By Trevor Busch
“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
Those proud words — written tall and with a special prominence above the rest — have had the resounding ring of justice, equality and liberty for all since they were penned almost 250 years ago. At that time a young nation was emerging from the throes of revolution and war, liberated from the influences of its foreign colonial overlords, ready to take on the excesses of its imperialist present and help spread the message that the common people should determine their own political destiny.
It was a subversive idea to the ruling classes of the globe’s tottering authoritarian regimes, still mostly in a position of dominance, and it was an unassailable challenge to a world that still largely believed that the ossified monarchies of the past and their rigidly conservative ethos would endure forever.
But watershed moments in history can be fleeting, and it appears to often be the tragedy of our existence that the cycle of dominance and liberty throughout world politics appears to continue unabated in the 21st century. To employ a pop culture reference, eliminating this cycle is what character Daenerys Targaryen from HBO’s Game of Thrones often refers to as “breaking the wheel.”
When once noble ideas and motivations have become so perverted and eroded to the point where they are scarcely recognizable any more, the ‘wheel’ has indeed come full circle.
Read the above preamble to the U.S. Constitution and ask yourself honestly, constant reader, how much of that dream has actually been realized today for the common citizen?
Instead, global citizens are forced to bear witness to the new colossus, an overwhelming military juggernaut that speaks the language of democracy and peace while dealing in violence with those who oppose it, all in the name of preserving a vast collective of economic interests and shadowy sovereignty over a loose association that it would be called an empire by anyone other than the United States.
It wasn’t always this way. Prior to victory in WWII, Americans saw themselves as a junior member of a large family of nations, not as a pre-eminent superpower ready to wield its military might according to its own moral judgements, not those of others. Pre-WWII America was an isolationist haven, with a population largely disinterested in the foreign wars and conflicts of European powers, or indeed in indiscriminately imposing its will on the weaker nations and peoples of the globe, whether they liked it or not. In short, it was a very different America from what we see today.
With the ascension of populist demagogue Donald Trump and his “conservative dream team” in 2017, those who thought they had seen the worst excesses of a reactionary conservative regime under administrations like those of George W. Bush, or even Ronald Reagan before him, were in for an ugly surprise. Although post-WWII administrations have been both Republican and Democrat almost on an even keel, many historians have pointed out that there has been drift toward the right since 1945 from which the pendulum has never really swept back. Successive Democratic administrations — including that of recent president Barack Obama — have been accused of largely rubber stamping the direction and initiatives of their Republican antecedents while paying lip service to the idea of fundamental change.
Now with the rise of Trump, who seems to be bent on driving America even further to the right, the neo-cons who essentially ruled from behind the scenes under presidents like Reagan and George H.W. Bush now seem like old hat. The term “neo-conservative” is a pale shadow compared with some of the reactionary types Trump has chosen to help him “make America great again.” When it walks like it and talks like it, you call it for what it is: Neo-fascism. The term itself is a loaded one, conjuring up ridiculous images of blackshirted fanatics goose-stepping their way into a blindingly-white Protestant future, a fortress America — Reagan’s gleaming ‘city upon a hill’ — where the alt-right can hold supreme for all eternity.
Trump and his administration aren’t that exactly. They’re at least smart enough to know that styling yourself after the fascist regimes of the past won’t be a banner seller among a population that still believe its government acts for the benefit of all in “securing the blessings of liberty.”
What we are seeing emerge is a new fascism, one that swaddles itself in the trappings of democracy while undermining it at every turn, that justifies its extra-legal actions with yet more and more appeals to naked patriotism, and drapes itself with the flag to draw a curtain against those with the courage to still ask questions.
“A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free,” said future president Abraham Lincoln in his famous speech in June 1858. “I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other.”
Lincoln, of course, was talking about the slavery debate in the U.S. at the time and its fractious effects on the unity of the government. The eventual result was the long and bloody American Civil War, but in the end Lincoln was proved prophetically correct. A house divided could not stand, and the U.S. government through its conquest of the Confederacy essentially became “all one thing.”
Fast forward to 2018, and we are witnessing some of what Lincoln certainly would have viewed as a “house divided against itself.” Since taking up the office, the embattled commander in chief has been under a cloud of suspicion about the nature of his contacts with the Russian regime and allegations of interference in the 2016 presidential election. Just days ago, the American people witnessed the spectacle of the White House releasing a questionable and inflammatory document that seems to suggest an abuse of power by the FBI involving their Russian meddling investigation. Say whatever you want about the potential veracity of the document, the optics of a president for all intents and purposes declaring open war on one of the cogs of the nation’s security establishment is only one of a rogue’s gallery of troubling precedents that have reared their ugly head in Trump’s America.
And that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Trump’s administration, his hand-picked collection of conservative rock stars, are at unprecedented odds with the very portfolios and bureaucracies they’ve been given to manage.
Take the Environmental Protection Agency, for instance, a department one suspects the Trump administration would outright abolish if they thought they could get away with it. Current administrator Scott Pruitt has virtually threatened to shatter the organization into a thousand pieces, not unlike John F. Kennedy’s similar threat about the CIA decades before.
While incoming administrators and secretaries are often a very new breed and meet with bureaucratic resistance regarding their policy implementation, something about the Trump regime’s lieutenants seems uglier, darker, meaner.
They seem to take pride in their martial attitude about their responsibilities, and there’s an underlying glee or glint in their eye about finally being able to drive a stake through the heart of their liberal enemies once and for all.
Trump talks a lot about unity, about a need to heal the left-versus-right wounds that are dividing the nation’s people. It largely falls on deaf ears, however, especially when five minutes later he’s off tweeting about the next minority group he intends to single out for persecution. While democracies have always had shifting loyalties between the left and the right, it is increasingly obvious that the idea of unity, of accepting someone else’s beliefs and life choices whether you agree with them or not, is a lost art of the possible in today’s world where rhetoric and alternative facts and fake news and conservative fanaticism appear to have infected societies like a disease, and the virus is spreading.
In a way, it’s a story at least as old as history — the low will always seek the positions of the high, and when the high become the low, the whole cycle eventually comes full circle. One can take their pick of examples — the French Revolution, the Russian Revolution, and yes, even the American Revolution — among literally hundreds, or even thousands of other examples. The story, in the end, is almost always the same.
In the America of 2018, we see few examples of a willingness to meet and discuss each other’s viewpoints in an atmosphere of mutual respect. Left and right are engaged in a life-and-death war of ideas and ideology that offers no quarter and can accept no criticism. Both sides, it should be acknowledged, are equally guilty of this — but it also has to be acknowledged that each cannot be right, that each cannot hold a monopoly on truth and justice and equality.
If there comes a final reckoning between left and right, if both choose the path of most resistance rather than reconciliation, the victim will be all mankind. Wars and revolutions have been started over far, far less.
If American society — and by association, its government — cannot come to terms with the fact that people are different, have always been different, and to see this as a great strength rather than a profound weakness, then it will have written its own epitaph.
People of different stripes and strides and colours will never long accept blanket state-sponsored conformity, control of ideas, or shades of totalitarianism designed to Baden-Powell all the boys and Betty Crocker all the girls — in short, freedom is an idea that endures almost all efforts to stamp it out.
It’s happened before. The truth of history is that empires come and go like turning a page, and the American Empire — like the Roman or the British before them — will be no different, unless it chooses the path of leadership rather than military domination, of acceptance rather than intolerance, of justice rather than injustice.
Or else turn the page, and a new chapter begins. “A house that is divided against itself cannot stand….”