Thursday, May 12, 2016

Grassroots Versus Top Down

The idea of political devolution in, or perhaps more accurately the de-federalization of, the United States is an intriguing one to me. I've written about this before. I wonder if the federal republic of the United States will disappear, not because of an active agency from without or within that orchestrates some sort of coup, but rather through either indifference or, more likely, obsolescence. The republican form of federation that the United States is currently constructed of might simply become too old-school to continue. It might have met its expiration date.

One evidence of this is the evolution of megaregions across the United States that hold seventy percent of both the populations and the jobs in the country. As one authority notes: "The New Megas, are the real economic organizing units of the world, producing the bulk of its wealth, attracting a large share of its talent and generating the lion's share of innovation." *
Source: Wikipedia
We seem to be seeing the reformation of the city-state and not just in the United States. These megaregions, often agglomerations of mega-cities, wield economic and political power that is not yet full understood or even recognized, but which have the capacity to work independently of the other or, for that matter, of any larger national governance. And we see this already being expressed, as discussed in the link in the first paragraph. 

Perhaps this also helps to explain the growing, although still nascent, support for Texan secession. It has recently made the news that elements within the Republican Party in Texas want to discuss at the upcoming state convention whether Texas ought to leave the union. While this very idea will probably not even make it to the floor for a vote, the very fact that it is being discussed is significant. Even more, to me, the fact that the top GOP leadership of Texas really wants nothing to do with this entire issue, and that the very idea of secession is being pushed at the lowest levels of the party's governance (at the county'level) is even more telling. This is because of the fact that all meaningful, genuine, and lasting political movements begin (or at least must find its weight in numbers) at the grassroots level. And this is what is happening in Texas. While only the GOP party leadership of only one county supported the idea Texas independence as of 2012, it has grown to at least 10 counties and possibly even up to 22  today (out of 270). Crazy!

Perhaps I'm not connecting the dots correctly, but mass consciousness can express itself in seemingly polar-opposite ways, but still be cut from the same fabric of thought and concern. For example, the right-wing populist Trump and the left-wing populist Sanders are both candidates reflecting disenchantment with the current political establishment, and the  right-wing Tea Party and the left-wing Occupy Wall Street both reflect the same fear of the rising Deep State.  

Every empire ends, every political entity has a shelf life, and every generation forgets the past, lives in the present, and has its own answers for the future. We just don't always know the timeline. 

*Dewar, Margaret and David Epstein (2006). "Planning for 'Megaregions' in the United States." Ann Arbor, MI: Urban and Regional Planning Program, University of Michigan. (via Wikipedia)

Saturday, May 7, 2016

A Joke That Sums It Up

I heard this recently:
"The problem with this year's presidential election is that one of the two candidates is going to win."

Monday, May 2, 2016

Populism Is A Symptom

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines populism as "a member of a political party claiming to represent the common people." That is, 1) a politician who asserts that the interests and concerns of voters should be the driver of the political agenda, and 2) is by default anti-establishment. Thus the rise of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump in the United States presidential campaigns. The popularity of both are fueled by populist sentiments to the right (Trump) and the left (Sanders). 

As has been discussed before, the rise of these populist candidates is not by chance. Americans have discovered that the political process does not work; that it does not serve their interests, and it has been co-opted by America Inc -- the large businesses and special interests of corporate America, which we could put in a nutshell as the industrial-military complex. 

And I'm convinced that it is not going to get better anytime soon. I've written before about how polarized Congress has become and how this entrenched political polarization has generated a systemic impotence for real reform. What does the future hold?

I've also commented in the past how I've become convinced that this Congress is the most divided since the Civil War. Now I have some evidence. I recently read an article from the Department of Economics of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology -- Working Paper, "Patterns Of Congressional Voting," by Keith T. Poole and Howard Rosenthal, Sept. 1989 -- that examined voting patterns of every Congress from 1789 to 1985. Here's what they discovered: 

  • "[L]egislation is shaped not only by the 535 members of Congress and attendant thousands of staff, but also by influences rising in the executive, organized lobbies, the media, and from private individuals." (No revelation here, but it is nice to see it observed and noted.)
  • "The spatial structure uncovered by the [computer] model is very stable and it breaks down precisely when the political system breaks down; first, from 1815 to 1825, after the collapse of the Federalist party, and, second, in the early 1850's upon the collapse of the Whigs and the division over slavery." (I suspected the second example, I neglected to consider the first.)
  • "[I]n contrast to earlier historical periods, political change must now be accomplished by the selection of new legislators through the electoral process rather than by the adaptation of incumbent legislators to changes in public demands." (In other words, even by 1985 -- if not earlier -- party loyalty had ossified the political process, as compromise becomes a non-option.)
  •  "[T]he possibility of major political change has been sharply reduced because the average distance between the two major parties has fallen dramatically in this century." (This is not what it might first appear, as the distance that the authors are describing here is not distance in political ideologies, but that both parties have been co-opted by vested interests: they're both equally corrupt. Remember, this was published in 1989!)
At least by this measure, my suspicions have been confirmed: the US Congress has ceased to function as an institution of democracy, but has become simply an agent of the industrial-military complex. The American democratic process has become a fascade of a real, functioning democracy, at least at the federal level. Subsequently I'll state it again: Hillary will win the next presidential election, as she is the choice of the vested interests. They will tolerate the current campaign only to 1) insure their candidate's success and 2) to discredit any opposition.

These are unprecedented times.