Sunday, May 22, 2016

The Ides of the American Republic

Roman Republicans understood that Caesar was the problem, but the mob in the
end brought down the Republic and gave themselves an Emperor anyway.

A lot of conservatives, especially the stubborn constitutionalists in the group keep reminding us all that we are a republic and not a democracy.
Trouble is they do it on conservative websites where we already know that. I think everyone on the conservative side gets it that we are a Republic. We've talked about it enough. There's not a need to harp on that and nitpick at words of commentators who casually use the term democracy in commentaries. The real need just now is not to convince ourselves, but to convince the mob of the value of a Republic at a time, when the mob is clamoring for an emperor to rule them.

We are, in fact, a democratic republic (not the socialist kind, but the real kind). Such a structure protects us from mob rule as the founders of our nation intended. That said, we are also a democracy in the sense of one man/one vote. We are the opposite of an aristocracy, even though aristocracies may allow folk to vote.  That distinction should be made very clear so long as we are nit-picking. You can have a Republic of aristocrats as well as the democratic sort. In an aristocratic Republic, some men are worth more than others. It was one of the great flaws of the Roman Republic and it is one of the great flaws we have seen in the Republican Party of late.

Unfortunately, for the founding fathers to make this country work, they had to accept a more egalitarian to be sure, yet still a kind of class-based republicanism, in which slaves and women were not allowed to vote or were only counted as 3/5ths of a person. We were, at first, very much a nation of white males.The founders were, however, wise enough to build into the Constitution what Confederate VP Alexander Stephens called "the seeds of the destruction of our peculiar institution". He was referring, of course, to slavery, but I would argue that the founders also built into the Constitution an innate antagonism to any form of inequality. In doing so, the founders inevitably triggered societal changes that led to the emancipation of women and slaves, civil rights for all, fair treatment of native Americans and free market capitalism.

The elitist faction of our country have never been entirely comfortable with a government of the people, by the people and for the people. They've always seen themselves as a kind of American nobility and have always fought the tsunami of freedom initiated by the Constitution and Bill of Rights in one manner or another in an attempt to secure their positions at the head of society.  Along the way they clung to slavery, glommed onto Darwinism, eugenics and socialism, passed Jim Crow laws and used media as a social engineering tool to secure the place of our betters (themselves). The saw their rightful place in the world as at the top and have used wealth, influence and education to secure that position. It's not accidental that the first feature film, Birth of a Nation, glorifies the Ku Klux Klan. Propaganda got an early start as an art form in all media.

And always the Constitution and the people (whom the government is of and by) have pushed back. In large part this has been due to the teaching of the Constitution's values to children in school. Inculcating the idea that all men are created equal has had a powerful effect and is the secret to America's success and longevity. It's not surprising, then, that there has been such a powerful effort to rewrite history as taught in school and to downplay the importance of the very document that made this nation the first bastion of true freedom in the world.

Of course, the elitist new nobility had to stop that sort of nonsense. The lower classes might be taught to believe they were as good as the upper classes in America and they could not have that. So now we teach our kids to admire wealth and celebrity instead of courage and good behavior. We've taught our kids to laugh at the Horatio Alger stories, to deride moral courage and altruism and to sneer at the founders of our nation, criticizing them for the very sins their work helped our nation to eventually overcome and reject. Then they taught our children that there is no such thing as sin. And mind you that the organizations and individuals who now undeservedly claim the moral high ground are the very ones who throughout our nation's history who have defended the sins they now claim to abhor.

I do believe the battle has come to a head in this election where we have a choice between an outright socialist and an outright crony capitalist (which is itself little more than a corporate welfare state). Now, in this election we find out whether the more "democratic" American Republic has more backbone than the old class-based Roman Republic. Will we choose an emperor or will we, as the wife of the last great president of the United States once advised, "Just say NO!". 

Sadly, even if the Republican leadership does manage somehow to assassinate the disaster that is the Trump candidacy, we've already seen how this works out before. For every Julius there is an Augustus elevated by the mob, followed by a Tiberius, then a Caligula, a Claudius and then a Nero, followed by flames as the last of the Old Republic goes up in smoke. People say God's will will inevitably be worked out. Best hope His will doesn't include America going up in flames.

There is an ancient Chinese curse that goes, "May you live in interesting times."  Well this next few yours should certainly be interesting.

© 2016 by Tom King

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