Monday, October 12, 2015


In his great biography of Benjamin Franklin, Walter Isaacson describes how Franklin fundamentally changed America, bringing Puritanism "into an Enlightenment era that exalted tolerance, individual merit, civic virtue, good deeds, and rationality." I used to think all Americans since Franklin shared those values. Used to. I changed my mind long ago.
I'm a go-along, get-along kind of guy. Cooperate. Compromise. Consensus. Win-win. It's the way I was raised. When I was young, I used to think it was the American way. One nation. E Pluribus Unum. Melting pot. I'm learning not to be so naive, but I'm still caught off guard when I run across people to whom a preference for compromise or tolerance is considered a character flaw.
Source: Mark Steger.
I wrote that in 2012. I'm back today with another realization that rocks my childhood understanding of the values that I just assumed all Americans shared.

I've known for a long time that conservatives don't like federal government. Not just don't like President Obama. Or Congress. Or the Supreme Court. Nothing as particular as any of that. Conservatives don't like federal government in general. And probably just government in general, but let's restrict our conversation to the federal government for now.

"Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem." -- Ronald Reagan.

"Our goal is to shrink government to the size where we can drown it in a bathtub." -- Grover Norquist.

That quote from Grover Norquist goes back at least as far as 2001. That quote from Reagan is even older; it's from 1981. So, I'm not saying that I just realized that conservatives hate government. What I just realized is that there's a plausible way that they might get Grover Norquist's wish.

The title of this blog entry is "Decoherence." It comes from an essay by Brookings scholar Philip A. Wallach. Lee Drutman of Vox Media reviews it. Go ahead, Click and read. It's more important than anything I'll be saying. I'll be waiting here if and when you return.

Drutman summarizes both what decoherence is and what its potential impact is:
Wallach is pulling an important alarm here: The pieces of our system are not working together; if they continue to pull away from each other, our government can't work. If our government can't work, well, we've got some big and obvious problems.
Source: Vox.
Is mine an irrational "sky is falling" fear? Perhaps. After all, America's federal government survived eight years of Reagan. But Reagan's presidency was a case of trying to impose a dislike of government from the top down. America still had a functioning Congress and Supreme Court to balance Reagan's view of government as the problem. The next far right conservative elected to the presidency will already have a right wing government in place in the other branches. What will happen when the far right holds all the reins of power? Even with just veto power, they are willing to take the USA to the brink of disaster, government shutdowns and default on debt. What happens when they gain all power?

I used to think conservatives would be satisfied to "shrink government," leaving a smaller but functioning federal government in place when the pendulum eventually swings back to the middle. But what if "drown government in a bathtub" is not just a figure of speech but is really the end game for conservatives? You can't come back from that. The pendulum just falls off.

What if, for example, a call for a Constitutional Convention finally passes? It's been a conservative dream for decades. The amendments coming out of a far right populist convention are bound to expand states' rights. The right to secede would be the holy grail of such a convention. It's what conservatives in the South, including Texas, have wanted for 150 years, once even fighting a bloody civil war to get out of the union (and preserve their slavery). I can foresee such changes to the Constitution not just happening, but being met with cheering parades in many states. Once that door is opened, you know some states would walk through it. Texas among them:
We've got a great union. There is absolutely no reason to dissolve it. But if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, who knows what may come out of that?
If the governor of Texas can hint at secession, you know that many Texans are ready to act, if given the chance. Unlike in 1861, this time the rest of the union will let secession happen because it will have been accomplished through constitutional processes.

Now, I'm not predicting this will happen. Southerners are some of the fiercest "America: Love it or Leave it" flag wavers today. But Southerners are also some of the fiercest Confederate flag wavers, too. I used to consider this hypothetical breakup of the union an absurd impossibility. I used to think a Constitutional Convention was just an entertaining "what if" topic for a speculative fiction novel. Now, with decoherence growing greater after each election, I have to consider this hypothetical to be a real possibility. Given the right conditions, our nation could fracture.


Mark Steger said...

"One of the things I’m going to do on my first day in office is I will put the prestige and power of the presidency behind a constitutional convention of the states."
-- Marco Rubio

That idle question about what would happen if a Constitutional Convention ever passes just got a little less speculative.

Mark Steger said...

The breakup of the Union appears to be accelerating. "Texas Gov. Greg Abbott calls for Convention of States to take back states’ rights."

Mark Steger said...

A new Constitutional Convention is less and less hypothetical (i.e., more and more possible) all the time: