Bridging the Gap: The American question of authority


I sent this @NYBooks article to my father the other day, and he responded that the article was elitist crock. My father supported Ron Paul, the grassroots libertarian  movement among the Republican party that, as I understand it, attempted to take the Republicans back to the party’s idealistic roots from the 40s and 50s: small government and less taxes as opposed to the near-totalitarian powers that George Bush imbued his office with post-9/11.

I thought, when I read the article, that a disenfranchised public would hail the article as an answer, as in “Yes, that’s where our power went, and that’s where those idiots came from.” But apparently that was only my reaction. All things considered, NYBooks must look to old fashioned Republicans like part of the liberal elitist power structure, those nanny-government supporters who want to tell us what to do with our money and are okay with the government ruling us as long as it’s their government–which is the exact same stance as Rush Limbaugh, according to my father. And as long as we have two parties fighting to control what we do with our money when we’d rather do what we damn well please with it, how are we supposed to make a choice?

Our political situation

That’s been the status quo of politics since I began becoming politically aware: the choice is between the better of two evils. We assume, supposedly since Nixon, that politicians are hacks who will disappoint us but someone has to go into office, so it might as well be the evil closest to us instead of a more distant evil. We approach politics like this on a mass level, but it leads to a destructive cycle: whether we know it or not, selecting the better of two evils means that we are already powerless; sensing however obliquely this powerlessness, we become passionate in politics in an attempt to reclaim the lost promise, selecting the voice we feel most closely identifies with us, generally a candidate for the presidency despite that office’s isolated power; that voice fails because the political arena is such that the majority vote is always fleeting while a term lasts for several years; and then the individual who became passionate about politics once again resumes his powerless grumbling. Frustration is the name of the game.

The modern American scene reflects this cycle exactly on all counts even as the political arena suffers several specific changes. The Republican party is no longer (if it ever was) a conservative party. As I see it, the Republican party is focused on centralizing military power it then exercises for economic purposes. The Republicans do not want to tell you what to do with your money, they want to centralize all the world’s wealth into their pockets. This is done through low corporate regulations and high military power, but the military power requires government growth, which we saw under George W. Bush, and the agenda will not have ended with his presidency. Republicans are growing government.

However, as we repeated under the tutelage of our highschool government teacher, Republican is supposed to mean “small government” (supposedly attached with “big economy”). This contradiction can only be addressed by witnessing the Republican party’s drift into demagoguery vis a vis the Tea Party movement.  Lack of government control is the birthplace of Republican wealth, giving them the assumed advantage in their attempt to claim the voice of the outraged independents. But as the Democrats move left and the Republicans (seemingly) move right, both in attempts to reengage shrinking support bases, we the people don’t trust either the Democrats or the Republicans to build government control that will be worth anything to us in the end. Hence the Tea Partiers, a libertarian movement, therefore supposedly more closely connected with the Republican party, but really just an amalgamation of angry but powerless independent voices.

The recalibration of both major parties has blown a large hole in the echo chamber of our political scene, and while Lilla focuses on Fox News and the Republicans role (he is talking specifically about the Tea Party, loosely and mistakenly affiliated with the Republican party), Americans have lost faith in our political institutions for any number of historic and prgmatic reasons. But I see distrust in politicians and political institutions as two different things. We distrust politicians because we assume they are hypocrites (sort of defines the job) but political institutions because they are bloated and inefficient. Government bureaucracies are all-around stuck in the sixties when they last received a major vote of confidence, according to Lilla. And while the world and private institutions have changed to meet (partly) the capabilities of rising technology, bureaucratic offices themselves have made little or no movement towards convenience or efficiency.

Addressing elitism

The above is, with a little modification, what I take from the article. How can my reading be justified against my father’s?

Perhaps as the common criticism of me states that I am arrogant, I portray myself as part of the elite or at least consider myself a part of the elite. But I don’t take that criticism of my personality seriously, no matter how often it is flung my way, and so let me put move past it.

Perhaps it’s that being young and not living through Nixon or Reagan I never lost faith in authority per se even though I grew up with a complete distrust of politicians. But then what is the definitive split I see between authority and politicians that allows me to trust the one and not the other? I would say it’s my perception of the echo chamber.

First off, as Lilly alludes to, I do not see myself represented in any politician, but all things considered, it would be difficult for a politician to represent me in the face of America’s power structure. I am anti-corporate, I support open use rights’ managements, I believe in transparency on all levels even despite the undirected rage towards the status quo that I see around me. How would you represent that in a Washington so obviously ruled by special interest and corporate agendas?

Second, I sense a difference in having my voice echoed back to me versus finding one of my ideas in another voice. The echo chamber works as sound waves do: when one compression wave is met by another compression wave of equal frequency and force, the compressions negate each other. This type of silence makes me very wary. On the other hand, when I see an idea or observation I’ve had offered by someone else idly or in an argument–even if that argument is not necessarily connected to the way I would have used the observation–I feel that this instance reacts as energy does: transverse waves complement each other just as two flames grow in size when touched together.

I believe that this is the core separation between how I read Lilly’s article and how my father reads the same material. My father is looking for a politician that will offer his ideas back to him wholesale, increasingly difficult as the parties slide away from the independent zone towards a mutual growth of government power. The only politician that still espouses the ideas of my father’s youth is Ron Paul, who he supported emphatically, but Ron Paul failed as a presidential candidate and I do not realistically believe that there is any going back to the age of basic Republicanism he argues for.

The libertarianism of Ron Paul and the Tea Party movement are not directly connected. As Lilly says, the neoconservatives are trying to control the Tea Party by following it, but if this tactic works it will end in more government power, not less. Even while the rhetoric of the Tea Party is less government, the result will be the further increase in military and presidential powers as we witnessed under George W. Bush post-9/11. However, in politics the first party that can use the keyword without impute wins the debate, and as Lilly says it’s only a matter of time before the people who want less government realize that the Republicans onboard with the Tea Party want more government.

I’m not sure it’s all likely the fall out the way Lilly projects, but I do appreciate his analysis. My father does not appreciate his analysis. I will either have to find a way to bridge this gap or relegate myself to the liberal elite and watch my future book sales suffer. What a challenge.

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Filed under Criticism, Features, Humanistic, Journalism

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