Belmont Club

Of Worms and Dragons

Two articles illustrate two different attitudes.  The article which demonstrates valuing civility and fairness above all is presented by Peter Shuck’s New York Times  piece on why “The Impeachment of Obama on Immigration May Be Legal — But It’s Wrong”, referring to his amnesty of illegal aliens by executive order.

Shuck says  Congress may have good grounds to file an impeachment but it would be impolite, cause discord, sow resentment and generally lead to unpleasantness.  Therefore don’t do it.

Mr. Obama, a former constitutional law professor, once rejected the very arguments he now embraces. Last year he said that extending amnesty beyond the so-called Dreamers (the children of undocumented immigrants brought here at an early age) would be “ignoring the law in a way that I think would be very difficult to defend legally.” It is hard to think of a confession more damning to his position in a court of law, in a congressional court of impeachment and in the court of public opinion. …

But even if Congress has constitutional authority to impeach the president, that doesn’t mean it should. Quarrels between a president and Congress over the statutory limits on his authority are common, and the precise boundaries can be hard to discern. However truculent Mr. Obama’s defiance may be on this issue, Congress has other ways to stymie it — for example, barring the action by statute. Such tactics are within the normal give-and-take of interbranch disputes. Americans, including many like me who want a legislative amnesty, would support Congress’s use of them here.

Impeachment, moreover, would tend to normalize its use as a political weapon, even though the framers intended that it be used only in extreme cases that endanger the republic. Only inveterate Obama haters think that is true here.

In contrast to Shuck is a piece by William Greider in the Nation which lays out the case for Chief Justice John Roberts’ head. “Republicans like to talk about impeaching President Obama, but there is a far more deserving candidate for impeachment—Chief Justice John Roberts of the Supreme Court. While the Republicans in Congress have blocked Democrats from enacting much of substance, the GOP majority in control of the Court has been effectively legislating on its own, following an agenda neatly aligned with their conservative party. Step by step, the five right-wing justices are transforming the terms of the American political system—including the Constitution.”

Greider draws up a bill of outrages.

They empowered “dark money” in politics and produced the $4 billion by-election of 2014. They assigned spiritual values to soulless corporations who thus gained First Amendment protection of free speech and religion. The justices effectively gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965, even as they allowed state governments to create new obstacles for minority voting. The High Court made it okay to take guns to church and more difficult to keep guns from dangerous people. It rendered a series of decisions that collectively shifted political power from the many to the few.

This power grab by the unelected—and supposedly non-partisan—justices has already produced a historic rewrite of America democracy. But it was done by blatantly usurping the decision-making authority that belongs to the elected government in Congress and the executive branch. The Republican justices are not finished with their undeclared revolution. They will continue unless and until people rise up and stop them.

The Roberts Court’s latest target is once again President Obama’s singular achievement, the Affordable Care Act. Under peculiar circumstances just three days after the midterm elections, the Court announced it will hear another legal challenge that threatens to disable and perhaps destroy the new healthcare system.

Then he issues a call to action. “Barack Obama can win this fight by not giving in to the Supreme Court, even if he temporarily loses there. The president has to call out his opponents and tell the hard truth about their illegitimate abuse of power. People may listen if he genuinely fights for them.”

The difference between the two articles is bigger than the reasoning embodied in each. What truly distinguishes them is the attitude of the authors. One is afraid to cause offense. The other wants to cause offense because his enemy has got it coming.

Saul Alinsky understood that attitude was everything; that most well-bred people are like the audience Shuck addresses; who value politeness, reason, compromise and non-confrontation above all. To such people, forbearance, manners and restraint are the mark of a civilized person.  Insofar as political action are concerned the well-breds are as inert as rocks.

By contrast, Greider displays all the hallmaks of a person with a liberated consciousness. His attitudes manifest  what Saul Alinsky called “radicalization”. Radicalization is the experiential knowledge that one can demand things if only one will shed inhibitions and fear.  It is a process of coming out.  It is end result of losing the retraint of deference, custom — even decency.

The well-breds are by contrast passive.  Well-breds go through channels,  think it is unfair, even immoral, to go outside the system. Conservatives see the organizing process as a task of intellectual conversion. If only they could explain things then all would be well.

Real radicals however, understand that organizing has nothing to do with intellectual persuasion. Conversion is emotional; it is the sudden realization that certain things are possible to those who dare them. That is why real Alinsky organizers concentrate on breaking down the hang-ups of their prospective adherents by getting them to ignore the rules.

To radicalize someone in the Alinsky sense you first break down their inhibitions. You de-legitimtize the habits of restraint;  get them to snap their chains. Until these ropes are cut, all you have is a George Will or a Peter Shuck, mild-mannered person chock full of baseball anecdotes and book erudition but completely bereft of the killer instinct. He’s no one you fear. Tell George Will to go away and he surely will. He’s too well bred to do otherwise.

But someone from Occupy  won’t go away. In fact he’ll make it a point to camp in your house; sleep in your bedroom, snack out of your refrigerator and send you for more beer. To create political impact, you don’t want George Wills. You want Occupys. Occupys are trouble. You want to teach someone how to “speak truth to power”;  to get in his opponent’s face and scare the living daylights out him not tell you something about the 1927 World Series. Only then do you have the beginnings of a real street organization.

Alinsky did not invent the method of radicalization. The technique was already under development by both the Bolsheviks and the Nazis at more or less the same time in the early 20th century.

When Leon Trotsky looked at the emerging Nazi movement that mushroomed in Germany after 1929, he argued that the Brownshirt marches, parades and street violence had the effect of terrorizing their opponents and giving political direction and the illusion of strength to the movement. He described this effect as “turning worms into dragons”. Taking to the streets in large numbers and the thrill of street violence give the young supporters of the EDL a sense of power and prestige.

This is the perfect breeding ground for fascism. So it is no surprise that at the political heart of the EDL lies the Nazi BNP.

Of course the Reds had their own street gangs. Doesn’t everyone have one? No, and that’s the point. Conservatives don’t do stuff like that, at least not naturally.  They have to be forced to even think it.

Conspiracy is so ingrained in the Left they are forever mirror-imaging themselves in conservative groups who completely lack this sense of consciousness. For example, some posters at the Democratic Underground really believed members of the FreeRepublic posting board are brownshirts. It is entirely possible that many on the left actually think of the Tea Party are incipient “domestic terrorists”. They see themselves in others.

They can’t believe that conservatives have no process for “turning worms into dragons”.  Whether that is good or bad I leave to the reader. But the fact remains that “dragons” are qualitatively different from “worms”. There is no doubt about this. Worms are inhibited. Dragons have lost that key sense of restraint. Worms will trust in their elected leaders to represent them to the King.  Dragons will breathe fire, such as at Ferguson.

There is the widespread misconception that people can be radicalized by suffering. Alinsky showed this was not true. People can only be radicalized by acting on suffering. Just getting beaten over the head is never a radicalizing experience. It just always results in a headache. Fighting back, however feebly, is always radicalizing.

And that leads to the attitude difference. That is why one article is about why “The Impeachment of Obama on Immigration May Be Legal — But It’s Wrong” and the other is about why John Roberts must be impeached.


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