How the False Idea of ‘Popular Mandates’ Maintains the Two-Party System and Gives Control to Extremists
The first thing we need to understand is that every American eligible to vote does, in fact, vote. If you do not vote, that itself has a power and an effect in the system fully equal to that of the people who do vote; it itself ends up being a vote against the system, a vote to empower others, and has a meaning. Whether you actually register and fill out a real ballot or not, you still vote.
With that observation understood, we can talk about the electorate – both those who vote at the ballot box and those who vote by not voting – as being divided into very roughly three groups.
One third has traditionally been called ‘conservative’, though this designation means very little any more. For several centuries, the word ‘conservative’ has been applied to people whose interests are centered on an impulse to defend – that is, conserve – existing social structures. Using that definition, which I insist is the only one that is of any use, we can more easily understand that President Obama was of this tradition, as every one of his decisions can best be explained as being solidly within those habits of thought. He conserved the banks; he conserved General Motors; his Affordable Care Act was designed first and foremost to conserve and expand private health insurance; his judicial appointments have been people concerned first with conserving our legal traditions.
But this third no longer has any such beliefs. They have come to believe in an aggressive, expansive, tradition-destroying, budget-busting extension of Government deep into people’s lives. They have worked hard for decades to make sure their party is the only one that can legislate, administrate or judge; that wealthy backers of the party should have unfettered access to government processes at all levels; that their chosen religion should be recognized as the one official belief; and that anyone wanting to work with or in government should belong to the One Party and praise the One God.
That set of political descriptions has a name, and I will use it –
Fascism. The particular fascist brand being pushed at the moment can best be called ‘Trascism’, but that is true only at this moment.
So that’s about one third of the electorate. Another third has traditionally been called ‘liberal’, a word meant to describe the habit of thought that social structures should be open to change, with the understanding that the free marketplace of ideas debated outside of governance, rather than a slavish defense of tradition by the mechanisms of the State, should lead us to make better voluntary associations. But ‘liberal’ also has very little meaning any more, with the power on that side having been ceded to Progressives. Thus the concept of respect for the clash of ideas leading to better voluntary social structures has been replaced by the much more seductive idea that governance should be directed toward advancing specific causes and meeting social goals of equality and charity – that is, the perfecting of society – through law, tax policy and government programs.
Weak-minded Rightists have claimed that this, too, is fascism. But fascism, as much as other boomers like me have thrown this term around very loosely, is in fact a specific, definable political belief; the seamless, boundary-free blending of One Party, all State mechanisms, one chosen Religion and that Wealth that supports the Party and its Leader. Nothing the Left has done can be described this way – but in the end, it’s just as dictatorial. Fascism is the dictatorship of Wealth; Progressivism is the dictatorship of The Good. These are very different goals, very different processes, but both lead to the same place – the Voluntary Society being replaced by the Command Society.
Since the creation of a two-party system shortly after the founding of our nation, we have been at tremendous advantage due to the tension between these habits of thought – between conservative and liberal. The parties have changed over time, with this constructive tension being as much within as between parties. Issues of color have always been a large part of the changes that have happened to and within parties, and were responsible for the greatest change to parties – between Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, this tension stopped being within parties but came to define them. In my childhood there were still conservatives, reactionaries, liberals and progressives – and fascists, on the fringes – in both parties, and it was, in fact, more likely that if you were a conservative you were a Democrat and if progressive, Republican. The reactionaries and racists, pretending to be conservatives, were drawn to remake the GOP by Reagan; that ended the time of conservative-liberal tension within parties at the same time heralding the slow replacement of conservatism by fascists and liberalism by progressives.
So that describes about two-thirds of the electorate. The final third largely consists of those who vote by not voting, composed of those who are more or less repelled by the too-Holy-by-half two-thirds, and often by past members of the other two sides too pooped by Ping-Pong Politics to play. This third has an odd position in our Game of Governance; strangely, it’s both the only third that actually matters in elections and yet is the only third that makes absolutely no difference, has absolutely no power between elections. With the centrist two thirds having at most a plurality, whoever appeals most to these immoderate Moderates and dependent Independents wins; but whoever wins, these unPartied make no difference either in support of or opposition to the choices the two parties make for them. The exhausted, uncertain and disinterested mostly want to live their own lives without telling anyone what to do or being told what to do, though enough of them would love to tell others what to do if only they could make up their minds.
Thus, the set-up that leads to the Game of Ping-Pong which has best described our political system over my long, irritating life-time, a game that is being played with ever-increasing intensity, and has become the only game in town.
I know full well that, if anyone reads this, that reader will most likely belong to one or another of the two Statist groups. That means that, if you’ve gotten this far, you are angry at my description – not of the opposite group, but of the one you belong to. This is unavoidable. It’s easy to see the things that others do to achieve political ascendancy as ‘dictatorial’, but it’s nearly impossible for you to see the things that you want to force on others as anything other than Necessary and Good. Because of the way our brains work, we are blind to our own acts of control by our desire to do good – our own decency and morality – so that the only limit we can possibly conceive of to turning our morality into The Official Moral Dictum is whether or not we are right about those morals. If we see a problem, the impulse to turn to centralized control of society to impose our preferred solution on others is too strong; so of course we must (fill in the blank.)
People believe in this so strongly that their resistance to centralized control (by others, anyway) becomes limited by whether or not they can allow themselves to recognize the existence of the problem itself; once they agree that there is some specific ill to be cured, the assumption that the State must cure it – that “we all must . . . ” – is immediate and unchallenged. Thus the inability of the Right to ‘believe in’ global warming. The fascist Right is just as convinced as the dictatorial Left that a problem as vast as the anthropogenic unbalancing of the carbon cycle would demand a strong governmental program of controls on society, and that accepting global warming as ‘real’ would instantly mean supporting centralized solutions being imposed from above. They cannot accept such regulation, but lack the intelligence or the objectivity to take the wiser position – yes, it’s a real problem that must be solved, but no, it cannot be solved by commanding behaviors. So they square that circle by the easier method; deny the problem exists.
And there you have the ground rules for the American Political Ping-Pong Game. I want you to try to see beyond your own chosen group’s habits of thought so that you can see this objectively; I propose to you the idea that this Game best describes our politics as, say, an observer from a different planet might see it. For this reason, and somewhat in honor of those magnificent philosophers known to History as Monty Python, lets call them Team B and Team 2.
The third that mostly wants to be left alone, mostly votes by not voting, decides all elections and nothing except elections, is The Ball.
We’ll give Team B first crack. They serve first; that is to say, their time in Governance begins the game. They are convinced by their victory at the ballot box that they have a Mandate To Rule, and so they set about imposing their own, God-Endorsed policies and social constrictions on everyone.
The Ball reacts to this imposition with horror; they just want to live their lives, they don’t want to be told what to do, and so they are repelled by Team B, and fly across the net. Our politics is absurdly dualistic; there are allowed to be only two sides with any power, so the only place The Ball can fly to in their fearful rejection of the commands of Team B is –
Team 2. So now, after one or two elections, The Ball is on the other side of the net. And now Team 2 convinces itself that they have A Mandate From the People, and impose their chosen commands on society. This isn’t at all the truth; they have taken power only because The Ball has suddenly appeared in their court, flung there by The Ball’s rejection of the demands of the other side. But this truth is invisible to their view, clouded as it is by their own desire to Do the Right and Good. So they take this assumed but false Mandate to mean it’s full speed ahead for all their imposed commands, nor do they see them as commands, because ‘of course it must be so’.
And so, after one or two elections, The Ball, now scared and repelled by Team 2’s new programs and regulations, flies away from them. And again, in our limited political duality, there is no where else for The Ball to go except into the court of Team B.
Back and forth, back and forth, each side empowered in its turn not by any actual mandate but by the temporary presence of people who have rejected the other side; back and forth, back and forth, each side in its turn deluded by their own desire to tell everyone what to do into thinking they have this chimeric Mandate. Back and forth, back and forth; and since, when their side is In Command, each team is much less interested in cleaning up the excess of Law left by the other than in using Law to carry out their own desire to control, the only thing that is actually accomplished over time is that Governance gets more and more powerful, more and more entrenched, more and more the definer of what our society is and how it behaves, more and more the imposer or limiter of approved or disapproved behavior.
So in the end our democracy grows weaker, and Dictatorship as an assumed, unchallenged need gets stronger. The only debate that those playing the game are having is about which side gets to be the dictator. We’ve abandoned any pretense to being a Voluntary Society, with our entire political debate being limited to an argument over which side wins the permanent right to command all – to be the arbiters of the Command Society.
Right now, the repellent, corrupt, moronic, Russian-puppet Trump Administration is doing its best – at this point, very successfully – to work its way so deeply into all facets of The State that it can sweep away all resistance, destroying the protections of free speech and a free press. The intrinsic right of every citizen to petition the government or be represented in the Legislature or protected by the Judiciary is being replaced by a system that will respond only to the needs of the One Party, the One Religion, and that Wealth that most supports the Glorious Leader.
People are, quite rightfully, repelled and frightened by this, and are protesting. And how are the Progressives, the Democrats, reacting? By choosing to see those protesting the Fascism of the Republicans as somehow, magically, being an endorsement not of our tradition of representative democracy and its checks and balances but of Progressivism. People are in a panic, and with good reason – but Democrats only see this as opportunity. We see article after article, discussion after discussion, not in support of the virtues of our democratic republican system but as a specific endorsement of Progressive control.
How can Progressives best take advantage of these protests to put themselves in power? That’s as far as the Left is able to go. The concepts of Liberty, the defense of the Voluntary Society, are nowhere to be seen; The Ball is being flung with tremendous force, a massive, powerful, emotional rejection of the now undeniable fascism that has swept all Republican and Conservative values into the garbage can and replaced them with a massive endorsement of the aggressive, intolerant Trump State – and all that the Progressive-controlled, liberal-values-rejecting Democratic Left is able to see is the political advantage that they can bend these protests into.
That’s the American game. There can be allowed only two sides; only the most extreme believers on each side are allowed to play; the side that has the serve at any particular moment is that which has been fooled into thinking it has a Mandate To Rule by the voters who have temporarily fled to them in fear of the demands of the other side; and the winner is the side that can so thoroughly take command that the game can be ended.
And the loser?
The great American experiment in representative governance. Thus ends the American Century.