Who Will Wield Power?

This piece appeared in Virginia newspapers in April 2022.

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In an earlier piece (“What Rules This World?”), I asserted that, because civilization inevitably emerged into Anarchy (which inevitably produces a struggle for power), “the Spirit of the Gangster” would play a dominant role in how civilization evolved.

That assertion concerned the Anarchy between independent civilized societies. But, to a somewhat lesser degree, a similar kind of anarchy will exist within civilized societies as well:

Unless some well-ordered system to govern power squeezes out that anarchy, the same nightmarish dynamic will play a big role determining the answer to that crucial question, “Who will wield Power?”

That question has yielded nightmarish answers throughout history. For example:

  • the tyrannies of the ancient world, with their wall carvings celebrating the enslavement of conquered peoples.
  • the huge impact on the world, in the first half of the 20th century, of monsters like Hitler and Stalin.
  • still more recently, Saddam Hussein wading his way through blood to become the Iraqi strong man, and Vladimir Putin, destroying the nascent Russian democracy to become a dictator with the power to embroil the entire world in crisis with a war he launched.

Wherever the workings of power within societies have been uncontrolled – or inadequately controlled – power goes to thugs who are willing and able to do whatever it takes to get power.

The American Constitution was designed to enable a nation to escape from that nightmare. It tries to replace the Anarchy with an order that empowers “the will of the people” – and not the cruel lust of the power hungry – to wield the decisive power in the society.

A true blessing because, if the people generally can essentially “hire” some individuals to wield power in the service of their interests and values, their world will be far better than if their society’s destiny is governed by thugs (or gangs of thugs) selected according to their ability to seize power.

But, although democracy is the best means yet developed to escape that historical nightmare, it is not fool proof. The whole edifice rests on the soundness of the consciousness of the nation’s people.

“Soundness” includes people’s insisting that those to whom they give power will use it to better their lives and move the nation forward; and their refusing to hand power to those who, like the tyrants of history, would readily sacrifice the “common good” to satisfy their lust to dominate.

We’ve seen lately in America the vulnerability of democracy.

We’ve seen that the consciousness of enough people can be rendered unsound – infused with dark passions and false beliefs that drive them to give allegiance to that same ugly Spirit of the Lust for Power that has darkened the pages of so much human history.

“Do whatever it takes to get power” pretty well characterizes a Party that

  • openly disenfranchises large numbers of legitimate but vulnerable American citizens.
  • makes dogma of a blatant Big Lie – a false accusation to overturn an election that Party had lost, to seize power the constitutional process had given its opponent.
  • is in thrall to a leader who openly attempted a coup d’etat, and who openly admired tyrants like the murderous Putin.
  • paralyzes the government to discredit its rivals, sacrificing the nation’s opportunities to make urgently needed progress at a time of multiple crises.

Sacrifice anything for power — like the thuggish tyrannies of old, but now fighting within a democratic framework. The same fight for power, but on a different battlefield to which one wields not swords but propaganda to capture the votes it takes to get power.

Tens of millions of Americans have been moved to give their power to that same ugly Spirit of the Gangster, consistently sacrificing the interests of the people to get what they want for themselves.

It has been visible over the past 30 years that people like Limbaugh and Gingrich, then also FOX News and Karl Rove, and finally Trump, have molded a Republican base that either does not see the ugliness or has gotten their own worst passions so stirred up that they embrace the ugliness.

A people’s political consciousness is unsound when they

  • support a Party that – with its unprecedented lack of any platform in 2020, and its unwillingness to say what they’d do if they gained control of Congress in 2022 — blatantly displays its utter lack of interest in serving the people or moving the nation forward.
  • claim to believe the most obvious and proven lies.
  • have more energy for fighting the other side than for finding ways to work together for the common good.
  • declare themselves “American Patriots” while giving their power to a Party openly working to destroy the Republic for which our flag is said to stand.

It turns out that Power can never be controlled completely. The task of keeping the consciousness of the people as reasonable as our founders hoped in the Age of Reason is one that constantly needs to be attended to.

Liberal America long forfeited the battle for their conservative countrymen. Now, they should at least be asking: “What can be done to bring our conservative countrymen back to soundness of political consciousness, to protect American democracy and ensure that the tools of government will be used to get good things done for the people and the nation?”

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