroy both the Republican and Democratic Party, to which I say "good riddence."  Neither party cares about or is remotely interested in the country or its people, the voters, or even pretending to represent them.  I'll give just two of many examples of the problem with the parties as they exist right now.

When the Tea Party movement arose in 2008, the Republican Party that it largely supported actively worked to destroy them, to the point of asking the Democrat president to attack the Tea Party movement through the IRS.  There was a concerted effort by the GOP to destroy the Tea Party movement.  Why?  Not because it was an enemy to their stated politics and platform, but because the Tea Party Movement was a threat to the Republican Party's power and mey.

Then in 2016, the Democratic Party had two major candidates for president: Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.  Both were pretty hard left, but one was favored by the Democratic Party machine, so much so that they blatantly and deliberately cheated repeatedly in primary elections to make sure that she won -- with the system so heavily rigged that even in elections that she lost, Hillary Clinton got more delegates for the convention.

In both cases a challenge to the party machine was destroyed not for being opposed to what the party claims to stand for, but for being a threat to their power and structure.  The party its self is its primary concern, not the people it allegedly represents.  There's too much money and power in the party system and leadership to give up.  This inevitably corrupts, if not legally, the morally and in terms of honor and honesty.

What if it became the system where candidates used crowdfunding and structures of that kind to pay for campaigns?  And what if they reached out to voters, not by the usual structures or through the party system, but directly to their constituents through the internet and public appearances?  

I think that President Trump may be the first of this new structure, possibly.  Self-funded, largely campaigned not through the usual old system but through the media and social media.  He reached voters less through advertising and political party systems than through simply reaching voters where they live.  

Now I'm not pretending President Trump is a man like Abraham Lincoln, but I do find a parallel in this: Lincoln was the first president from the new Republican Party.

HOW TO BUILD THIS
To make this work there has to be three things in place.

First there has to be a non partisan and non-censoring social media platform in place which is popular and widely used.  Twitter was that platform when Trump ran for office in 2016, but has since become significantly less so largely in response to Trump's success.  Twitter was pretty apolitical and let people say what they wanted to a large degree until it became clear that this was allowing their political foes to succeed, which they were not willing to allow.

Second, there needs to be an apolitical, non partisan, and most importantly free crowdfunding platform which allows candidates to raise money for their campaign without paying a fee to the platform.  Sites such as GoFundMe have in the past decided they didn't like someone (such as a pizza shop raising money to fight lawsuits and state government leaning on them), and disallowed the campaign.  That cannot be a part of any platform a political candidate used to raise money with.

Third, there has to be a general shift away from political parties by the voters.  People need to get away from the idea that this is the way it always has been and thus must always be.  People have to abandon party concepts entirely and vote based on principles, politics, and platform irregardless of party affiliation -- or without it entirely.

Fourth, the bodies of power such as congress have to move away from the strictly two party concept into a more shifting, changing system of coalitions not based on permanent power structures, but based on specific bills and policies.  Instead of having a majority and minority power, there'd simply be representatives.  Instead of party line votes, there'd be blocks that formed for one bill then reformed for another, consisting of different members.  Senator Yoont may want to cut taxes, but is opposed to welfare reform.  Senator Floont may want to increase the EPA's budget, but is opposed to cuts in the military, and so on.

THE VIEW FROM HERE
I can't see the future any better than anyone else.  And I'm in the middle of the change, which means I'm no more able to read what is happening than you are.  But I get a sense that there is a major change taking place, that the political parties as they exist right now aren't likely to much longer, and I get the feeling that this is where things are headed.

The important thing to keep in mind is that when big shifts of this kind happen they are almost never what the last big shift was or in a way that is expected at the time.  As human beings we tend to try to put everything into a context of what we are most familiar with, particularly what we've experienced in the past.  But that's not always how it goes, and almost never with major events.  Too often we're fixated on the last big evil to see the next one.  And too often we're so busy trying to fit what we see happening into the boxes we're comfortable with like a kid hammering shapes through a toy.  But that star-shaped block won't fit through the circle-shaped hole.

All this talk about a new civil war and the unrest of the 70s may be missing the point entirely, and I think is.  Preparing for and pushing for what we think is happening when something else entirely is would be a pretty major mistake.

Oh, and I'm not saying what comes next is necessarily going to be better.  I doubt it will be.  I think we're moving into a stage where we're not in a constitutional republic any longer.  I just believe we do not know what it is going to be like and trying to predict by making things fit it into old patterns will not work.

No comments: