Monday, May 3, 2010
Slouching Toward Bosnia
In many respects this sort of tit for tat conflict, I described earlier, where each side is going to push the boundaries as to what is acceptable and justify it as simply doing to the other what is already being done to them is behind the deepening divisions in this country. Republicans maligned President Clinton, Democrats maligned George W. Bush in revenge and now Republicans seek to do the same to Obama. Democrats filibustered judicial nominations and now the Republicans are doing the same. Conservatives decided that the mainstream was not playing fair with the news so they created Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck. Liberals responded in kind by creating Rachel Maddow and Keith Olbermann. We are not shooting at each other yet. But we could all too easily, I fear, go from only accepting the media of our side as legitimate to following Michael Makovi and saying that we will only accept the legal authority of the people we support. This would mean that there would be Republican and Democrat police officers, judges and each side could have its own congress and president. At this point the best possible scenario would be secession as the country officially is broken up to accommodate all parties. If, as is likely the case, this is not practical in terms of territory and allotment of natural resources, we are left with war as each side attempts to subjugate the other to its will. (The Israelis and Palestinians are a good example of this. Neither side trusts the other to form a single country. There are no workable boundaries for two different States. Thus we are left with a state of war with both sides attempting to force a solution on the other.)
In British parliamentary culture there is what is known as a "shadow cabinet." The party out of power lists its leading members according to the positions they would have if they were in power. This speaks to one of my major objections to the parliamentary system and its lack of set elections; it creates a system where a large minority of the government is actively seeking to bring down the government and force new elections. As opposed to the American system where, in theory at least, Republicans, for example, are supposed to accept the fact that they were defeated by Barack Obama, that Obama is now the President and they are obliged to work with him for the next four years.
One of the virtues of the American two party system (and this maybe is what saves the British model as well) is that, regardless of what one might think of the many ideologically unsatisfying outcomes, it forces a certain level of moderation. Regardless of their party affiliation, I can count on the fact that elected officials on the one hand are not out to completely socialize the economy, but on the other support some sort of welfare state with at least some government health care. No one is going to support a religious theocracy, but on the other hand we retain a political rhetoric that acknowledges some sort of general divine providence. The military's dominating presence in the budget is not going to change anytime soon and neither is this country about to return to isolationism and stop interfering with other countries. I am not saying this is good or bad. Just that it provides a government that no one is going to feel pushed to such an extreme as launching an actual civil war.
In Orson Scott Card's two recent mediocre novels, Empire and Hidden Empire, he postulates a near future American civil war between the right and the left. (In truth it is more like secular leftist radicals, trying to destroy this country, going up against moderate patriotic Christians.) I can think of far more creative civil war scenarios. We can start with Evangelical Christians from rural Pennsylvania launching a tea-party with automatic weapons against Manhattan liberals. Manhattan liberals beg an Al Sharpton-like character to use his connections with black street gangs to save them. In a magnanimous gesture of tolerance, a Pat Robertson-like character visits a synagogue in the front lines of Brooklyn to meet with Israeli arms dealers and announces that Jews are not nearly as hated by God as Catholics. This causes a stir when it hits the internet, and the entrance of suburban New Jersey Catholics, armed with a papal indulgence for the sin of birth control for each slain Protestant. (I leave it to readers to continue the scenario.)
The point here is that government hangs on a very narrow thread as people decide whether to trust each other and whether their differences are not so large as to prevent their joining together in bounds of state-building. In many respects, functional governments are not the norm. Normal is Bosnia, Rwanda and Northern Ireland where neighbors kill each other over race, religion, culture or any other good excuse they can find on hand. The question we have to ask ourselves is why we are not in a Bosnia type situation now. There, if not by the grace of sensible moderates, go us.