Page Two: By Vote or by Violence
How will naysayers and protesters 'take back the country'? And from whom?
This raises two basic questions:
• From whom are they taking this country back? I have a feeling that no matter how that "whom" is described, it will include me – not for any illicit connections or corrupt actions but because I don't talk about taking the government back and believe the whole concept is based on an ahistorical fantasy that at its core ignores the United States Constitution.
• How? This is the killer question. Groups are not people, and loose coalitions of people who believe they share the same ideology do not speak with a single voice. Still, it is safe to say that most of these groups trust very few elected officials. The tea party probably has several dozen elected officials that meet its approval; after all, they now have a congressional caucus supporting them.
Many conspiracy theorists not only seem to like far fewer elected officials than even the tea party does; they take the matter further by denouncing the whole electoral system as a fraud. Candidates and elections are meaningless, in this view, because they answer to the malevolent powers that are in control but choose to remain hidden.
Questions swarm here, ones for which either the only obvious answer seems way too simplistic to take seriously or there are no apparent answers at all.
If elections are not to be trusted, if they are fixed and corrupt, how is the power structure going to be changed? Are we supposed to believe that all senators and House members are purposely evil, knowingly corrupt whores who sell themselves to the highest bidder? Over the years, have only already corrupted people run for office, or have even those among them who started out principled been seduced by evil?
How will those groups that wish to do so take back the government? Will it be by vote (already seemingly discredited) or by violence or by massive acts of civil disobedience and protest?
If they get it back (whatever that may mean), how are they sure that it is going to wind up in their hands rather than controlled by yet other groups? How are they going to prevent future generations of elected officials from being corrupted? Is it because when running for office, they will mostly agree with their supporters while at the same time promising to stay honest?
Given that elected officials in this country are supposed to represent all their constituents, doesn't being a rigid ideologue of any stripe inherently contradict the idea of representing everyone?
A few of those involved in the tea party movement decided that the NAACP was being racist in asking them to disassociate themselves from racists. As stated above, the tea party is not a single entity: It is made up of many people and many organizations spread across the country. Still, the Tea Party Express' Mark Williams claimed that the NAACP makes "more money off of race than any slave trader, ever."
On his blog, he went even further, posting a "satiric" letter, supposedly from a slave to President Lincoln. It read, in part: "We Colored People have taken a vote and decided that we don't cotton to that whole emancipation thing. Freedom means having to work for real, think for ourselves, and take consequences along with the rewards. That is just far too much to ask of us Colored People and we demand that it stop!" This was followed by: "Perhaps the most racist point of all in the tea parties is their demand that government 'stop raising our taxes.' That is outrageous! How will we Colored People ever get a wide screen TV in every room if non-coloreds get to keep what they earn? Totally racist! The tea party expects coloreds to be productive members of society?"
On a news show, I heard Williams defend his post, saying it was done with the best of intentions as an attempt to invite reasoned discussion between the two organizations. He refused to apologize for it but pointed out that on some show he would be meeting with an NAACP representative, so it had done the job for which it was intended.
During an interview, Newt Gingrich, former congressman, Republican Party leader, and a man who would be president, stated: "I mean, we are faced with enormous problems. In 1860, Abraham Lincoln gave a two-hour speech at Cooper Union. In 1858, Lincoln and Douglas debated seven times for three hours each.
"We're faced with problems I think that are fully as great as those that faced Lincoln and Douglas in the 1850s, and yet we have reduced our political dialogue to a point where literally potential would-be leaders of the most powerful government in the world stand meekly in line waiting for somebody to pick a question, and the question can be anything."
Gingrich is a historian, so the comparison was no accident. The 1850s were among the most difficult and troubling times in American history. At the time, the country was deeply divided between the agrarian slave states of the South and the industrial free states of the north.
One of the most hotly contested political issues was whether territories that were granted statehood would come into the Union as slave or free states. Congress' responses to the problem included the 1820 Missouri Compromise and the Compromise of 1850. The compromises covered many issues, but some stand out. California would be admitted to the Union as a free state, but to offset this, the Fugitive Slave Act was included. This act made the U.S. government and citizens responsible for capturing fugitive slaves living outside the South and returning them to their owners. If one was grabbed as a fugitive slave, there was a process for negotiation, but it was very slow and heavily weighted toward slave owners. Fugitive slaves with established families, homes, and businesses in the North were grabbed by slave catchers in order to return them to bound servitude. Often, free blacks were also grabbed. By 1860, the population of Canada had grown by 20,000 new black immigrants from the United States.
The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 changed the situation by creating the territories of Missouri and Kansas and giving both the right to hold plebiscites on slavery. The result was that both pro- and anti-slavery groups urged supporters to move to these new territories.
This resulted in a vicious, violent border war often referred to as "Bleeding Kansas." The end of this period was, of course, marked by secession and the terrible and bloody Civil War that followed.
Given that the decade found Americans as deeply and clearly divided as they have ever been, can Gingrich really be serious in comparing that situation to the country now? Specifically looking at a time of extreme polarization without any of the many other trappings of our contemporary problems – especially in regard to economics – is this not just cashing in on already flourishing American hysteria and divisiveness for political gain? At its core, the comparison seems to be a tactic for dividing, not uniting, Americans and offers little value in addressing the problems facing the country.
Alex Jones has stated that one-third of the American people love tyranny (are almost addicted to it) – or worse, are involved in perpetuating it in some way. At least another third are mindless sheeple just mindlessly going along with a tyrannical corrupt government. The last third is enlightened or becoming enlightened, which means thinking like Jones. Granted, Jones was making a point; certainly, he wasn't arguing demographic specifics, but even as a generalization to make a point, the argument denies certain controversies any means of resolution. Jones is not just an increasingly well-known spokesman but an established leader who is by no means alone in his thinking.
All of the rhetoric about taking back the government, the claim that some percentage of the American people are complicit in tyranny, and the charges and countercharges of racism rarely evidence any interest in specifics. Instead, it is all about blame and identifying the "bad guys." This range of controversial issues, as well as many similar allegations tainting the body politic (the claims of the birthers, that Obama is a socialist, that Congress is corrupt), all raise the same question.
Where in all this is a possible recipe for a return to a democratic, electoral, constitutional republic if this country is no longer one?
The core of the Constitution is the idea that all citizens are equal, with equal rights. Obviously, this is more idealistic than real, but even so, taking back the government – unless it has been secretly taken over by extraterrestrials – is usually about privileging one segment of the population over another. If, for instance, the tea party is taking back the government, the most obvious question is still "From whom?" The next question has to be "What kind of representation will those unseated have in this country?" This is not just about the many officials who might lose elections but all of their supporters, contributors, and like-minded travelers, as well.
Any reasonable answers to either of the questions raised would at least be interesting.
The alternative-press history and a related Between the Lines film review will run next issue (probably).