Monday, August 18, 2014

Ferguson's Festering Is Nothing New

Ferguson, Missouri, reminds me more of the past than the present. Those of us erstwhile liberals want activists and ordinary people alike to turn out in great numbers for parades and demonstrations. We want pitchforks and lit torches. These events are extremely rare. We live in the United States, not Revolutionary France. We saw our American limitations in Occupy and the shanty town Hoovervilles decades before that were, in hindsight, more symbolic than any genuine threat to the political establishment.

Franklin Roosevelt was elected for his first term of office in 1932. Even his nominal Republican opponents thought that if FDR ruled as a dictator for a while, that would be perfectly acceptable. That's how dire the situation was. I can't imagine anything that radical like that being proposed today. Today's Republican Party would probably be clamoring for people to starve to death rather than receiving a government handout. At the same time, we have mostly avoided the economic crisis present many places elsewhere on the globe, those that have provided turmoil and poverty on an unprecedented scale.

1932 was eighty-two years ago. Between a third and a fourth of all Americans were out of work. And even then, with such uncertainty, riots and physical acts of violence were minimal and isolated to a few places here and there. I'll leave the reasons of why and for what reason to the political scientists, but my over-simplified answer is that fully direct democracy is somewhat foreign to the American character. We're not the kind to pick up a banner and put on our walking shoes.

We may have pushed a few tea chests into Boston Harbor and fought a largely defensive war where we were badly outnumbered, especially at first. The later Civil War was about slavery, yes, but it was also about the 10th Amendment and the perceived encroachment of state's rights by the Federal Government. We're still fighting the Federalist system, which was a compromise measure from the very beginning. It was a reaction to the absolute power of monarchs and despots.

If anything tears this country apart again, it will be an conflict between those who favor strong centralized power in Washington, DC, or individual state governments who want to do things their own way. Everything that happens inevitably gets reduced and boiled down to a few talking points. The Tea Party are one side, and those with Socialist sympathies like me take the other high ground. Everyone else can be convinced to vote for whomever seems like the right candidate.

We've boxed ourselves into a dichotomy. Law continually defines the limits of state power and federal power, not Congress or the President. It didn't take very long to establish the principle of judicial review, where courts could overrule the laws and acts of Congress and the whims of Presidents. Judicial review was established precedent only a mere fifteen years after the ratification of the Constitution.

Aside from amending the Constitution further, which takes a very long time and is no sure thing, I'm not entirely sure what can be done. Even with the inefficiency of Congress, I see that it accomplishes more than many state governments do.

Growing up in Alabama, as I did, much made me want to hang my head in shame. Goat Hill, the physical location of the seat of government was based in Montgomery. In 2007, a fist fight on the floor of the Alabama Senate broke out between a Democratic state senator and a Republican state senator. It was captured live by a camera crew. Though it was swiftly contained, it continued to blacken the reputation of the state in the eyes of the rest of the nation.

I have minimal confidence in most politicians. Should Hillary Clinton run in 2016, she may understand the system enough to effectively grease the wheels of power. Though I like our current President, it will be a while before I vote for a political neophyte. Should Hillary Clinton win two terms, that will collectively be sixteen years of Democratic rule. I hope she will have the ability to swing the balance of power in the Supreme Court by replacing Republican appointees. The wars we fight now are neither in the Executive Branch, nor in the Legislative branch.  

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