America needs a political high colonic.
The American political diet currently suffers from too much bile-induced roughage, and a change of menu is needed if a well-balanced, well-functioning, healthy political system is to be maintained. This column is not about criticizing the table set by the former president or the current president of the United States, but rather about recognizing the need for a rational, new political menu. The current political diet is killing us. It is loaded with high-energy, low-value, deadly junk food that can be lethal to our democracy and our democratic institutions.
I recently addressed a large discussion group with well over 100 in attendance. I asked everyone to raise their hand who, during the past year, had not experienced significant political divisiveness and stress within their family. Not a single hand was raised.
As we look to 2024, we need to shift from our two-man roster of current and immediate-past oval office occupants to newer, younger, less toxic personas with fresh faces, fresh ideas, and fresh messages. We have to escape from the miasma that permeates our national politics. We have to be done with the current milieu of mal contentedness, and the politics of destruction. We desperately need an intervention.
America is experiencing a growing and dangerous flirtation with authoritarianism. We can look away, but we can’t pretend it is nothing about which to be concerned. Many Americans might be horrified to ponder the question of an authoritarian America. It appears many Americans, however, would tragically respond,—so what?
The great danger of authoritarian leaders in a constitutional democracy is that the constitution itself can be quickly relegated to the status of a quaint relic, if not to the dustbin of history altogether. Constitutional order can, and on occasion, has been swept aside in the interest of expediency. Elections can become inconveniences, if not impediments, to an authoritarian leader, and coups can become efficient expediencies. Authoritarianism is dangerous, very dangerous, to the survival of constitutional democracy.
And so, figuratively speaking, political chefs have prepared authoritarian banquets before. Many Americans have become attracted to a political menu of mean morsels being served up by a cadre of new authoritarian chefs eager to appease these new and dangerous appetites. We are seeing it today in Turkey, Poland, Hungary, Brazil, and even in tiny Slovenia, to name but a few foreign examples. Authoritarianism is on the march. The efforts to undo an American election, and the preparations that are underway to try again in three years, if deemed necessary, demonstrate that authoritarian drums are beating here as well.
Until well into the 20th century, authoritarian regimes and monarchies controlled much of the world. It wasn’t until the First World War that the major governing monarchies began to fall. During the 100 years between 1914 and 2014 half of the world’s monarchies fell, and the number of republics rose from a scant four to thirty-four. Four absolute monarchies, however, still reign today in Brunei, Oman, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia.
Democratically elected leaders in America have, on more than one occasion, flirted with the suspension of constitutional guardrails in the interest of priorities that seemed necessary and expeditious. That’s how habeas corpus was suspended during our Civil War. And that’s how, in 1942, we incarcerated over 120,000 men, women, and children of Japanese ancestry, approximately 80,000 of whom were American citizens, and all of whom were living in America legally, and none of whom were found to have had any relationship with the regime that attacked Pearl Harbor.
In a sense we are still feeling our way, and, today, there is more backsliding than there is progress. COVID has given a number of authoritarian politicians or authoritarian regimes an opportunity to tighten authoritarian measures at the cost of liberal democratic governance. A lesson that all politicians learn is to never let a crisis go to waste.
So, America is far from immune to authoritarian thrusts into our body politic. Quite to the contrary, according to Morning Consult, one of the world’s leading survey research organizations, 26% of our fellow citizens in the United States embrace right-wing authoritarianism. That’s huge. It is twice the size of the equivalent authoritarian cohort found in Canada or Australia. It is not new either. We have had our swoon with the Huey Longs, the Charles Lindberg’s and the so-called America Firsters, the George Wallace’s, the Steve Bannon’s, and the Donald Trump’s.
Not every American authoritarian-leaning president has, however, been an evil provocateur. After all, John Adams was an authoritarian. So were, at various times, Andrew Jackson, Woodrow Wilson, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, among others. Sometimes, world events, such as an attack on our country, have made authoritarian leadership tolerable, maybe even preferable. But any amelioration of our constitutional order should be extraordinarily rare and tolerated only under the most extreme circumstances.
A major problem we face is the mislabeling of news. Just about half of the country regularly consumes what it assumes is news from social media, about a third from Facebook alone. Little of the so-called news traffic on Facebook and Twitter really constitute news by any reasonable definition of the term. The so-called news is served up to us by social media as determined by machine-learning supercomputer algorithms that know what information we respond to, and how much time (or interest) we will devote to a particular subject or point of view. When these supercomputers determine what information we are inclined to accept, they will begin sending more of that “news” to the exclusion of other real news. And the recipients of this messaging think they are being well informed.
And so, we must recognize the lethality of political poison when it is served up as news to our body politic. It will invariably result in what might be called IBS, my shorthand for Irritable Ballot Syndrome. My pallet, for example, can no longer stomach those Senators and Representatives who were quite willing to subvert our constitutional democracy in the interest of a failed coup promoted by a defeated President who was, and still is, the leader of their party.
In the Senate, there are eight: Ted Cruz (TX), Josh Hawley (MO), Cindy Hyde-Smith (MS), Cynthia Lummis (WY), John Kennedy (LA), Roger Marshall (KS), Rick Scott (FL), and Tommy Tuberville (AL).
And, in the House of Representatives there are 147: Robert Aderholt (AL),Rick Allen (GA),Jodey Arrington (TX), Brian Babin (TX), Jim Baird (IN), Jim Banks (IN), Cliff Bentz (OR), Jack Bergman (MI), Stephanie Bice (OK), Andy Biggs (AZ), Dan Bishop (NC) Lauren Boebert (CO),Mike Bost (IL), Mo Brooks (AL),Ted Budd (NC), Tim Burchett (TN), Michael Burgess (TX), Ken Calvert (CA), Kat Cammack (FL), Jerry Carl (AL), Buddy Carter (GA), John Carter (TX), Madison Cawthorn (NC), Steve Chabot (OH), Steve Chabot (OH), Andrew Clyde (GA), Tom Cole (OK), Rick Crawford (AR), Warren Davidson (OH), Scott DesJarlais (TN),Mario Diaz-Balart (FL), Byron Donalds (FL), Jeff Duncan (SC), Neal Dunn (FL), Ron Estes (KS), Pat Fallon (TX), Michelle Fischbach (MN), Scott Fitzgerald (WI), Chuck Fleischmann (TN), Virginia Foxx (NC), Scott Franklin (FL), Russ Fulcher (ID), Matt Gaetz (FL), Mike Garcia (CA), Bob Gibbs (OH), Carlos Gimenez (FL), Louie Gohmert (TX), Bob Good (V), Lance Gooden (TX), Paul Gosar (AZ), Garret Graves (LA, Sam Graves (MO), Mark Green (TN), Marjorie Greene (GA), Morgan Griffith (VA), Michael Guest (MS), Jim Hagedorn (MN), Andy Harris (MD) Diana Harshbarger (TN), Vicky Hartzler (MO), Kevin Hern (OK) Yvette Herrell (NM), Jody Hice (GA), Clay Higgins (LA), Richard Hudson (NC), Darrell Issa (CA), Ronny Jackson (TX), Chris Jacobs (NY), Mike Johnson (LA), Bill Johnson (OH),, Jim Jordan (OH) John Joyce (PA), Fred Keller (PA), Trent Kelly (MS), Mike Kelly (PA), David Kustoff (TN), Doug LaMalfa (CA),Doug Lamborn (CO), Jacob LaTurner (KS), Debbie Lesko (AZ), Billy Long (MO), Barry Loudermilk (GA, Frank Lucas (OK), Blaine Luetkemeyer (MO), Nicole Malliotakis (NY), Tracey Mann (KS), Brian Mast (FL), Kevin McCarthy (CA), Lisa McClain (MI), Daniel Meuser (PA), Mary Miller (IL), Carol Miller (WV), Alex Mooney (WV), Barry Moore (AL), Markwayne Mullin (OK), Gregory Murphy (NC), Troy Nehls (TX), Ralph Norman (SC), Devin Nunes (CA), Jay Obernolte (CA), Burgess Owens (UT), Steven Palazzo (MS), Gary Palmer (AL), Greg Pence (IN), Scott Perry (PA), August Pfluger (TX), Bill Posey (FL), Guy Reschenthaler (PA), Tom Rice (SC), Mike Rogers (AL), Hal Rogers (KY), John Rose (TN), Matt Rosendale (MT), David Rouzer (NC), John Rutherford (FL) Steve Scalise (LA), David Schweikert (AZ), Pete Sessions (TX), Jason Smith (MO), Adrian Smith (NE), Lloyd Smucker (PA), Elise Stefanik (NY), Greg Steube (FL), Chris Stewart (UT), Glenn Thompson (PA), Tom Tiffany (WI), William Timmons (SC), Jefferson Van Drew (NJ) Beth Van Duyne (TX), Tim Walberg (MI), Jackie Walorski (IN), Randy Weber (TX), Daniel Webster (FL,), Roger Williams (TX), Joe Wilson (SC), Rob Wittman (VA), Ron Wright (TX), and Lee Zeldin (NY).
This IBS (irritable ballot syndrome) list is enormous, and therefore authoritarian danger is clear and present in America.