Ideology and Unfaith, Part III: Conclusion

The wealth of information and the power of prejudice would make it more difficult, though hardly impossible, to trace the degeneration of the United States from the limited republic of Adams and Jefferson to the imperial plutocracy of Lincoln and Grant to the national socialism of Franklin Roosevelt and his successors to our own miserable and degraded condition today, when conservatives have abandoned even the fig leaves of law that used to protect us, in theory at least, from our rulers in Washington. 

Is there a single moral, social, economic, constitutional, or even environmental principle that would deter people like....Feel free to fill in the blanks..for even a day, if there was something they wanted?   I used to insert names like Donald Rumsfeld or Albert Gonzalez, Dick Cheney or Michael Chertoff.  These days it might be Mitch McConnell or Nancy Pelosi or John Roberts.  The problem is not which names to select from the rulers in the three branches of government, but which few to eliminate?

I have no pity for foreigners or Americans who join, however loosely, terrorist organizations, but it is a well-known principle that rulers bent on tyranny always begin by ignoring the civil rights of unpopular people: communists, klansmen, and criminals.  The techniques used to frame Bill Haywood and Al Capone are now routinely employed against ordinary citizens.  There is no reason not to expel Muslims who run off to frolic with lovers in Isis--they and their families should never have been let into the country, but let us not forget that it will not be too long before rightwing Americans who dissent from the religion of Lincoln, Wilson, and FDR will be given the same treatment as John Walker Lindh or Moazzam Beg.

The American people have never so politically powerless as they are today.  Elections are, for the most part, a meaningless game of musical chairs in which phony liberals change places with phony conservatives, and none of them, apart from a few old gangsters and logrollers, has the slightest concern for the constituents who only see them on television.  With congressional districts approaching a population of 700,000, and with the population of medium-sized states like Illinois reaching 13 million, retail politics, which is the only politics that benefit the consumer (that is, the voter), has always been, from the politician’s point of view, undesirable. Now it is impossible.

If conservatives abandoned ideological politics and voted the interests of themselves, their communities, and their professions and businesses, what would change?  For one thing, we would no longer be held hostage to the abortion question, whose only function today is to distract us from what is actually going on at all levels of government.  It is the prestidigitator’s wand that keeps the rubes in the audience from seeing what he is slipping up his sleeve with the other hand.  In economic policy, the free-traders—international socialists to the marrow of their bones—could no longer prate about how they are preserving free markets by destroying the livelihoods of the American people. If you are going to vote socialist, at least vote for the street-and-sewer socialism of the old Midwestern Progressives instead of the globalist socialism of the Wall Street Journal. 

A few years back, if I had been asked to pick a national politician to represent my interest, I should probably have selected Robert Byrd.  Like nearly all his colleagues in the Senate, he was an outrageous boondoggler, but much of the boondoggling was for his home state.  Ideologues and party hacks complain about pork, but what else is there in American politics?  At least when a congressman sends pork back to his district, he is not monopolizing the fruits of his corruption.

Back in republican (pre-war) South Carolina, many people had a chance to meet their congressmen and senators. The state and its districts were smaller back then, but there was also a different attitude. Face-to-face contact between politicians and the middling classes was expected.  This contact was maintained until fairly late.  For some years, my congressional representative was the late Mendel Davis.  He was an old friend from college and the nephew and godson of the immortal L. Mendel Rivers, the king of military-industrial pork packers.  As one of his colleagues once told him, “Mendel, if you send any more military hardware down to Charleston, that place is going to sink.”  Although I never cashed in on our relationship, I always knew that Mendel Davis would at least listen to my complaints, both for old time’s sake and out of deference to the interests of the people who elected him.

Southern Democrats have always been better than Republicans at serving their constituents.  Among most people I knew—including several ferocious rightwingers—there was a feeling that Ernest F. Hollings was a better senator than Strom Thurmond.  While Strom could hoodwink most of the white vote (and some of the black vote) every six years, Fritz had to work hard to say in office, and he always looked out for the little communities of his state. Although a perfect nobody, I met the Senator on several occasions, and his representative came to our village annually to listen to the complaints and petitions of the locals.  Fritz, though a fiscal conservative, was a typical Southern liberal, and a cynical one at that, but he stood in a long line of Deep-South politicians who actually looked out for the folks back home.  In 1980, when I broke my firm rule against voting, I pulled the lever (we still had them) for Ronald Reagan and Ernest F. Hollings.  When President Reagan bailed out on Mel Bradford, I knew that I had been at least half-right.

By persuading simple-minded Americans that the politicians' war of words are really battles over principle, politicos like Reagan, Kemp, Gingrich, and the host of their "Conservative" disciples have damaged American politics almost as much as the Leftists have, and their cynical supporters in the media and in "Conservative" organizations should share the blame.  They are never going to cut the size of government, stop the oncoming tide of revolution, or protect the lives of innocent children.  They know that far better than I do, but they never stop fleecing the sheep

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Thomas Fleming

Thomas Fleming is president of the Fleming Foundation. He is the author of six books, including The Morality of Everyday Life and The Politics of Human Nature, as well as many articles and columns for newspapers, magazines,and learned journals. He holds a Ph.D. in Classics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and a B.A. in Greek from the College of Charleston. He served as editor of Chronicles: a Magazine of American Culture from 1984 to 2015 and president of The Rockford Institute from 1997-2014. In a previous life he taught classics at several colleges and served as a school headmaster in South Carolina

20 Responses

  1. Dot says:

    Since Pres. Trump became president, there has been a never ending barrage against everything Trump. We are in the third year of this and it will not stop. I cannot understand your rule against voting. What does it prove? Nothing.

    In my state, NC, a progressive activist democratic judge tossed out the requirement for Voter ID arguing it was unconstitutional. He also called 1/12 years of legislation into question. He was responding to a lawsuit from a group that, although does not belong to the UN, can send representatives to this body. If I lived near Raleigh, I would be talking to as many in the house and senate as possible and passing out my opinions around the legislature building for anyone to see and read.

    Voting is an absolute necessity.

  2. Harry Colin says:

    I think this never ending barrage against Trump strengthens Dr. Fleming’s point about the futility of voting. Trump was elected, against the wishes of the GOP establishment and of course the Democrats, and now both entities would love to overthrow him. The Republican establishment would love to have Pence at the helm; while Trump has plenty of neocons in his inner circle he has been able to restrain many of their worst inclinations, while Pence would enthusiastically follow Bolton and Pompeo into a fresh slate of wars all over the globe. Thus the “will” of the people would be thwarted. The oligarchs will rule despite what the rest of us choose in the ballot box.

  3. Roger McGrath says:

    I best remember Fritz Hollings for his opposition to Reagan’s decision to deploy Marines to Lebanon–as Reagan later admitted one of his greatest mistakes. At the time, Hollings said, “If they are going there to fight, there are too few. If they are going there to die, there are too many.” After 241 Marines died in the Hezbollah bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut, Hollings argued for a withdrawal. He was immediately attacked for what was called “cut and run.” I recall Hollings standing before TV cameras and saying in his slow drawl, “Well, what we have now is cut and squat.”

  4. Dot says:

    There is no “futility of voting”. George Soros and his Open Society Foundation directly funds more that 200 liberal, progressive, democratic groups one of which “opposes the implementation of proof of citizenship and photo identification, etc. etc. etc. including abortion rights and welfare for illegal immigrants.

    Voting is an absolute necessity.

  5. Andrew G Van Sant says:

    Dot – two conditions are necessary in order for voting to be effective First there must be numerous candidates running for the various offices who know what to do after they are elected. Then there has to be a majority of voters smart enough to elect those candidates.

    Neither of those conditions exist; neither candidate knows the proper thing to do so voting is futile.

  6. Dot says:

    There is no “futility of voting”. The candidates are presented for our vote. Unless a candidate is running for re-election and wins, newly elected candidates will have to “learn and do the proper thing” for whatever office he/she was elected. The newspapers also publish information on the candidates for the public. It is not the futility of voting but the bickering in the halls of congress that thwarts action and thus the will of the people is not heard. That plus the democratic party seems to be undergirded by someone who doesn’t even live in this country who has a very leftist point of view.

    Voting is an absolute necessity.

  7. Dot says:

    P.S. The thing is Mr. Van Sant is that if one doesn’t vote because it is futile the opposition gains because (1) you give your vote away and (2) you will side with the opposition. But all that doesn’t make it futile and a reason not to vote.

  8. Frank Brownlow says:

    Dot is right. A refusal to vote is in effect a vote for everything one loathes. As my uncle said to me long ago in my youth when I said I wasn’t going to vote for the Tory because he was an idiot, “Of course he’s an idiot, but he’s our kind of idiot.” I voted for him, and I’ve been voting on that principle ever since, the one exception being Trump who, whatever else he is, is emphatically not an idiot. I’ll admit to voting happily for Reagan too, & enjoying the walk into my department office on that sunny November morning. But otherwise voting has been a hold-your-nose affair, especially in Massachusetts.

  9. Andrew G Van Sant says:

    Professor Brownlow – I vote in every election. Especially in Maryland my votes are futile. The Democrats run (ruin) everything, even the Republicans. We have a Republican Governor now, but that has not and will not change anything. Soon we will have abortion on demand embedded in our State Constitution and a law permitting assisted suicide. They are now attempting to eliminate a tax cap imposed by voter referendum so they can collect more money for education. The legalized gambling enacted to provide more money for education is apparently not enough.

    When both candidates for office hold essentially the same views, it makes no difference which one you vote for. Even if someone who wants to make a difference gets elected, he or she is powerless to do so. When the Republicans controlled the House and Senate they refused to give Trump the funds to stop illegal immigration and the flow of illegal drugs over our southern border. Republicans are just Democrats with another name.

  10. James D. says:

    “Republicans are just Democrats with another name.”

    Mr. Van Sant,

    I would argue that the Republicans are worse because they demoralize the people who foolishly put their faith in them. To be repeatedly betrayed and stabbed in the back leads to hopelessness and loss of trust in the entire process. This is why the Republicans exist. They are here to show us that we have lost and will continue to lose and there is really no way out of it. The Democrats sell “hope and change” and often deliver on their evil promises. I’m not really sure what platform most Republicans run on (some have said pillage and plunder,) but they never deliver, always capitulate, and often, after one or two election cycles, end up championing whatever evil they supposedly opposed just a few years back.

  11. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    Let us be careful to distinguish the rhetoric of democracy from the reality. To take the example of Illinois, I voted for Trump in the last election knowing that he could not take the state. I voted for Gov. Rauner knowing that he was no better than most Democrats, did nothing in office, and spent his time attacking the state’s Democratic machine. The choice for congressman was between a lunatic Democrat and the war-mongering Adam Kinzinger. I left it blank. There was no-one in the local races of any discernible merit but I did my best to vote for a possibly less pernicious crook.

    Where there are two or more parties of differing approaches and constituencies, it makes sense to choose the safer alternative. But when the candidates are indistinguishable and both parties evil, it becomes difficult. Prof Brownlow’s uncle gave good advice for a parliamentary system, but in America, for example, the President has almost as many enemies in his own party as in the opposition. Funnily, Kinzinger, who in the previous election had avoided being connected with Trump, ran on his coat-tails this time. Why believe him? And why vote for a man who wants to drag us into pointless and unjust wars?

    The problem with voting is not so much with the act itself but with the naive and ruinous belief that the voter is participating in an important democratic process and exercising important rights and duties as a citizen. This gullibility is dangerous. As Cicero observed of the younger Cato, he acted as if he lived in Plato’s Republic and not among the dregs of Romulus. (Romulus allegedly collected all the riff-raff in the area and settled them in Rome, which served as a sort of robbers roost.). By all means vote when there is any reasonable chance of making any significant difference, but to choose between Caligula and Nero–which is what we face in most presidential elections–is to implicate one’s self in the crimes of the winner.

  12. Raymond Olson says:

    So, shall we convene an exploratory committee for Commodus? Elagabalus?

    I’ve always been a partial voter, skipping those offices for whom only bounders and lunatics were running.

  13. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    There is a coffee mug urging people to vote for Chthulu: “Why Settle for the Lesser Evil?”

  14. Andrew G Van Sant says:

    Dr. Fleming- I just bought two Fleming Foundation mugs. I will look for the Chthulu mug to balance my collection. Thanks for the tip.

  15. Dot says:

    Mr. Van Sant: You can find the Chthulu: Why vote for the lesser evil mug by searching in Google or Yahoo 🙂

  16. Frank Brownlow says:

    I don’t think we disagree. We hold our noses & vote, & if the stink is too bad we pass by on the other side.

  17. Raymond Olson says:

    I am the proud possessor of the Cthulhu for President campaign button. Try to wear it as called for and if I remember.

  18. Andrew G Van Sant says:

    Thanks Dot. I bought three different mugs. Every Christmas we have an extended family dinner at my brother-in-law’s house where we do a gift exchange. I will use one of the mugs for that this Christmas. A number of the younger participants suffer from acute TDS.

  19. Dot says:

    At present I’m in a place whereby I must choose “the lesser of two evils”. An acquaintance of mind asked me to be with him when he makes his announcement for high office in my state. I and others worked under his direction to defeat a highly contentious project that would not benefit the state. We won.
    Problem: He belongs to the democratic party and in my way of thinking, for me to stand up for him when he makes this announcement is equivalent to denying my own beliefs. He brought up the project we fought against, but that was a bipartisan issue. This is not. I plan to ask him what specifically he wants to achieve for the state. I think there are liberal and conservative democrats but am not sure. Dr. Fleming may say there is no difference. I would appreciate anyone’s comments.

  20. Andrew G Van Sant says:

    The first mug was delivered today. It says Don’t Blame Me, I voted for Cthulhu.

    I also ran across a video of the Riverbottom Nightmare Band singing the Democrats’ theme song. It was featured in Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas special a number of years ago. Lead guitarist is a serpent. My favorite line is: we don’t like to learn but we hate what we don’t understand.