Quick hitters and tears

The Alien and Sedition Acts were pretty much written to protect the dignity of President Adamsand Jefferson kept bringing more bloody Frenchmen into the United States. Lafayette was all right, the others seemed entirely too much. They were refugees, they were French, they ate snails and -- oh yes, Catholic! Merde! 

Cartoon by Adam Zyglis, from Pinterest

The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities…Washington

Ye have no more religion than my horse; gold is your God; which of you have not barter’d your conscience for bribes? Is there a man amongst you that has the least care for the good of the Commonwealth?-Cromwell

When you have dishonorable, ignorant, and unprincipled idiots invading the halls of government carried the mandate of an election despite their demonstrated lack of qualification or fitness for office, then you upset all the Founder’s assumptions.

There are days when I just feel sad. Occasionally, it’s personal. I have a friend in Russia who is in her early 30s, was diagnosed with a brain tumor, about three weeks ago, and is now in the hospital, in intensive care, in a coma. The cost for the surgery is exorbitant, and her family and friends are gathering the money but…she’s running out of time. She’s gainfully employed, very good at her job and very successful; while there is state insurance that will cover the operation and recovery and convalescent expenses, it doesn’t kick in unless she survives. Nobody is interested in doing the work on speculation, so the family has to pay up front.

Well, I was aware from some news in the Pacific Herald Tribune when I was in China that they have the same sort of problem. My first thought was and remains, what the hell, Marx, Lenin, and Mao? You couldn’t get health care right enough to have it survive the end of communism? And then I feel sad; the unholy Marxist trinity isn’t the problem. The systems are the problems; oddly, our system unless you’re in the uninsured portion of the population, is far more advanced than that and yet…

Lately though, a lot of the time I spend feeling sad is as a result of the turmoil and madness and general incompetence in our US system. I still agree with Churchill that democracy is the worst of all possible systems except for those that have already been tried; but we should be able to overcome some of the problems foreseen although not prevented by Madison, Hamilton, Jay and the rest of the Constitution’s writers.

Everything in the Constitution depends on a simple set of factors that were presumed by the Founder’s to be given. They assumed that those elected to Congress would be honorable, intelligent, and highly principled; that the system would exclude the criminal, the insane, the ignorant and the evil. The Founders were writing at the height of the Enlightenment, a period of faith and confidence in the powers of reason and science and integrity to resolve problems. When you have dishonorable, ignorant, and unprincipled idiots invading the halls of government carried the mandate of an election despite their demonstrated lack of qualification or fitness for office, then you upset all the Founder’s assumptions.

And, we need to remember that bad drives out good. True for money, true for life.

The American Revolution was in fact part of a continuum in the development of the English Constitution. George Washington has a predecessor we don’t often think of as a positive historical influence, but we probably should in a lot of way. Good old Oliver Cromwell was the Lord Protector, and not a lot of fun compared to the Stuart dynasty; he was also a helluva lot better ruler than any of them. Like Washington, a well to do farmer and member of Parliament as Washington was of the Burgesses, he fought throughout the English Civil War, was a dominant figure in the “Commonwealth of England” or the junta that took over after the victory of the Parliamentarians.

When the Parliamentary wing of the junta proved too much of an impediment for progress, Cromwell and the other movers and shakers kicked them out, Cromwell delivering the absolute condemnation. I’m sure that most American presidents who actually want to do something have,  at one point or another, thought much the same thing. 

It is high time for me to put an end to your sitting in this place, which you have dishonored by your contempt of all virtue, and defiled by your practice of every vice; ye are a factious crew, and enemies to all good government; ye are a pack of mercenary wretches, and would like Esau sell your country for a mess of pottage, and like Judas betray your God for a few pieces of money.

Is there a single virtue now remaining amongst you? Is there one vice you do not possess? Ye have no more religion than my horse; gold is your God; which of you have not barter’d your conscience for bribes? Is there a man amongst you that has the least care for the good of the Commonwealth?

Ye sordid prostitutes have you not defil’d this sacred place, and turn’d the Lord’s temple into a den of thieves, by your immoral principles and wicked practices? Ye are grown intolerably odious to the whole nation; you were deputed here by the people to get grievances redress’d, are yourselves gone! So! Take away that shining bauble there, and lock up the doors.

In the name of God, go!

The Founders realized that Cromwell’s example made a lot of sense, but his abuses as Lord Protector and their desire to have their new version of the Parliament be the source of law with a unitary executive under constraint of the judiciary and the legislative branches made them design the Presidency based on limited terms, possibility of peaceful removal from office, and separation of power. That could have meant nothing had George Washington or someone of a similar disposition not been chosen as the first president. Washington was more than willing to serve, but he portrayed himself as doing so reluctantly, and he had in fact avoided anything that would make anyone see him as a king, whether in his Farewell Address to his officers as commanding general of the Revolutionary Army, or his farewell address to Congress.

I have to recommend anyone wondering how we got here to brush up on their vocabulary and then turn to Washington’s Farewell Address. His take on political parties and the resulting despotism seems more and more prescient.

The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty.

Lyon Griswald Brawl, or Congress showing decorum, 1798

John Adams, lacking the inherent charisma and gravitas of Washington and fussy lawyer and bean counter that he was, attempted to add some psuedo-royal aspects to the office, with pretty miserable results. He thought that the President should be addressed as “Your elected excellency” or some similar nonsense. The Alien and Sedition Acts were pretty much written to protect the dignity of the President, because various Jeffersonian newspapers hit too close to home, and Jefferson kept bringing more bloody Frenchmen into the United States. Lafayette was all right, but Bourbon refugees and people like Tom Paine pried from his French cell where he was held as too revolutionary for Marat, seemed entirely too much. They were refugees, they were French, they ate snails and — oh yes, Catholic! Merde! 

In fairness, Adams had less fun in Paris than Dr. Franklin or Ambassador Jefferson.

Any idea of Monarchy crashed with Jefferson, of course. He might have been the classic philosopher king, except he really disliked the attention and wanted to simply get on with things. Fight an undeclared war with France, embargo trade to calm that down, crash the economy, buy Louisiana from France, send off a Corps of Exploration to plant the flag on the Pacific and shoot bears, pretend disinterest while prosecuting — some say persecuting — his former Vice President, Aaron Burr.

Burr, interestingly, was a leading light in the Jeffersonian Republican Party that morphed under Jackson into the Democratic party. My own opinion — which is meaningless, I suspect — is that Hamilton recognized a lot of himself in Burr, the parts that he wasn’t really sure about. The letter that caused the duel questioned Burr’s suitability for the Presidency, and did so on grounds of temperament, impulsiveness and moral fitness. It was also pretty vague, and could have referred to gossip common in wealthy Federalist drawing room that Burr and his daughter were involved in an incestuous relationship. What’s to say but “Hi, South Dakota!”

Well, we’ve been governed by a parade of genius, fools, strivers, and idiots. Like it or not, many of the Presidents have been exactly what we needed at the time, and many have perfectly represented the inherent tensions tugging at our culture, society and government. But, there hasn’t been anyone who didn’t understand the Constitution at least at the 8th Grade Civics level; the best example of someone at war with his own party as our Manatee-Orangutan president seems to be was Andrew Johnson. Johnson was a bad idea that the Republicans came up with to attract the border states since he was a nonentity from Kentucky who was possibly illiterate, usually drunk and had southern sympathies. But, he wasn’t going to be important so…

That of course leads back to my personal sadness. Donald Trump continually fuels it. He represents something very disturbing — his popularity depends largely on fear, yet his prescriptions are all empty. He’s supposedly non-ideological, but his seeming belief that he can do anything he wants to do because “HE’S THE PRESIDENT! HE”S WONDERFUL! YOU VOTED FOR HIM!” to quote my wife, who despises him and can be driven to rage by just the sight of him on TV.

In a 2016 Ted Talk, Indian-American essayist and commentator, Anand Giridharadas foretold the significance of Trump in this way. “America is fracturing into two distinct societies — a republic of dreams and a republic of fears.” We are incapable of communicating with each other; I suspect that some of my friends in Texas would be more willing for their daughter to marry a Child Sacrificing Satanist Breitbart columnist than a Baptist Minister Moderate Democrat. Perhaps having been used to being the furthest left-leaning guy in the room over the years in the Army, I know better than to talk politics, because it might make me crazy. The ideological and political baggage carried by most of us makes us incomprehensible to those who differ.

Now, as a real estate speculator Trump has got to be the quintessential, ultimate believer in the Republic of Dreams. But, that’s in the Trump organization, his friends and with his family. Greater success is right around the corner, all we have to do is turn it! Yet his political approach is a bizarre combination of New Deal rhetoric and exclusionary, class warfare with the plutocrat whipping up the plebes before doing something awful to them in the name of Making America Great Again.

Things can still turn out well for the United States. Congress might work something out for DACA, the failure of imagination contained in the continuous renewal of the Debt Limit might be overcome, North Korea might implode, and Trump might well get bored with having to pay attention and resign. Or be impeached. But, as that great American Wilson Minzer wrote about 90 years ago, “Life is always 60/40 against.” Amen, brother.

 

 

 

 

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