Belmont Club

Munich Follows Cleveland

The Age of Aquarius

Today’s attack in Munich has momentarily driven commentary on the Republican convention off the headlines.  It illustrates the process described in an earlier post.  The Narrative will continue to dominate the high frequency news cycle built around candidate personality issues, wardrobe failures or malapropisms.  But the populist rebellion will dominate the low frequency news cycle, the perennial issues like immigration, the economy and terrorism.  Munich follows Cleveland.

In an article that would have been ignored in the political froth, but which fate will put on center stage once more, David Ignatius in the Washington Post noted that terror threats to the U.S. from the Middle East are brewing at an alarming rate.  The drumbeat of reality threatens to burn through the news cordon and wade ashore in America.

An editorial in the Wall Street Journal notes that nobody’s taking any prisoners this election cycle.  “Hillary Clinton wants to win over Bernie Sanders voters, and on Saturday she bid for them by reinforcing her promise to rewrite the First Amendment to limit political speech that she and they don’t like.”

“Today, I’m announcing that in my first 30 days as President, I will propose a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United and give the American people—all of us—the chance to reclaim our democracy,” Mrs. Clinton said in a taped speech to the Netroots Nation conference of progressives. First 30 days? Who knew the 225-year-old First Amendment was in need of such urgent revision? …

Mrs. Clinton knows that such an amendment won’t pass, so she also took up the spirit of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s recent comments that she expects a new liberal majority on the Court to rewrite the First Amendment the easier way. “I’ll also appoint Supreme Court justices who understand that this decision was a disaster for our democracy,” Mrs. Clinton said. “And I hope some of the brilliant minds in this room will seek out cases to challenge Citizens United in the courts.” So add one more litmus test for Mrs. Clinton’s Supreme Court nominees.

That is the political system’s response to crisis.  The WSJ misses the point. The Clinton promise means that the liberal project finally feels it will win big enough in November to control changes to the Constitution and the Supreme Court — that is, if the populists don’t succeed in “jailing Hillary.”  Democracy is on a knife edge, not just in Turkey but in the West. The harsh reality is that nobody is buying the world a Coke this year. On both sides of the political aisle war and repression are on the agenda.

A political upheaval of this magnitude superficially resembles chaos, but that is deceptive. In the first phase, established loyalties are shaken, authority figures are discredited, rival and sometimes bizarre factions momentarily come to the fore before they sputter and go out. Those that traditionally fare best in a breakdown are institutions with clandestine roots: the Deep State, leftist and Islamist outfits, organizations with foreign intelligence backing.

In the second phase, these typically sweep up the amateurs who are full of enthusiasm but short on money and professionalism. Chaos is followed by consolidation; consolidation by purge. That is what ideologues on both sides dream of.  But in the case of crisis in truly large systems, such as we are seeing in the Middle East, Europe or North America, consolidation is often impossible. No party is strong enough to win and the conflicts manifest themselves as civil or internal conflict.

Prolonged doubt is the third phase, not the eternal boot stamping on a man’s face. That is because at these huge scales, event effects — the low frequency issues –dominate and overwhelm party discipline and action, the high frequency. The authoritarians re-learn a terrible lesson that whoever rides the tiger can’t get off. The tiger is bigger than the party, bigger than the left, bigger than Islam.

Tigers can rampage around for a decade or two. Life does not stop in the interim. It goes on, but during this period of disturbance a kind of rebuilding goes on, until finally one day the tiger stops running. God has had enough and we are left bewildered on a clean field, shaken and changed.

If conservative civility proves just a veneer under which nativist passions seethe, the the same can be said for the impulses of the Left. There’s an commissar lurking behind many a mild-mannered academic. For every bigot there’s a commissar.  In the event none of us are immune, as the tale of the Lord of the Flies illustrates, from the impulse to shoot someone in the name of advancing the Brotherhood of Man.

In the end people just go and shoot without the niceties for the convenience. By and by we will miss civilization, which is what holds barbarism and our worse natures in check. The entire apparatus of civilization is geared towards moderating raw passions it must control. The purpose of churches, custom, culture, manners and law is to restrain the Beast, because the Beast needs restraining. Unfortunately we are at a juncture where restraint may have just left town. Not only have we, in our misguided wisdom, dismantled morality, civility and even law, but on both sides of the aisle the watchword is: power by any means necessary.

The walls are down and the leaders of both the Democratic and Republican Parties have led the way in smashing them. They want the walls down and neither side will stop until they’ve had what Sherman called a bellyful.  What could go wrong?  It’s easy to dismantle the Constitution, but what do we do for an encore?

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