(9) The Unraveling Begins, Leading to an Inevitable End
Successful criminals are the ones you don’t know about. They get in and out as quickly as possible. They follow well made plans with adaptability given predictable variables; they only gamble within very precisely defined math. Conspiracies are, after all, considerably difficult to successfully execute.
The Party of Lincoln Turns a Corner
Abraham Lincoln defeated Stephen Douglas in 1860 to become the 16th President of the United States. Political parties were in disarray at the time; fractious factions competed for dominance. Southern racists and slave-owners hated Lincoln and forcefully rejected his abolitionist plans so they seceded, leading to the Civil War. The North handily won and restored a shaky union. It was only days after the war’s end in 1865, months into Lincoln’s second term, that a deranged coward assassinated him at Ford’s Theatre in Washington DC.
The railroad, a new driver of intercontinental travel, enabled Lincoln and Douglas to travel the nation, debating their opinions for voters to see in person. The population of the country was 31 million people, less than 10% of today’s size. Still, it was a seminal moment unique in presidential politics and direct communication with the voting populace, later to be bested by Radio, TV and then eventually the Internet.
Lincoln grew up poor, in a log cabin, self-taught and self-deprecating, he took no lip from detractors. A defender of the dispossessed, he resisted violence, preferring to defeat his enemies with wit. Still, given no choice, Honest Abe fought back. Highly-successful as a young wrestler, Abe was always willing to mix it up if the need arose. Lincoln was the initial spiritual incarnation of the Wu Tang Clan. Even back then, wise folk knew who not to mess with.
While a Republican in his day, the parties had a different left/right ideological divide. Frankly, this left or right nomenclature is meaningless, everything is context. Populists can be fascists, communists or anarchists, as can authoritarians, libertarians or monarchs. No one is free against the forces of gravity, momentum or inertia. It’s all just labels that only have meaning based on the context within which they’re used. We’d do well to dispense with them but as abstractions, they allow an individual to quickly broadcast their identity, in the same fashion as flashing gang signs.
The challenges our nascent nation met were unique and numerous. “Give us your poor huddled masses…” Though the Statue of Liberty wouldn’t arrive on US shores until ten years after Lincoln’s death, it embodies the significant role the country has played in the world. We are intended to be the land of opportunity, where the dispossessed and unwelcome, men and women of all ilk are treated equally. We are the necessary experiment to usher in the next phase of governance for our species.
An influx of immigrants will inevitably lead to change, for some it provides cheap or even free labor, for others, competition. The reaction to that change, for politicians and those that seek power, provides fodder to unite or divide for their own benevolent or malevolent purposes. We are after all a nation built by immigrants, collaborating and competing with one another.
Tents Are Meant to Be Moved
The Know-Nothing Party, America’s first fringe party, existed from 1844 to 1860, a precursor to the party of Trump. They were a nationalist, nativist, populist movement. It began as a secret society opposed to immigrants, in this case, Italians, Irish, Catholics and the like. Initially also anti-slavery and pro-labor, it was a not a uniform set of beliefs. It decidedly would not fit into today’s left-vs-right dichotomy.
Before all this, it was just the Democrats, defending State’s rights, against the federally-favoring Whig Party. As Industrialization took hold and new waves of Irish, Italian and German immigrants arrived, the Whigs lost support while a group of angry, native-born, largely labor-class Americans started rabble-rousing. The establishment Democrats and Whigs, seeking their own self-preservation, called them “know-nothings”. The group decided to own it.
The Know-Nothing party only had minor successes in their brief time, leading to the destruction of the Whigs and creation, within the vacuum, of the Republican Party, which Lincoln would join. The Know-Nothings also laid the groundwork for the temperance movement and Ku Klux Klan, two very disjointed conceits of polity.
“A house divided against itself, cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other.” -Abraham Lincoln
Change is inevitable. Evolution is the adaptation to new environments. Given civilization, politics is how human society adapts to inevitable change. Politics are not meant to be sport, it is the adjudication of public opinion toward proper governance of the polity. For our founders, it is the inverse of disorder, the championing of civilization, agnostic of any left versus right politicization.
Following the war and Lincoln’s assassination in 1865, the nation attempted to rebuild. Lasting til 1877, the Reconstruction period made a contentious and thorny attempt to restore unity, heal wounds and repair the damage four years of war had wrought. During it, politics started to shift dramatically. By the mid-1900s, the Democratic and Republican parties had flipped their left/right ideological divide.
Through the 1960s and onward, the Republican party became a “big tent” that attempted to accommodate groups with overlapping interests to grow its voter base. Now conservative and state’s rights focused, it courted nativists, nationalists, law-enforcement, military and the like to build a coalition of the willing. As the modern era emerged, driven by technological innovation that further altered society, the party became more about what it was against than what it was for, a party built of contention over cohesion.
A tent is a movable structure, something you use to provide temporary shelter while you work toward building something permanent. Unfortunately, the GOP failed to vet those it allowed into the tent and never built a structure that could withstand the danger posed by a disparate, paranoid and angry mob.
Over this time, the GOP learned to tweak the identity-politic side of their base, originally orchestrated by Goldwater, in 2016 Donald Trump took the reigns. He preached an identity-politic in which “alternative facts” and “fake news” were somehow not oxymorons. He loudly blew on dog-whistles then, unlike his more deft predecessors, left them in plain sight for his increasingly frenetic base to revel in. Like the many prognosticators of doom who came before him, when his pronouncements failed to materialize, he doubled-down, offering even more outlandish claims and predictions.
In the end, he proved willing to pour the kool-aid for everyone else but didn’t intend to drink it himself. On January 6th, 2021, Trump made one last-ditch effort to cling to power. He held a rally outside the Whitehouse where he made repeated, false claims that the election had been stolen from him and encouraged supporters to march on the capital and convince Senators not to certify the election. He also claimed he would march with them. He did not.
“…after this, we’re going to walk down, and I’ll be there with you, we’re going to walk down, we’re going to walk down. Anyone you want, but I think right here, we’re going to walk down to the Capitol…” -Donald Trump
It was bound to end in violence and disaster. This was all by design. Donald Trump stands unique in American history, a president turned traitor, devoid of faith in the spirit, principles or soul of the nation, a faithless narcissist dedicated solely to self and a fabricated yearning for a past that never existed.
In the wake of his election loss and attempted insurrection, militant groups have turned on one another, fearing others have turned informants, distrust runs rampant. The “Proud Boys”, one of the largest Trump extremist groups, are in disarray as multiple members face criminal charges and local groups have splintered. The “Patriot Party” is also now distancing themselves from them. The only safe prediction was that many people would eventually turn on Trump when they finally realized it was just another con.
A Party Divided, Others Unite
On February 13, 2021 the US Senate voted 57–43 to acquit Donald Trump in his historic, second Impeachment. The acquittal was an embarrassingly brazen statement that Trump’s GOP was the party of Law and Order in word only, decidedly not in deed. Over 140 Police officers were injured in the insurrection, one murdered, still only seven GOP senators voted to convict.
While the acquittal emboldened extremists, it’s driven opposing factions into chaos. Still the far-right Trumpists will likely continue to dominate the GOP’s conversation by shouting over everyone else, cementing more extreme candidates in primaries. Given the droves of Republicans leaving the party on principle, this will likely lead to more Democratic victories. The GOP may manage wins in heavily right-leaning communities but on the national stage, they may be the minority for many years if not decades to come. Potentially, like the Know-Nothings, Trump’s GOP may usher in an end to the party, creating a vacuum in which another, less extreme, party emerges.
Within the Trump GOP, numerous politicians abdicated a most basic principle of leadership, rejecting bare truth to curry favor with Trump’s unhinged base. They knew Trump had lost the election but instead of acknowledging it and leading their constituents to accept that hard truth, they continued to spout outrageous lies and conspiracy theories, driving the falsely felt anger that something had been taken from them. Again though, gravity does not lie.
“It is impossible to calculate the moral mischief, if I may so express it, that mental lying has produced in society. When a man has so far corrupted and prostituted the chastity of his mind as to subscribe his professional belief to things he does not believe he has prepared himself for the commission of every other crime.” -Thomas Paine
Around 260 people have been arrested for the events of January 6, more are likely to follow. Additional criminal probes exist into Trump’s efforts to overturn the election, including a meeting the night before the insurrection attended by many of Trump’s inner-circle, whom the FBI and DOJ are already investigating. Trumps personal legal issues are formidable and likely to have heavy financial costs to his business. Like most cons or conspiracies, the Trump lie will not survive, many already regret their errors of judgement.
And all of this is independent of the Trump Administration’s absolute failure in handling the Covid-19 pandemic. History books will not contain much kindness for Trump and those that enabled and emboldened him.
Speaking Truth to Power
Domination of force is key in maintaining political and social stability. The state must have the capability to meet any organized threat against it. To prevent misapplication of that force, the state needs homogeneous conformity within those forces’ ranks. Otherwise, bad actors can hinder the force’s strength or even intentionally inhibit its efficacy.
Many of the Capitol rioters were members of the military and law enforcement and some Capital Police officers are being investigated while others expressed serious concerns about their leadership. The Head of NYPD’s Sergeant’s union has appeared to publicly endorse the Q-delusion. Unfortunately, there’s been a history of these antiquated militant groups attempting to recruit police and members of the military.
Without question members of Law Enforcement have been compromised and rooting out bad actors will not be easy. Still, like most social populations, we should trust that there are more good actors than bad. To be sure, the numerous investigations into Trump, his associates and supporters should confer confidence in an inevitably positive outcome.
Police shouldn’t be thought of as villains or heroes nor should they be used as political props. Everyone is susceptible to misinformation and propaganda, people typically believe they’re doing what is right. The binary aspect of truth becomes complicated when transposed onto issues like these. While work is needed in redefining the role of law enforcement for the future, they will remain a pivotal and necessary function in maintaining social stability.
A divide between the old-school establishment and the tea-party-turned-drunken-brawl continues to widen with GOP Senators saying they’re moving on from Trump while Trumpists grow increasingly entrenched. We are likely at a historic turning point for the Republican party and US politics in general, presenting a unique opportunity to clean polluted canals, confront uncomfortable truths and reaffirm the strength of our institutions.
While the Trump GOP may or may not go the way of the Whigs, one thing is certain, the timing is ripe to make progress on many core issues within the American identity. The GOP sees the writing on the wall and looks to be willing to resort to dirty tricks to avoid this inevitable fate.
When Dishonor Trumps Honesty
Honor is not a feature born of nature, it is an attribute of civilization. In a stable, prosperous society, reputations require one to act with honor and integrity. If you become a known liar people will distrust you and avoid doing business with you. This is the basis of Adam Smith’s free market belief.
“Honesty is the first chapter of the book of wisdom.” -Thomas Jefferson
Con-men take advantage of this dynamic, garnering trust by appealing to others’ self-identity, concealing their criminal intent. They adapt to the group, parroting that which ingratiates them, creating an environment that feeds their audience’s collective ego. In the end, the con is nothing more than a criminal conspiracy and the more people that learn the truth, the more difficult it becomes to maintain the lie.
Hope Vanquishes Hate
Wherein the second law of thermodynamics reigns and entropy always wins, systems, even social ones, decay. Civilized society, like honor, is not born of nature, it is built and maintained by human-beings. This is the intent of government, to craft laws that are in the interest of preserving the whole. It is also the risk presented to any conspiracy as it is exposed to sunlight.
The Code of Hammurabi was created around 2000 B.C. Civilizations since have sought to codify laws and rules for the protection and advancement of their polity. The bible itself draws from Hammurabi’s Code. The US represented a major step forward in the arc of political innovation toward self-government, for and by the people.
The telegraph, that damned enemy of our beloved Pony Express, ushered in revolutionary change for humanity. For the first time, two people, vast distances apart, could communicate simultaneously. Likewise, the United States ushered in a revolution in the governance of its polity, most principally represented by the peaceful transition of power. While that hallmark transition was briefly threatened, the threat was once again soundly defeated.
Now the internet ushers in new and more chaotic social change. Like any technology, there are growing pains as humanity learns how best to use and adapt to it. It can both be benevolent, promoting education and fostering positive social change, as well as malevolent, spreading misinformation and hate. It is up to us to build and maintain a social framework with which we maximize its positive potential while minimizing its dangerous dark side.
Many challenges loom for the US and the world at large. We are at a critical juncture in defining what path we take, with enormous stakes at play. We have the necessary tools to navigate this moment but must foster habits that emphasize honor, honesty, integrity and decency, the key traits of a collaborative and cooperative, civilized society.
The Renaissance was born of the black plague, leading to an empowerment of labor, the philosophy of Classical Liberalism and eventually the modern concept of our very own representative democratic governance. Let this be our moment to suffice the next thousand years. Let this be the time to progress beyond the divisiveness of a dead past and unify under a living, breathing hope for a safe, secure and prosperous future for all.
Stay gold America.