A Clear and Present Danger
Benjamin Franklin, whose formal education ended at age ten, was America’s first world-class scientist and a wise and beloved statesman. He wouldn’t have known about the law of entropy in physics because the term didn’t come into use for another seventy-eight years following his death in 1790. But his perceptiveness was on sharp display when he told the nation you have a Republic if you can keep it.
The “if” in his pronouncement was both remarkably perceptive and immensely foreboding. Whether we can keep our republic, our democracy, is very much open to question. There seems to be a principle that over time, man-made and conceived order often devolves into disorder or chaos. In physics, the law of entropy teaches that a closed system gradually declines into disorder. Every galaxy, indeed, even the universe itself, has a finite life according to the laws of physics. Perhaps, that is equally true of any system conceived by man that relies on human nature to determine the durability of a society’s political and social life.
Fortunately, the survivability of our democracy is not independently preordained by the laws of physics or thermal dynamics. That is, we can protect our democracy for as long as we choose or, of course, abuse it at its (and our) peril.
Sadly, abusing our democracy has become political sport. It is a game in which everyone who cherishes our republic will eventually lose. And no, the abuse about which I write is not the exclusive franchise of the Left or the Right. American democracy is facing a clear and present danger. Like an out-of-control virus, malevolent political behavior is slowly but surely eroding the very sinews of our democracy. These excesses are not new in our history. What is new are the tools to exploit these excesses and the abundance of self-aggrandizing politicians and other power-seekers eager to exploit these means for their own selfish and destructive gain.
On the left, we have a growing and aggressive cancel culture that tolerates no deviation from the demands of the priests and priestesses of the prevailing woke ethos. The wholesale denigration of the great American experiment has gained favor because there was, and continues, a stubborn residue of intolerance and inequity in its story. America is the wealthiest country in the world, but its riches have always resided in great concentration, and exceptionally so today. Upward mobility has always been a hallmark of America, but the upward trek has grown much steeper, the path narrower and the obstacles abundant.
Laws are enacted and enforced to protect civil order, and they are essential to the orderly functioning of a sane and safe society. Our society must insist on the fair, consistent and dedicated administration of justice in America. That probably means enhanced, not diminished, funding for law enforcement so that the compensation provided for those enforcing and administering the law will attract the very best candidates available for this essential public service. Demands to defund law enforcement only contribute to societal entropy and do nothing to strengthen civil order or respect for the very laws that are enacted to protect us.
Many cities were slow to react to extreme urban disorder following the murder of George Floyd and arson and looting were rampant in many American cities. This, too, represents a body blow to civic law and order, without which the American experiment is greatly diminished.
Conversely, on the far-right, there is an unhealthy obsession with, and pursuit of, power—the coveting of it, and the no-holds-barred determination to capture it and hold on to it by any means, including demagoguery and, if need be, it seems insurrection as well.
To be sure, both political parties covet power, but never in our history have we seen such an attempted abuse of political power. Never before in our history has a defeated president referred to his lost election as a “third-world-country election like we’ve never seen before.” Never before in our history has a President acquiesced, indeed, urged such anti-democratic, illegal, and unamerican behavior as when former President Trump told his January 6th “Stop the Steal” rally, “If Mike Pence does the right thing, we win the election.”
Think of it; we had a president who had decisively lost an election, urge a crowd to go to the United States Capitol, and “fight like hell” to interrupt the constitutionally mandated counting and certification of the election results. Results that had been duly certified by each of the fifty states and attested to by every state governor, the majority of whom were (and still are) Republicans.
This, after his own Department of Homeland Security and his own Department of Justice, failed to find any case of election fraud that would have altered the results of the election. In fact, the official at the Department of Homeland Security responsible for election security considered the 2020 election the most secure election in our modern history. Indeed, not one of the sixty-one judges, many of whom were Republicans, found sufficient reason to indulge Trump’s attack on our constitutional democracy.
Furthermore, nearly all of the Republicans in Congress, after fleeing from the assault on the Capitol on January 6th, now pay homage to former President Trump who called for the insurrection in the first place. This fealty to a defeated President who insists that he was the victim of the greatest election hoax in history in the complete absence of any credible evidence of any hoax at all is unprecedented in American history. It represents nothing less than an assault on our democracy by a former President of the United States and his enablers in Congress.
And, finally, we have the unprecedented degree to which demagoguery had permeated the language of the oval office.
Harry Truman, one of our most underrated presidents, once mused aloud, “I sit and shiver… at the thought of what could happen with some demagogue in this office I hold.” Indeed!
In physics, entropy, the second law of thermal dynamics, is considered immutable. Let’s pray political entropy isn’t as well.
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