Sunday, December 6, 2020

The End of the Republic


So here we are. A narrowly contested election brought strong hints of vote fraud on many levels and by various means—but with no evidence that either the mainstream media or half of the electorate will allow. An enfeebled candidate for president and an unpopular candidate for vice president have won a huge number of votes in key precincts despite minimal campaigning and public appearances, against a president who aggressively campaigned with rallies attracting thousands. And this is after four years of “resistance,” claims of Russian interference in 2016, an attempted impeachment, and a sudden virus outbreak that has been surrounded by conflicting projections, recommendations, claims, and statistics. And now, failing to get behind the presumed winner and showing “unity” is an embarrassment. Something is not right.

And yet … if there was massive and coordinated vote fraud in the battleground states, I can see why most local judges and the media—even nominally conservative reporters and commentators—are reluctant to give it credit and expose it. The consequences for the nation and the democratic process would be just too catastrophic, with civil disruptions and the threat of war such as we haven’t seen in more than a century and a half. Reasonable people would want to draw a curtain on the situation in the same way that the Warren Commission, charged with probing the assassination of John F. Kennedy, sealed its evidence for 75 years: if their probe had exposed evidence of the Soviet Union or Cuba planning and pulling off the murder of a sitting President, the public outcry could have forced Congress into declaring World War III. Better to throw a blanket over the whole thing.

But if there was coordinated election fraud, then I would feel like an old Roman at the end of the Republic, where Caesar had just been declared Dictator for Life on the strength of his personal legions and then assassinated. And the result was not a return to the normal political process but a free-for-all.

The interesting thing about the Roman Imperium is that the term imperator did not originally mean “emperor”—that came later—but simply “field marshal,” reflecting the leader’s military backing.1 And yet, while one man held total control of the state because of a personal military force, all the forms of the republican government were obeyed. The cursus honorum was still in place, and Roman citizens of good background still filled the correct political and religious offices. Each of the Caesars was officially simply consul for the year, elected along with a nonentity whom he named to be his co-consul, but everyone knew where the real power lay. None of the ancient and sacred laws of the Twelve Tables was changed. They simply meant nothing important anymore.

The same thing could happen in the United States. Without the input of the people through a trustworthy voting process, all the forms of the republic could be maintained and still mean nothing. You wouldn’t have to change a word of the Constitution if you simply decided to accept a different meaning for the words.

None of the forms of government put in place by the main body of the U.S. Constitution have changed. We still formally adhere to the separation of powers of the legislature, executive, and judiciary branches and the checks and balances put in place to keep one or the other from taking full control. And yet over the years—and this has happened on numerous occasions—the power of the executive has expanded with administrative offices that are largely unelected and at the operative levels not even appointed, and yet they interpret the laws made by the legislature. And when Congress won’t give a powerful President the results he—so far “he”; we will see in the future—wants, the President whips out a pen and creates an executive order. The judiciary at the state and federal level then interprets the laws, the executive orders, and the Constitution itself according to their own political likes and dislikes. Meanwhile—at least over the last two decades—the legislature has been free to engage in partisan squabbling and gridlock, achieving little of note, while the country’s government keeps evolving and advancing in the direction of administrative and judicial law.

If you were to create a “heat map” of where the actual power and authority in this country exist and compare it to the structure envisioned in the Constitution, I believe you would find massive areas of non-overlap.

The Bill of Rights would be no more sacred. Protections for freedom of speech and religion in the First Amendment would still be guaranteed. But as the past year has shown, your freedom to assemble and worship can be curtailed in the event of a public calamity like the pandemic. Certain words and phrases have long been banned and punished as “hate speech.” And now we know that your freedom of speech may be freely infringed by a privately operated communications system, part of the “social media,” if the operators believe it contradicts the narrative imposed by the ruling majority.

Sure, the Second Amendment guarantees your right to bear arms—but we could interpret those words so that they apply only so long as you are a member of the army, the national guard, a police force, or other “well regulated militia.” There is nothing in there about hunting or defense of home and self.

Nor would it be “cruel and unusual punishment,” according to the Eighth Amendment, if we kept you in permanent solitary confinement or filled you with mind-altering drugs to treat your chronic “social psychosis” and “false consciousness,” brought on by your non-supportive political views. These are medical treatments after all, not punishments.

And so it goes. As Humpty Dumpty said to Alice: “When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.” And two plus two equals five.

As Benjamin Franklin also supposedly said, in response to an inquiry about the outcome of the Constitutional Convention in 1787: “A republic, if you can keep it.” And yes, like the old Romans of the first century BC, we can keep all the forms, all the laws, all the words written down in ink on parchment or cast in bronze, and still have something different.

Whether we can do anything about this—and whether anyone who benefits from the current situation cares—is another matter. When no one cares, then it doesn’t matter.

1. The early Romans had seven legendary kings, the last one ousted early in the sixth century BC. That started the Republic, with its popularly elected government offices up through the leadership position of the two co-consuls, who together served alternate months for only one year and then could not be re-elected until after another ten years. This was supposedly a guarantee against one man becoming too powerful.
    The experience of being ruled by kings was apparently so awful that the Romans were simply allergic to the title “king.” They probably would have joined the conspirators en masse to tear Caesar apart if he had taken that title for himself. A dictator—the word just means “speaker”—serving for a select period, even for life, was the closest they could allow themselves to come to monarchical authority in a period of crisis. However, when Caesar’s legal heir Octavian first avenged the assassination and then succeeded Caesar as leader of his armies and head of the state, they accepted him as princeps—“leader” or “first citizen,” from which we get the word “prince”—as well as the imperator. And by the time Octavian, who was subsequently styled “Augustus,” was an old man, the Romans accepted his rule as being effectively hereditary. They got themselves a monarch anyway, but by another name.

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