Heeding the Wisdom of a Cautionary Tale
Is anyone else tired of the old arguments — pro and con — about the filibuster in the Senate? I sure am. It’s just like couples who come to me for counseling and end up not telling me about their actual differences, but instead fighting about how they fight.
My usual response to that comes down to, Basta! Enough. I want to say the same to the senators who are fighting about how they govern. Could we just get down to governing? For once? We the People are in need of a whole lot, much of which is dependent upon the cohesive actions of the federal government. Get to it, you … you … dingbats!!
I know, I know, I shouldn’t name-call, but really, this has gone past debate into theatre of the absurd. Waiting for the Filibuster, you know, that Samuel Beckett classic? I want to shout: GODOT HAS ARRIVED. DO SOMETHING.
Well, of course, you know that Godot never does really arrive in the absurdist classic although it’s a wonderful piece, when done well, on the ridiculousness of humankind. And we definitely can be that for sure.
So what, exactly, has arrived, Beloved? Here’s what I think. The real threat of political violence.
Dr. Joanne B. Freeman has spent her career as a historian analyzing political violence in America, in duels, in Congress and elsewhere. It’s happened before, most specifically over the issue of slavery. As Dr. Freeman notes, “It wasn’t pretty.” No, I’m sure it wasn’t. And it isn’t pretty now either.
In these pages, I have deplored the calls for healing and unity, not because they’re not necessary, but because, their timing is wrong. This messaging skips a critical step.
Dr. Freeman writes, “[Republicans] want reconciliation without apologies, concessions without sacrifice, power without accountability. And many of them are using threats of violence to encourage Democrats and the disloyal to fall in line. If you impeach the president there will be violence, they charge. Masked in democratic platitudes like ‘unity’ and ‘healing,’ the inherent menace in such pleas is utterly deniable. But they are threats nonetheless.” Bullying, really.
Again, Dr. Freeman, “Congressional bullying was useful in those fraught decades [of the Civil War Era], and its practitioners plied their trade proudly; most of them were Southerners, who tended to be armed and ready to fight. Every Congress had its ‘bullies’ who protected slavery with threats and violence, and more often than not, their constituents liked them that way. Some such bullies wore guns and knives in plain view as a warning to game the give-and-take on the floor. Such was the message of weapons in Congress.”
“Mass violence in Congress seemed possible in 1850. Now, 171 years later, it’s in the national mindscape once again. And for good reason. The echoes of 1850 are striking. We’re at a moment of extreme polarization when outcomes matter, sometimes profoundly. The Republicans, whose ironclad grip on the Senate has dominated the federal government, feel entitled to that power and increasingly threatened; they know they’re swimming against the demographic tide in a diversifying nation. They have proven themselves ready and eager for minority rule; voter suppression — centered on people of color — is on the rise, and has been for some time. And some of them are willing to protect what they deem right with threats of violence.” Representative Lauren Boebert, anyone? Or, Marjorie Taylor Green. Take your pick.
The OED gives the origin of the word democracy as coming to us from the late 16th century. From the French démocratie via late Latin and back to the Greek dēmokratia, from dēmos meaning the people + -kratia meaning rule.
The people rule, Beloved, the people. Not some of the people, all of the people, and our people, thanks be to God, are diversifying at long overdue last, and rapidly.
As Dr. Freeman posits, “A truly democratic government enables people of all kinds to express their views and serve their interests through protest and the democratic process, itself grounded on debate and compromise, arguments, electoral and legislative contests, and competition — though not the rule of force.” No, the rule of civility. Boundaries, beyond which people may not go.
The insurrectionists who stormed The Capitol went far beyond those lines of decency, far. “It’s stunning that it needs to be said, but it must be: People who stage, support, or incite violent attacks on the federal government — whether they’re American citizens, members of Congress or the president himself — should be held accountable, not only to restore order in the present, but to fend off similar attacks in the future. Uniting the nation requires no less.”
Here is where we must allow history to teach us, Beloved. Not where we must rewrite, and, forgive the word choice, whitewash history. Slavery is the last issue that polarized our Union this badly. Eventually, the systemic racism that undergirded the practice was effectively ignored, hidden under the proverbial rug, and is only now, because of the horrifying police brutality we saw this summer, poking its head up for all of us to see. It’s just that now it’s no longer called slavery — it’s called redlining, redistricting, really though voter suppression.
We cannot afford to ignore the violence, the conspiracy theories, the utter disregard that the cowardly Republicans are hiding behind as partisan loyalty to derail the need for accountability and consequences for those who perpetrated the violence in ways large and small. That’s what we did with slavery 171 years ago, and it’s still not addressed in our country.
Mitch McConnell, according to Opinion writer Jamelle Bouie, has essentially co-opted and rewritten the history of the Senate. “McConnell frames the filibuster as part of our constitutional inheritance. It is not. The filibuster isn’t in the Constitution. The Senate, like the House of Representatives, was meant to run on majority rule.”
The framers, including the illustrious Alexander Hamilton, knew how supermajority rule worked — or, really, didn’t work. “For a taste of this frustration, read Alexander Hamilton in Federalist no. 22, which contains a fierce condemnation of supermajority rule as it was under the articles:
“The necessity of unanimity in public bodies, or of something approaching toward it, has been founded upon a supposition that it would contribute to security. But its real operation is to embarrass the administration, to destroy the energy of the government, and to substitute the pleasure, caprice, or artifices of an insignificant, turbulent, or corrupt junto, to the regular deliberations and decisions of a respectable majority.”
Mr. Bouie explains, “Hamilton is especially angry with the effect of the supermajority requirement on governance.
“In those emergencies of a nation, in which the goodness or badness, the weakness or strength of its government, is of the greatest importance, there is commonly a necessity for action. The public business must, in some way or other, go forward. If a pertinacious minority can control the opinion of a majority, respecting the best mode of conducting it, the majority, in order that something may be done, must conform to the views of the minority; and thus the sense of the smaller number will overrule that of the greater, and give a tone to the national proceedings. Hence, tedious delays; continual negotiation and intrigue; contemptible compromises of the public good.”
If that’s not a good description of where we are right now this very second, federally, governmentally, I don’t know what is.
The New York Times Editorial Board this week recommended that President Biden slow down the flurry of Executive Orders. It’s better, they said, to govern through legislation.
Here’s Mr. Bouie’s tart response, “If you don’t like presidents governing through executive order, then you should want an active, energetic Congress that embraces its constitutional mandate to rule over the whole country and direct its government. If you want that, you should oppose the filibuster.”
And whilst we’re at it, let’s have a look at cowardice, violence, term limits, fiscal accountability, the tax structure, and the sad, sad, sad adherents of QAnon.
Lenka Perron, an insurance inspector from Detroit, told her story in an article this morning. “But while much has been said about how people descend into this world [of QAnon], little is known about how they get out. Those who do leave are often filled with shame. Sometimes their addiction was so severe that they have become estranged from family and friends.”
Addiction, Beloved. Consider that. Conspiracy, as played out on social media in our times, is an addiction. Like all addiction, it’s a craving. Most often — and read Johann Hari’s Chasing the Scream if you disagree — seeded in a need for belonging.
“The theories were fiction, but they hooked into an emotional vulnerability that sprang from something real.” Here are Ms. Perron’s own words, “It was all of us,” she said of the early months of her immersion. “It was these puzzle pieces that we all got to play around with. We were all sort of authoring this.”
Authoring. Creating it as they went along, but together, not alienated, not set apart, a whole community who welcomed one another in their terror.
“Q managed to make us feel special, that we were being given very critical information that basically was going to save all that is good in the world and the United States. We felt we were coming from a place of moral superiority. We were part of a special club.”
A special club, just like our elected officials who continue to choose club membership over genuine public service.
“Unless there are major changes, Ms. Perron said, the craving will continue.” What craving? The craving to belong to something bigger than we are. “Trump just used us and our fear. When you are no longer living in fear, you are no longer prone to believe this stuff. I don’t think we are anywhere near that yet.”
I don’t either. But there is healing on the horizon, and eventual unity as well which cannot be effected in any way, shape, or form without accountability. In the midst of all this partisan cowardice, the Republicans falling into line behind ex-president 45, in the snow shower of executive orders, Mike Dooley sent this Note from the Universe. Its timing was exquisite.
Nothing heals, helps, cures, mends, builds, clears, stabilizes, fixes, balances, restores, corrects, inspires, enables, empowers, enlightens or tickles, SUSAN, better than the truth.
Ask for it by name,
Um, yes, Beloved. The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help us God. For you, me, all the people, and yes, even the long-awaited Godot.
Dr. Susan Corso is a spiritual teacher, the founder of iAmpersand, and the author of The Mex Mysteries, the Boots & Boas Books, and spiritual nonfiction. Her essays address the intersection between spirituality and culture. Find out more at www.susancorso.com