Friday, January 20, 2017

The Problem With Presidents

So as far as we know, later this morning New Mexico time, Mr. Trump will approach the podium set up on the back steps of the Capitol in Washington and be sworn in as the 45th President of the United States of America, to the shock and horror of much of the population of those United States and the world.

W. T. F. America?

So far as we know, there has been no serious intervention that would prevent Mr. Trump's ascension to office. There have been numerous opportunities for intervention since he began his rise during the primary contests with however many rivals the Republican Party threw up against him.

He was a force of nature. Chatty and incoherent, insulting to any and all critics or rivals and ingratiating with his adoring fans, telling everyone he didn't care what they thought of him, he was going to plow on no matter, and he would win, like he always did in business. Just watch.

He ran as an entertainer, a clown, a vicious street fighter, a financial and sexual predator, a bully, a con man, a force of nature to be reckoned with or to yield to. There were no alternatives, at least none offered in his own narrative or that of the propaganda media.

Accept him as he is or reject him; it didn't matter to him, not in the least. He would win, you just watch.

Sure enough, come election night, the shocked and then resigned looks on the faces of the media talking heads told the tale. Though he was never ahead in the overall popular vote as reported, he got enough votes in the crucial battleground states to defeat Mrs. Clinton soundly in the Electoral College, "the only vote that matters."

Hm. Well, there you are then. For the second time in 16 years, the loser of the popular vote will ascend to the White House as President due to the clever Electoral College mechanism specifically designed -- they say -- to prevent this sort of thing from happening. "They say." In fact, the Electoral College ensures this sort of thing will happen more and more often as time goes by. But that's another issue for another day.

What I'd rather deal with today is the problem with Presidents and the Presidency in general.

We have an archaic system of rule that's largely based in the model of the 18th Century British Empire from which what would become the United States rebelled. The rebellion wasn't on behalf of abstract notions of "equality," "freedom," and "liberty," but for the specific purpose of ensuring the advantages obtained by a rising colonial aristocracy. Fine words were employed to support the cause, but in the end, only about a third of the colonial population -- some of the white ones -- supported the rebellion. Had the Crown and Parliament in London actually taken the matter seriously, it's likely the United States as we know it would never have come into being.

But that's as may be. It did come into being, and after some initial difficulty and some internal rebellions, it began to flourish.

The initial concept under the Constitution that was ratified and went into force in 1789 was that of a domestic empire ruled as a Republic by a qualified class of patriotic aristocrats. White Men (only) of Means, Reputation, and Eminence.

For a long time, I thought one of them was among my ancestors, but it turns out he wasn't. While we may share ancestors in common (I haven't found them if they exist), there is no direct relationship between descendants.  I was lied to.

The President is a somewhat anomalous position in that Republic. He (or maybe one day she) has vast powers -- exceeding those of any modern king or potentate, and in some ways exceeding those of 18th Century British monarchs, The President was to be constrained by the monetary appropriations of the Congress, the advice and consent of the Senate, and the rule of law as interpreted by the courts. Initially, the President was considered weaker than a monarch in most respects, but in others -- that is in his representation of the Nation -- he was more glorious than any Emperor.

As the role of the President evolved, however, the Presidency took on not just the trappings of autocracy but the reality of it as well, seen in stark relief during war time, and consolidated with relish during occasional outbreaks of "peace."

In fact, the United States government has engaged in perpetual war domestically and/or internationally for its entire existence, and this constant war-making has had a profound effect on the nature of the Presidency and the US Government as a whole.

Our rulers long ago set themselves up as a warrior caste -- whether or not they personally engaged in military action -- with an ever-varied list of "enemies" to be defeated. Our government runs on the principles of making war, as anyone who's been paying close attention or has had a close relationship with the federal government can recognize.

Behind the Warrior Caste is a Wealth Class, some of whom participate directly in the government, others stay in the shadows directing the government.

This has been the case for as long as there has been a government of the United States, and it isn't changing because Trump is to assume the office of President. He may have pretended to be a Warrior Caste member in his personal pageant, but for decades he's been a member of the Wealth Class who have the power to direct the government to their own advantage from behind the scenes.

This is why the pretense that he is "anti-establishment" is ludicrous. He IS "establishment" -- albeit part of a faction of the establishment that is generally considered contemptible and/or criminal. Nevertheless, it's always been a powerful faction, usually easier to accommodate than contest.

No one quite like him has been "elected" to the Presidency since Andrew Jackson, and the parallels with Jackson are not close enough to be particularly illustrative.

No, this is for all intents and purposes a unique -- and hopefully one-off -- experiment in direct rule by the Plutocracy.

It isn't just the President, the Congress, Courts and Statehouses of the nation are dominated by plutocrats, kleptocrats, and their agents as well.

They have some popular support -- as they have always had in national and state affairs -- but it isn't large, and as long as they have the power, the people's objections to their rule don't matter to them.

Until now, the presidency has been held by an heroic figure such as Mr. Washington, or Mr. Lincoln, or Mr. Eisenhower, or by an agent of the plutocrats, not directly by a member of the plutocracy/kleoptocracy.

But that's about to change, and many of those who celebrate it have no idea what kind of change is in the works.

In my view, this is the end-point of the Republic -- a Republic that was on life support anyway -- and there will be no going back. The experiment in self-government -- never perfected -- will end, either with a crash or a whimper, and that will be that.

The President will no longer be a genuinely powerful but ever-modest figurehead, he (or maybe one day she) will be what the office has always inherently implied: an autocrat, an Emperor in all but name, a divinity.

The Congress and courts and to a great extent the shadowy government of the Wealthy will do his bidding or feel his wrath. The People, the Rabble, will be cut loose to fend for themselves -- and be cut down if they get uppity -- or they will be patriotically "organized" and "coordinated" into Imperial support corps led by Himself.

White Supremacy will be restored to its rightful place in the National Mythology.

Too bad for those who don't fit the ideal.

Too, too bad.

The problem with Presidents and the Presidency is that this kind of authoritarian/autocratic and overtly racist rule has always been inherent in the position itself. I'm sure Mr. Trump will innovate in many ways, doing things we've never seen a President do before, but the nature of the position is such that he can do this with little or no interference from those vaunted "checks and balances." This power and authority has always been inherent in the position, but until now, certain formalities and traditions of the office have generally prevented their open expression.

Since 2001 (and actually before) those formalities and traditions have been under threat, and many have already been jettisoned. We entered an alternate political reality when GW Bush was installed in the Presidency lawlessly in 2001, and that alternate reality has only been reinforced and consolidated ever since. Mr. Obama, while seeming to be Mr. Modest in his rule actually carried on the processes that had been under way for quite a long time, and while he didn't adopt the trappings of an Emperor, he ruled like one where and when he could, and when he couldn't, he provided "Imperial Cover" for pretty much whatever the government's owners and sponsors wanted.

So here we're about to encounter the apotheosis of the Presidency, it's open transformation. There will be no going back.

I'm not sure the Nation can or will survive. A unified national consciousness --- and conscience --- has essentially disappeared.  There are regional and largely independent perspectives, but they conflict with one another to such an extent that there's little common ground between them any more -- if there ever really was. The only times they've come together, and then only temporarily, has been under the gun. Otherwise they fight one another.

A breakup into several semi-autonomous regional super-states is therefore somewhat likely to relieve the stress of the transformations to come. The secessionists in California, Oregon, and Washington see themselves as a vanguard for this breakup, and maybe they are.

But there are all sorts of potential consequences to the coming ascension of Mr. Trump to the Presidency. Once he is in office, an intervention is still possible but much less likely, simply because it's easier to go along with a New Boss than to fight him.

We'll see.

Opposition is pervasive, true enough, but I have no clue where it will lead.

More and more folks are waking up to the New Reality, and to my eyes, more and more of them are saying "No!" -- but it's too late to stop what's coming (oh, I could go on and on about what could have been done) and we'll just have to ride it out.

Or something.

Strap in; it's gonna be a bumpy ride.

Frankie Say:

(There are about eighty-eleven different versions of this, but this one seems to fit the mood of the moment....)

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