Thursday, December 18, 2014
Emperors and Democracy
"Democracy" is really a misnomer, isn't it? There is always an "emperor," no matter what the political system is called. Two questions seem valid, though: a) to what extent does the system help the emperor do "good"? and b) is the system able to discourage him/her from doing "harm"? A system that does not do BOTH is ineffective/dysfunctional and needs reform. A system that does NEITHER is tyrannical and should probably be dumped (since its "goodness" depends entirely on the character of the emperor himself/herself).
Even a cursory analysis of the current US system suggests that it is incapable of doing "a" precisely because it is so obsessed with "b." Moreover, in our present context, the perennial tare of racism exacerbates our paralysis: the already clunky "separation of powers" nicely facilitates those in the legislative branch who wish to sabotage the hated black executive (President Obama) and ensure that he will be rendered incapable of any action whatsoever, regardless of the objective goodness or badness of such action. We thus find ourselves most egregiously cast into the category of ineffective/dysfunctional systems. (The haters and zealots of the right wing would like us to believe that Obama is a "tyrant," when, in actual fact, he is merely the lamest of lame ducks, crippled by a constitutional framework set up in the 18th century when limiting the power of "emperors" was a more vital concern than empowering them to act for the good of the "demos").
Consequently, I conclude, if any progress is to be made by our demos, if any genuine "democratic" good is to be advanced in the US in the 21st century, we must resolve ourselves to inaugurate substantial changes in the basic legal framework governing our land: i.e., the Constitution must be profoundly altered, so as to unfetter the "emperor" (because there is always an emperor) and enable him/her--finally--to take positive action in the interests of the commonweal. In short, we need more, not less, imperial authority.
Is that a risk? Well, yes, certainly. Useful constitutional checks and balances must remain in place; Congress (but a streamlined, fairly-elected, unicameral Congress) must continue to initiate or at least approve legislation. And it is indispensable that the courts retain their autonomy and the right to judicial review. Civil rights must be guaranteed by the new Constitution, and a means for removing an emperor (if he/she behaves unconstitutionally) is of course a sine qua non. All very hairy, all very scary.
But our current order is so obsolete and so grievously incapacitated by self-imposed impediments that there seems no other solution. Our so-called "democracy" has degenerated into an eternal gladiatorial combat in which sword-fighters bearing names like Louie Gohmert, Steve King, Ted Cruz, Michele Bachmann fight to a bloody draw with net-fighters called Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Dianne Feinstein, Elizabeth Warren--and, as witness to which, the "emperor" (Obama) can give neither a thumbs up nor a thumbs down, since his hands have been constitutionally bound to his chair. So it goes on and on, not much bread, really less-than-diverting circuses.
Well, enough! "We, the people" are growing rather weary of being treated as dupes and suckers by the Washington ancien régime. Perhaps, if our foppish leaders fail to institute some genuine constitutional changes, we may opt to skip the circuses entirely--and in lieu of gagging on the stale bread offered, mix our historical metaphors and bake ourselves some revolutionary cake.
P.S. And don't tell me that revolutions are about the demos getting RID of emperors: historically, revolutions have merely gotten rid of ineffectual emperors and replaced them with other newly-empowered, more people-focused emperors. Louis XVI and Nicolas II gave way to Napoleon and Lenin. There is always an emperor.