According to the masters of the moral universe who have housed themselves in the Democratic Party, that bedrock foundation of all human wisdom and enlightenment, I shall forever wear a Scarlet B on my chest. B for Bush.

I was one of the “Nader Spoilers” of 2000, one of the 97,421 Floridians who cast a vote for Ralph Nader.  If those of us in this group – the “Scarlet B Community” – had voted for Al Gore instead, George W. Bush would never have been president of the United States. I don’t dispute that math. But I do roll my eyes at the partisan emotions behind it, as if Al Gore had the political heft to save this country’s early 21st century descent in proto-tyranny.  Barack Obama’s magnetic persona and persuasive ability – and I would say his intellect too – far surpasses that of Al Gore, with all due respect to the former VP, and even he could not stop it.

Let’s be clear: At present, we have probably the most corruption-free, morally-minded, intellectually-disciplined president to ever occupy that office in U.S. history. And here we are.

Lest there be any doubt that we are at a chilling point in the American democratic experiment, consider these words of University of Texas law professor, Sandy Levinson, who writes at Balkinization:

This really and truly may be the most important election in our lifetimes if, as I fear, it will call into question basic issues of political stability within the US. We really are looking more and more like Weimar in the late 20s, where parliament is basically beneath contempt because of an inability to respond to the challenges facing the country, and the political parties increasingly view their opposition as Schmittian enemies to be crushed…

Indeed, as far Congress goes, what could be more “beneath contempt” than the fact that U.S. soldiers are now deployed in Iraq and parts of Syria operating under the same AUMF (Authorization to Use Military Force) that was passed in the immediate aftermath of September 11th, 2001, before ISIS even existed.  As Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) said last fall about his failed bill to require congressional authorization for any deployments to Syria to fight ISIS, “I get it, members of Congress are afraid to cast a vote on war.”Members of Congress are afraid to cast a vote on war because when they stick their otherwise reliable political fingers in the air to feel which way the political wind is blowing, they can’t feel anything conclusive.  The civilian public’s incessant chants of “We support our troops!” does not a foreign policy make, nor does it give any indication of what the citizenry thinks is the best course going forward.  As Senator Tim Kaine happens to be one of our nation’s more decent politicians, it may help to explain the tinge of guilt when he said, “If you want to be real cold about it, if Congress doesn’t support it, then we shouldn’t be forcing people to risk their lives.”  Here is a sitting U.S. senator acknowledging the absurdity of the situation at hand: America is at war abroad in three countries officially – Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria – and several unknown countries unofficially, and the branch of government the founders vested with the authority to declare war is AWOL.

Arguably, Senator Kaine need not feel guilty one iota: the vast majority of the American people were AWOL on the post-9/11 wars long before Congress ever was.  The AWOL Congress is thus following the will of the AWOL American people.  That’s democracy in action, even if the material upshot is inaction.

But just because this particular state of affairs is in keeping with core democratic values – an AWOL electorate is being duly represented by an AWOL Congress on the matter of war – does not mean that it is something other than tyrannical, or at least pro-tyrannical.  Democracies can and do slide in tyranny, can do so quickly, and as Professor Levinson noted, our current situation is starting to resemble Weimer in the late 1920′s.

Core to Levinson’s insight too was his remark that our political parties increasingly view their opponents not as fellow citizens engaged in a marketplace competition of ideas and values, but as enemies to be crushed.  Like boxers in a boxing ring punching each other’s lights out, aiming to silence and lord over the other.  This increasing instinct to crush, to lord over one’s fallen opponent, goes beyond elected officials and permeates our entire culture and discourse.

That instinct to crush and lord, right there, is the very DNA of tyranny.

It simply doesn’t matter who is president if he or she is presiding over a citizenry of mental boxers as opposed to a citizenry of rational thinkers.  For a citizenry of mental boxers, having stripped themselves of any capacity for moral introspection or shame, will, through their electoral activity, project their well-seasoned instinct for domination and vainglory into national policy.

The poisoned fruits of that shallow, vainglorious instinct are too long to count.  That most Americans from right to left and all points in between seem to complement themselves as actually patriotic – actually loving of and devoted to their country – by embracing a soldiery system that wickedly lures vulnerable young adults to fight in the nation’s wars, while they do nothing, is perhaps the biggest of the poisoned apples. But there are many.

Freeing ourselves from these poisoned fruits that grow the architecture of tyranny will not come from voting for candidates who sustain themselves on the same.

That freedom from tyranny can only come from a citizenry that has a capacity for personal shame. What is so chilling is this: boxers aren’t capable of shame.


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