^^ Senator Hawley clenches his fist : the latest in a long line of political American charlatans
The type does not change. Loud voices, rebellion played at, quack medicine salesmen, faux Declarations, victim fixation, cosplay Minute Men: only the stability of America allows these crinky carnivalians to clown a petty anarchy without generating actual apocalypse. But they are careless too, and on January 6th, apocalypse, usually a mere breath stink, came close to actual disaster…
Today I shall opine about the almost mythic stability of American life, its resistance to betterment, its insistence on flim flam, its political stasis. Hear me out “:
Politicians love to extol what they call “American exceptionalism.” We are the only nation, they declare, founded on an ideal and open to all, the only nation not built upon one tribe, one language, one home ground, the only nation built all by immigrants. (Black Americans are mostly the descendants of captives kidnapped to here, but of course they too originate from elsewhere and thus fit the immgration situation.)
These declarations are true, as far as they go, yet they surely do not tell us the whole story. The most exceptional thing about America is its social and political stability.
Take as an example the current insurgency by the national Republican party (most of it) against the Constitution, in favor of a libertine, Declaration of Independence idea of freedom — a rebellion with no end game — freedom free of civic duty, freedom for its own irresponsible sake. When these freedom addicts and religion fetishists aren’t smoking conspiracy hash, they talk of “defending the Constitution” — when in fact they despise it — the actual Constitution expressly forbids religious tests for holding office – and want it gone, replaced by what some call a “Christian Constitution,” whatever that may be, whereas others of them want no part of the Constitution’s guarantees of rights to all; rights which, in these Republicans’ minds come at the price of Federal control of most of public life.
So saying, these republicans mirror the arguments made by those who OPPOSED ratification of the Constitution at the 1787 ratification conventions. What is more, these anti-Federalists represent the same sort of constituencies — rural, self-reliant, gun-toting, what the late Albert Murray called “the backwoodsman archtype” — that voiced anti-Constitution views at that time.
Only an almost unshakable stability could assure that in 2021, arguments made in 1787 would still import an outdated urgency, or that they would be made by the same sorts of interests. I can’t think of any European nation whose 1787 issues have not long since disappeared. The Stuarts no longer trouble England, the Bourbons have long since faded from France’s politics, and both the Holy Roman Empire and Bismarckian Germany have shrunk to the history books ( as has Naziism). Italy is no longer rent by twenty rivalling city states; Spain has long since buried the Spanish Inquisition. No European nation has engaged in wars of religion since the late 1600s. Yet here in America, the politics of religious fascism retains — or, more accurately, has returned to — a metastisized lump of its full 17th Century force.
The rejection that now dominates the Republican party isn’t new. Colonial America was governed by authoritarians who ruled by, or claimed, divine right as agents of the King. Many were corrupt. All were patronage appointees, loyal to the Crown, indifferent to their colonial subjects. Mr. Trump would have been right at home amonmg thnem.
We may recall the famous case of John Peter Zenger, a printer/newsman in New York City who, in the 1730s, was arrested for printing true stories of the lawless methods of New York’s Governor. That Governor forced the disbarment of Zenger’s attorneys and was only come-upped when colonial America’ s most prominent lawyer, Andrew Hamilton, took up his case. Zenger’s case was far from unique, and it could easily be happening now, as fearless journalists are harrasssed, fired, threatened with death, assaulted by mobs right and left, for reporting what is actually happening.
Yet one need not harken to colonial America to see the persistence of political religion. The William Jennings Bryan coalition of 1896 was aggressively evangelical, anti-Catholic, rural (and racially segregationist as well.) Geographically, Jennings’s following duplicated almost exactly the Southern and Midwest coalition that Stephen Douglas had led before the Civil War; and almost the same State grouping is now the Republican-voting strongholds. I know of no nation in Europe whose 1896 vote patterns recur today, much less those of the 1850s.
This is a remarkable stability. It has survived Civil War, ratification, immigration by millions, wars, depression, and the Civil Rights revolution, all of which did away with slavery and legal separation but seems not to have even dinged the body of American politics. In this we are indeed exceptional, but we should not take pride in a stability which seems unable to resolve the negatives that attend upon a Constitution which was narrowly approved and continues to be a bane to so many who shamefully claim to act in its name but cannot — will not — embrace the deal that it makes between centrally governed prosperity and locally treasured opt-outs; between immigration as a fundamental and fear of immigrants equally fundamental; between equality for all and a dislike of the equity remedies that ensure it; between voting rights and the partisan divides which full voting rights recruit.
Their antecedents were enemies of the Constitution in 1787, and they themselves are enemies of it now.
We live with the unchanging even as we think we are changing. Changing, we are NOT. I am thinking that we CANNOT.
— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere