Tis the Season for Fearing

Writer’s note: In case you feel like I’m repeating myself, you subscribers may remember a post by the same title that I published here last month.  For reasons that you would not really care about, I removed it from the website.  Now, I am returning the post to its rightful place, but in a much shortened (and editors would say “tightened”)  rendition.

***

As we shift into the nitty-gritty phase of election season 2016, I wonder how many more belches of fear and hate will emanate from the Republican fear-generating factory. The fact that fear sells so well saddens me. What does it say about our society where so many thrive on fear and boost the poll numbers of Donald Trump, for instance, with every hateful abomination he spews.

Here’s an idea: if you are among the fear-aholics, why not find terror in the governmental gridlock that prevents any efforts to reduce gun violence, respond to climate change, reduce income inequality, address failing infrastructure, or even sustain progress in ensuring civil, voting, privacy, and women’s rights?

Instead of demagoguery, wouldn’t it be much more productive to focus on Congress’s incapacity to address America’s real problems, which have little or nothing to do with ISIS, the Chinese, Russians, Syrian refugees, or border-crossing Mexicans? The current governmental dysfunction makes me fear that my grandchildren will inherit a country that can only remember its greatness with nostalgia. I fear America will be a country that has abandoned its governing principles because our Constitution can’t handle the job.

Unfortunately, the U.S. Constitution provides no easy fixes to an impasse caused by a Congress that sits on its hands. In his book, “The Royalist Revolution,” author Eric Nelson posits that our founding fathers, given their experience with an elected Parliament, sought to control the legislative branch with an uncrowned king called a president, i.e., a mixed monarchy. The president-king would have sweeping powers and a steadying hand to check the factionalism of the Congress. The two houses of the legislature would pass laws, but the president-king would have veto power.

And yet, the document failed to give the president any tools when Congress refuses to act or holds the Executive Branch hostage to their demands by not doing its job working or passing legislation. Is this a fatal flaw in our mixed monarchy model?

In fact, among Latin American countries that emulate our system, governmental impasse has been the cause of repeated failure, explains Yale’s Juan Linz. Unlike parliamentary/prime minister systems where either a deal can be struck between factions or new elections be called, the presidential model has no such mechanism. Hence, Latin American governments based on the U.S. model have oscillated between authoritarianism and dysfunction.

Clearly, our government is verging on dysfunction if not actually dysfunctional. Too many in Congress don’t understand the nature of governing or have long since jettisoned their knowledge of how it’s designed to work. In the name of saying “no” to Obama or taking “their” country back, they claim a mandate to undermine government instead of providing for the well-being of all Americans. Eschewing compromise and deal-making, they employ government shutdown, demagoguery, and non-action, to the detriment of us all.

So, why not vote these do-nothings out of office? Isn’t that the solution to government impasse that our Constitution provides? I realize that idea sounds naive in these modern days of gerrymandering, PACs, and billionaire’s funding of candidates that only serve to mock the principle of government for the people, by the people.

But still, I wonder, why not give voting a chance? The Census Bureau reported that only 41.9% of eligible voters cast a ballot in the 2014 Congressional races. So, what if we, the people, tried to get that number up to 80-90% as a national experiment in reclaiming democracy? After all, we know Congress isn’t going to reform campaign laws. And unless Jesus has espoused on the subject, many state legislatures won’t do it either.

The reality is that the U.S. Constitution came with no guarantees and few democracies have lasted as long as ours. Too many among us have taken America for granted by believing in the “genius” of our Constitution. There are also too many believers in the concept of American exceptionalism absent any rational reason for America being an exception among countries or democracies. To the contrary, we are experiencing an unraveling of our system, ripped apart by from the fringes, quarterbacked by the likes of Ted Cruz, Donald Trump, and Mitch McConnell, just to name a few.

Is America up to the task of saving our democracy? President Obama says Americans can do anything we put our minds to. But I fear that his message is heavy with hope and light on certainty. Are we at the end of America as we have known it? That’s something worth fearing. I fear for us.

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About nowandthenadays

Observer of life who writes about Austin, women's issues, history, and politics. I retired as a Texas Assistant Attorney General after almost 40 years in state government in May, 2013.
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4 Responses to Tis the Season for Fearing

  1. Col Gary Allison says:

    I envy your skill with the written word. While we agree on little, you say it so well.

  2. This is an interesting view, and I think you explained yourself clearly. Perhaps I haven’t experienced that sort of fear because my identification of “us” is humans, or artists, rather than Americans. I try to be an informed voter, and pay close attention when I’m on jury duty, but aside from that I mostly IGNORE the government. And because I pay my taxes and fees, they mostly ignore me right back. I’ve liked some administrations better than others, but it’s not like I would be star struck meeting a President, or impressed enough to want to shake their hand.

    • I understand, Mikey!! The truth is that we live in a society full of fear mongers and it takes a concerted effort to avoid them. Even the local news, if you want to catch up on the weather or what’s happening around you, will structure the news cast to play on your fears and thereby boost their ratings, e.g., stay tuned for what you must do to save yourself from ___. Hard to avoid — it’s “marketing” and that’s what the candidates do…instead of offering a positive message or platform. David Brooks had a good editorial this week about missing Obama (already) and that despite what you hear from some of the candidates, America doesn’t have near the problems of other countries. Sad to say, but fear sells really well.

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