Belmont Club

The Government as Agitator

One of the most astonishing things about the recently concluded trial of George Zimmerman is that neither side walked away with renewed confidence in the court system. One side believed it had averted a miscarriage of justice while the other felt it had been the victim of one. Had the verdict gone the other way it would have been vice versa. Blind justice rarely makes anyone happy, since one side must lose and the other win. Yet it succeeds when both sides find it acceptable, for the king’s justice was intended to replace private vengeance, which is exactly what some are vowing to deliver after the expensive and widely televised trial.

Ironically, the players most actively stirring up discontent are the government and media themselves.

Their message seems to be: don’t trust government, don’t trust state legislation or the prosecutors or law enforcement — even when all of the above are substantially no one else but the agitators themselves. With Obama in the White House, Eric Holder at the Justice Department, and Angela Corey the district attorney, and the media the Media, just who exactly perverted justice? Just who exactly is the Man that one should rise up against and fight?

Mark Steyn observed that the federal government, when so minded, can convict a ham sandwich: “Today at the federal level there is a conviction rate of over 90 percent.”

Even if the action takes place in the lower courts, it hard to believe that so powerful an alignment of forces can be defeated by six jurors. So how come the Man can miss Zimmerman when they can convict Conrad Black? The answer, some cynics might say, is politics. Maybe they never meant to convict Zimmerman, or more likely, the decision was entirely irrelevant for as long as it provided a spectacle.

Zimmerman and Martin were unimportant in themselves; their only value was in how they contributed to the Narrative.

As proof of this, let’s consider the following prediction: by this time next week nobody will care who either was. But never mind, the next shooting, robbery, rape, bombing — whatever — will create a similar kind of drama for people named X and Y, or Z and W. In other words, it will be the same dog with a different collar. The singer changes, but the song remains the same.

Who wants to bet we won’t be hearing another version of the same tune this time next month?

The declining quantity in every case is our old pal “legitimacy.” Legitimacy takes a beating every time. Legitimacy is what persuades a near totality of citizens to cooperate with authority, to obey their orders, leaving them to focus police power on the very small minority who defy them.

But as legitimacy declines, the official order becomes only the starting flag for the real race. The less the legitimacy, the more police power is required to achieve a given compliance. In the old Sergeant Preston of the Yukon, all the redoubtable sergeant had to do was intone “I arrest you in the name of the queen,” and the perpetrator cringingly obeyed. Today, the announcement or arrest is only where the action begins, and the remainder of the drama is filled by various shootouts, car chases, and rooftop pursuit scenes.

One of the collateral indicators of the decline in legitimacy is the reemergence of the cult of personality. Salena Zito observes: “Sometimes things fall apart right in plain sight but no one sees it unraveling until too late.” The “administration scandals … a still painfully slow economy” are only part of the problem. The more fundamental difficulty is that the institutions of democracy are falling apart:

Another problem for Democrats is that they have allowed Obama to build a separate machine with Organizing for Action (OFA), his leftover campaign apparatus, modeled on former presidential candidate Howard Dean’s Democracy for America.

The trouble with such candidate machines is that they fundamentally are not party organs; their supporters back the individual candidates who founded them, not the party.

The dirty little secret, which no Democrat ever admits on the record, is that the OFA exists essentially because the party is no longer working. So OFA has taken over the party and refashioned it from the ground up around Obama.

This will have a devastating impact on the party because it has enabled OFA to act as a predator, while the party has failed to groom its own partisan bench for the future.

This partly explains why the Man can agitate against his own office. It is part of the process of acquiring personal power at the expense of institutional legitimacy. The Democratic Party is no longer about the Democratic Party. It’s about Barack Obama and the Clintons. In this respect, party politics resembles the movie industry of the star-system era without the benefit of the box office to bring market discipline to the system. Their stranglehold of the media means the stars get top billing — and they are never retireable. David Francis of the Fiscal Times makes a similar argument, but from another point of view:

The Democratic Party has a surprisingly short bench, meaning that it has few rising stars to replace figures like Obama and Clinton once they retire from the main political stage.

As soon as he entered the Senate, it was obvious that Barack Obama would one day be the face of the Democratic Party. His rise to power was faster than expected, but it was not unexpected.

This rise delayed Hilary Clinton’s time in the sun: she had been pegged as a national party leader as soon as her husband left the White House. She’s poised to take her place as the fact of the party in the upcoming presidential campaign.

But look beyond the current party stalwarts. There are few names that the general public would recognize. And there don’t appear to be many rising stars at the state level.

And it’s not just a problem for Democrats. The Republican Party is also built along the lines of superstars. The photogenic men matter most. Rational policy is a distant second. My pamphlet Storming the Castle points out that in early days of government a congressman or senator rarely served more than one term. Today, they mostly die in office or leave only when they decide to retire. Once upon a time government and politicians were separate entities. Today, le eh-tat sest moy.

To underscore how far things have gone — and to return to the connection with the just-concluded Zimmerman trial — Foreign Policy noted in a little noticed article, lost in the uproar of the past weeks, that the federal government has lifted the ban on broadcasting propaganda at American citizens:

For decades, a so-called anti-propaganda law prevented the U.S. government’s mammoth broadcasting arm from delivering programming to American audiences. But on July 2, that came silently to an end with the implementation of a new reform passed in January. The result: an unleashing of thousands of hours per week of government-funded radio and TV programs for domestic U.S. consumption in a reform initially criticized as a green light for U.S. domestic propaganda efforts. So what just happened?

Until this month, a vast ocean of U.S. programming produced by the Broadcasting Board of Governors such as Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and the Middle East Broadcasting Networks could only be viewed or listened to at broadcast quality in foreign countries. The programming varies in tone and quality, but its breadth is vast: It’s viewed in more than 100 countries in 61 languages. The topics covered include human rights abuses in Iran; self-immolation in Tibet; human trafficking across Asia; and on-the-ground reporting in Egypt and Iraq.

The restriction of these broadcasts was due to the Smith-Mundt Act, a long standing piece of legislation that has been amended numerous times over the years, perhaps most consequentially by Arkansas Senator J. William Fulbright. In the 70s, Fulbright was no friend of VOA and Radio Free Europe, and moved to restrict them from domestic distribution, saying they “should be given the opportunity to take their rightful place in the graveyard of Cold War relics.” Fulbright’s amendment to Smith-Mundt was bolstered in 1985 by Nebraska Senator Edward Zorinsky who argued that such “propaganda” should be kept out of America as to distinguish the U.S. “from the Soviet Union where domestic propaganda is a principal government activity.”

Well, the ban’s been lifted.

In a way lifting the ban on propaganda makes sense. For years politicians have been devaluing the worth of American citizenship to the point where it appears to offer no meaningful protection against drone strikes, surveillance, job poaching, or anything else. Why should they be spared from propaganda? Recall that the increasing use of police power is the consequence of a decline in legitimacy. Therefore we would expect that with less legitimacy there would be more surveillance, more cops, more propaganda. And that is exactly what one sees. Coercion and propaganda are being substituted for consent.

Things have consequently become less about constitutional government than about the glorification of personalities. “American” as an identity is going extinct because it is a constitutional identity. Reduce the value of the one and you reduce the value of the other. The drone strikes, the growing legal equivalence between citizens and terrorists, unfettered immigration, unlimited surveillance, and a court system that everyone is encouraged to despise, not in the least by those who run the system themselves, are merely nails in its coffin. The narrative is simple: the system is for chumps. It’s Who Sent You that matters. In other words, the only thing that appears to count any more is who your feudal master is. That is why nobody seems to care about re-establishing faith in the justice system anymore. “Destroy it and deliver the pieces over to us” is more like it.

Justice has come full circle, as Mark Steyn observes. It is no longer the king’s justice so much as the expression of the king’s caprice. In that universe, Zimmerman and Martin are just ham sandwiches and the Narrative simply the sauce that makes the medicine go down.

Did you know that you can purchase some of these books and pamphlets by Richard Fernandez and share them with you friends? They will receive a link in their email and it will automatically give them access to a Kindle reader on their smartphone, computer or even as a web-readable document.

The War of the Words for $3.99, Understanding the crisis of the early 21st century in terms of
information corruption in the financial, security and political spheres
Rebranding Christianity for $3.99, or why the truth shall make you free
The Three Conjectures at Amazon Kindle for $1.99, reflections on terrorism and the nuclear age
Storming the Castle at Amazon Kindle for $3.99, why government should get small
No Way In, a novel at Amazon Kindle $8.95, print $9.99
Storm Over the South China Sea $0.99, how China is restarting history in the Pacific
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