Monday, December 29, 2014

The Consent of the Governed

Seemed like a good idea at the time
This is the intrinsic beauty and power of liberal democracy. A government that is formed by the people and operates with the understanding that their authority may be revoked at any time. That what they do they do on behalf of their constituency, and only with the permission of that constituency. So if you think about it, this is the central organizing principle of any truly democratic institution. That leads to the inevitable conclusion that there are two paths by which a democracy can fail. The government can insulate itself from the governed, such that their consent is no longer requested or required, or the governed can find themselves so divided, so ideologically polarized, or so comfortably apathetic that any kind of broad-based national consent becomes impossible.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed...

Of course, more than one thing can be true at any given time, and here in America we are watching our democracy die due to both conditions. Our government has become so corrupt, so invested in perpetuating its own power that it no longer even pretends to be interested in the opinions of the governed. And rather than resisting this transparent rejection of basic democratic values and voting people into power that will respect the consent of the governed, the people instead have divided themselves into two savage ideological camps, unable to even agree on a basic set of facts. We have created these tribes - "Conservatives" and "Liberals" - that exist to hate each other, and to try to undermine any political progress by the other side. The point has stopped being about policy, and now it's nothing but tribe. Rethuglicans and Libtards. If you think there's a way out of this that doesn't include a second civil war, I'd love to hear it.

I've had a couple conversations recently with people who truly believe this is nothing but another temporary blip, a part of the political process. They honestly believe that the system can't possibly be broken - hey, it's always worked out before. But that's false - it collapsed in 1860 and we had a bloody civil war that cost millions of lives. THAT, I believe, is the model of the future. We have reached a point where our political polarization cannot be reconciled by our system based on 17th century norms of political behavior. The system cannot work, because in order to do so it requires a political environment that simply cannot exist today. At some point, the shouting will end and the shooting will start.

So here's what we have - a world defined increasingly by what it is we don't want. Whether it's abortion, gay marriage, uncontrolled guns or unregulated food products, we argue at the margins over the things we reject. Meanwhile, we no longer can find a way to agree on simple ongoing processes like infrastructure development or education. We can't agree to help the sick or provide a roof for the homeless. We now define ourselves on the basis of what we disagree about, and we have internalized the idea that compromise is surrender. We're so far past the consent of the governed, we've actually arrived at the rejection of the governed. It seems as if it no longer matters what the people want, the government will keep its secrets, determine its own legalities, and explain to the populace only when it is caught out. Our Snowdens and our Wikileaks don't protect us from a government that refuses to be accountable to it's constituency, they merely serve to let us know how far the power has slipped from the governed to the governors.

Even if the leadership were willing to take guidance from the governed, American citizenry would be paralyzed, unable to agree on the path forward. But for that matter, even if the people came together and demanded with one voice a specific governing agenda, it is unlikely that it would merit even a passing note on Capitol Hill. To me, the takeaway is clear: The era of democratic governance in the US is over. There are a number of possible outcomes - from a huge authoritarian state to an orderly dissolution into autonomous regions or even separate nations more representative of their geographic constituencies. The status quo is clearly unsustainable, and there's just no path back to what we used to be. All the bridges are burning.

1 comment:

  1. And that's as good an answer as any to the question, "Why does every podunk police force have an MRAP vehicle?"