Saturday, December 17, 2016

The Price of Power

Normally, this blog does not mention current politics.  I really don’t want to write that kind of blog—if for no other reason than I’m pretty sure no one wants to read it—but when a recent election was so obviously  and spectacularly fornicated skyward, I can’t help but feel an overwhelming urge to, at the very least, make a snide comment or two.

I did NOT strongly support a candidate.  Voting this year was uncomfortably similar to being forced to choose your favorite turd from a Porta-Potty.  In my opinion, you could have dug a pit in the New Mexico desert and caught a better slate of candidates by accident and nothing that has occurred since the election has changed that opinion.

Impressively, at least one campaign promise is already coming true.  Several candidates—even though they eventually lost—promised free college education.  Now, sure enough, the entire country is quickly becoming expert on the Electoral College.  (Well, no one ever said which college that education would be at/about, but come the next election, we will all pay more attention to the fine print!)

The last election once again impressed upon me how swiftly and strongly the American people react to imposed power.  We do not want decisions made by leaders or courts, we somehow prefer inaction while we slowly make up our collective political mind.  The political pendulum moves at a glacially slow pace, and any swift action seems to produce a violent opposite reaction.

By this, I mean when a sitting president uses an executive order to implement a striking change in government, or a court reinterprets a law to make a sweeping change to our society, such actions produce a powerful counter push by society.  Angry voters react so negatively, that the pendulum of social change is pushed violently backward, producing years of fluctuation and political turmoil.  Sometimes, I wonder if the price we pay—those years of arguing and continual court battles—are worth making the changes quickly.

To put this succinctly, I am fascinated by how these changes in government trigger powerful backlashes, which in turn, will produce ever more counter reactions.  As a people, we seem to be incredibly reluctant to directly confront political problems, but when change is forced upon us, we suffer a societal explosion.

There are numerous recent examples of this kind of backlash.  During the early days following the Civil War, Southerners resorted to violent actions to insure that former slaves on plantations along the Mississippi River did not move away from the South.  Called Exodusters, many newly freed slaves understandably wanted to get away from the South, and some wanted to take advantage of land that opened up in Kansas for homesteading.  Southerners, afraid of losing their cheap labor, hanged former slaves who tried to emigrate, intimidating many freedmen into staying on in communities they hated. 

The South’s reaction to Congressional Reconstruction touched off the passage of Jim Crow laws, the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, and entrenchment of the Democratic Party in the South for a century.  Then, when our country belatedly moved to finish the work of reconstruction following the second world war, it was chiefly through the courts that progress was made, which touched off two decades of violence and political upheaval.

Don’t misunderstand me—I think the advances in Civil Rights were well worth the price paid for them, I’m just pointing out that when changes are made outside of the voting booth, there is a definite price paid:  there were years of political unrest because of the manner in which the issue was settled.  Our elected politicians could have decided these issues, probably with less resulting political turmoil, but refrained from doing so for fear of potentially losing their next elections.  How many times have you heard a spineless politician refer to a difficult issue as a “third rail?” 

When President Wilson traveled to Paris to negotiate the Versailles Treaty following the first World War, he made the disastrous mistake of making the peace accord a partisan matter.  Wilson, a Democrat, did not take a single Republican with his delegation to Paris, and accepted absolutely no input from the opposing party.  When he returned from Europe, he refused to amend his treaty in any way, insisting that the Senate ratify the treaty in its original form.  America rejected Wilson’s attempt and the treaty was never ratified, which resulted in the United States never joining the newly formed League of Nations, eventually contributing to the start of the Second World War.

This country has undergone several similar changes, each without the consent of a majority of the voters and, inevitably, society paid high prices for those changes in the form of political unrest.  For most of my lifetime, this country has argued about abortion following the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision of 1973.  Since then, it would be difficult to find a national election in which the issue of abortion has not been on center stage.  If the courts had not decided the issue, I think it probable that the voters would have finally settled the matter by now.  Was settling the issue early—and without direct voter input—really worth the price we have paid and continue to pay?

Marijuana, gay marriage, global warming, the role of the EPA, and the Affordable Care Act—none of these issues was decided by a direct vote.  Whether it was by court decisions handed down by appointed judges, regulations generated by unelected bureaucrats, or unilateral presidential directives, these issues were only temporarily settled, and the political backlash became the focus of future elections (And they continue to haunt elections—as well as the courts in some instances.)

It was, once again, no different in our recent presidential election.  President Elect Trump is making no secret that he will reverse many of the Executive Orders of President Obama.  The Affordable Care Act, EPA regulations, drilling in the Alaska Wilderness, the routes of several proposed oil pipelines—all of these decisions will likely be reversed or modified in the months to come.

If history is any guide, for most of these problems, these issues are being reversed only temporarily.  The pendulum will swing and reverse, then swing and reverse again, exacting high prices from each of us before the disputes are finally settled decades from now.


  1. You may not like it, but it's time somebody said it. I always tell people after my sentence to grad school psychology studies, "What people don't remember is that half the people in this country have less than a 100 IQ." A 100 IQ is about a C average as intelligence goes. There are as many dim-bulbs as there are geniuses. Notice I said geniuses, not people who think they are geniuses. That means that 50% of us are below average intelligence and these same people have just as many votes in the election as the folk who think they understand what's really going on. Thus the need for an electoral college and a Republican form of government. The slow fok just have to get a fes of the barely above average voters and they can elect a president. Scary thought!