November 7: An Anniversary to Remember, Not Celebrate

Long Ago, on a November 7 Far Away . . .

Long ago in a distant land, a new social and political order arose. Many in the United States and around the world celebrated its appearance and subsequent development. It was such a modern thing. It was clear and promising evidence of human progress. It was cause for hope for the world at large.

That this new order arose in blood and horror scarcely merits mention; what new order has not risen that way? Granted, the violence probably seemed like more than a footnote to the millions whose lives were taken by bullets, bombs, and famine, and to the many millions more who loved and mourned them as sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, spouses, parents, neighbors, teachers, students, and friends. (I prolong the list advisedly.) But that wasn’t enough to disillusion Western intellectuals, among other idealists.

It Got Worse

Not many years passed before a great butcher replaced the brutal theoretician who led the Revolution in its early years. This butcher was ruthless and paranoid, and his reign gushed rivers of blood. In a sick parody of bureaucracy’s worst tendencies, he extinguished every leader, especially military leaders, whom he thought capable of becoming a rival. Every loyal subordinate with any ability was a potential traitor.

graveyard

Toward a Diagnosis of Our Politics

Trump Sanders Clinton

I’ve said for years that President Obama — the quasi-monarchical head of a selectively but systematically lawless regime — is more of a symptom than the disease. I think the same of Donald Trump. I don’t mean Donald Trump the person; I mean Donald Trump the Republican front runner. Donald Trump of reality television (pardon the oxymoron). Donald Trump the foul-mouthed verbal bully. Donald Trump, the least convincing conservative impersonator we’ve seen at the head of the pack in a long time. (Rabid right-wingers will insert their own snide Mitt Romney joke here, I suspect. But he would have been a great president, even if he’s not conservative enough for you and you and you and you and maybe me.)

Meanwhile, with a less partisan Department of Justice the Democratic front runner, Hillary Clinton, would probably be facing — and in fact may yet face — federal indictment on many counts of knowingly treating classified and secret materials with all the seriousness due to recipes published in the food section of last week’s Sunday Times. And she’s losing states to Bernie Sanders, an avowed socialist whose appeal crosses demographic lines, but is particularly strong among young adults who have not yet been required by curriculum or circumstances to learn how the world works.

The symmetry here is that millions of voters are so hostile to establishment candidates on both sides of the aisle that they are voting for Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. It is a remarkable time in our politics, though not a particularly encouraging time.

There are some very smart people (among many others) thinking and writing about this. Here I’ll offer some highlights from the best recent explanations I’ve seen. Peggy Noonan looms large here; she’s a perennial favorite of mine. I’ll also throw in some George Will, some Charles Krauthammer, some (American-turned-Brit) Janey Daley, a bit of Mark Steyn (an Aussie), and even some David Brooks (who sometimes plays a conservative on television but must, in general, be embraced with particular caution).

In each case I am excerpting longer essays or columns which you should read in their entirety. I offer the excerpts as much to persuade you of that as to offer an explanation of the Trump/Sanders phenomenon here. (Note: The fact that I have called the phenomenon after its most prominent current symptoms does not mean they are the only symptoms, or that the disease is not rampant at other levels of government. We’ve been fighting it locally in my city, American Fork, Utah, for some time in our own quirky way.)

The Post I Never Finished Last Year (Updated)

For me 2015 was, among other things, a year in which I didn’t blog as much as I hoped to, and didn’t finish some of the writing I started.

I’m trying to avoid that this year, in part by scaling back my expectations, but also by doing a little better outside of election season. There are things other than politics and government about which I want to write — am writing — elsewhere, but these things matter too.

I have fragments of an unpublished post from last year in which I predicted some things for the coming year. I thought it might be interesting to look back, forward, and around on the same topics one year later.

What Is Socialism?

Author's Note

The Debate

I’ve held forth at some length recently on the meanings of the words republic and democracy, which are of interest to Americans generally, and which have also, here at home, been at the center of heated debate in recent years, over the Alpine School District’s official statements of its mission, goals, and values. The debate is confusing and off-putting for many, in part because it sometimes takes a combative tone, but also because one side has directed a great deal of energy toward artificially narrow definitions of democracy and republic. We are told that a republic is good and a democracy is bad — end of story. Neither concept is that simple, and the part about democracy being bad rings false to a lot of people who love both their country and their freedom.

If the activists were more careful with their terminology, they’d say that a certain kind of republic (our kind, the democratic, constitutional republic) is good, and we need to understand and preserve it; and a certain kind of democracy (our kind, the liberal, constitutional, representative democracy) is good, and we should understand and preserve that, too. They’d say that we should be careful not to be diverted to either direct or social democracy, both of which really are bad — and one of which is a major feature of the Alpine School District’s official goals and values.

The movement could put itself on a sound theoretical footing by adjusting its arguments in two ways: opposing social democracy specifically, instead of insisting that all democracy is evil; and explaining social democracy without calling it Marxism. Besides sounding too extreme and too alarmist for the circumstances, Marxism actually is a different road to socialism. The movement’s alarm over socialism is at least partially justified, but its influence is compromised by imprecise and incorrect terminology.

What Is a Democracy?

Author's Note

An American Thing?

In its simplest definition, democracy is rule by the people — in Greek, the demos. On the face of it, you’d think that this would be not only a very good thing, but also a very American thing. The famous first three words of the Preamble to the United States Constitution are a statement of the people’s authority to establish a government and its Constitution. “We the People” sounds very democratic.

Then there’s that short, most celebrated speech by President Abraham Lincoln. In the last sentence of the Gettysburg Address, delivered at the famous battlefield on November 19, 1863, he speaks of “a new birth of freedom,” and the desire “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” That sounds pretty democratic too, doesn’t it, especially the words “by the people”?

So democracy must be a good thing. Or maybe not . . .

New Hymns from the Sutherland Institute

In the spirit of Edward Snowden, though I do not particularly admire him, I recently hacked into the servers at the Sutherland Institute. There I found drafts of what appears to be a new hymnal. I can’t tell from the files I found whether publication is imminent; nor can I discern the intended distribution. The new hymnal could be just for in-house pep rallies — devotionals, they probably call them. Or perhaps it’s for public sale, aimed at the limited but well-financed subset of Mormons who think actual Mormonism is too concerned with things like freedom and kindness, and not nearly righteous enough.

To make a long story short, I discovered that they have rewritten all or part of some familiar Mormon and other Christian hymns to suit their higher principles. I grabbed some samples to share with you. You’ll see some evidence of their preoccupation with quivers full of children, and also their odd idea of religious freedom, which includes incorporating their religious principles into civil law, and being spared the presence in the workplace or neighborhood of anyone who makes moral choices of which they disapprove.

Cheese, Sunroof, Freedom

Author's Note

This is the third in a three-part series of essays on freedom in America. The first was entitled, “The Gulf Which Divides Us.” The second was “I Am a Tocqueville Conservative.”

Cheese, Sunroof, Freedom

In a fit of dietary decadence a few weeks ago, I went to a Wendy’s drive-through and ordered a “single.” The Voice asked, “Would you like cheese on that?” I declined. I like cheese and cheeseburgers well enough, but I didn’t want to pay the extra quarter or whatever.

A couple of years ago I bought a well-used Honda Accord EX, which has a slightly peppier engine than the base model. It also has a sunroof. I wasn’t specifically shopping for an EX; that’s just what there was. The sunroof is fun, but I wouldn’t have chosen it as option at additional cost.

Freedom is like cheese and sunroofs. (I wonder if that sentence has ever been written in English before.) All else being equal, almost everyone loves freedom — and cheese and sunroofs, I suppose — but only some people are willing to pay any significant price for it.

You may have beaten me to two points. First, the word freedom is attached to so many concepts, including some which are mutually contradictory, that there’s little point it discussing it without a clear, specific definition of what it means in the present context. Second, when was “all else” ever equal?