Posted Nov 21, 2018 at 16:55. Revised Aug 30, 2019 at 19:49.
This is a raw draft being prepared for ComplexityTrap.Com. This unpublished blog is currently undergoing major content revisions.
For centuries the British Parliament has had customs for how the opposition (the minority party) can express disagreement with the majority party’s policies. Acts of disloyalty to the nation or sabotage are not allowed – a responsibility encapsulated in the phrase “His Majesty’s Loyal Opposition”. The Queen (or King) symbolizes the nation, and this phrase poetically bans disloyalty to the country. In short, there are limits to the acceptable ways of opposing the policies of another political party. Of course, situations can J.D. Nobody will now empower you to say Nobody told me after you read this post. You will have a perfect and truthful excuse for pleading ignorance of the disruptive forces in our country today.
In an era of ever-growing complexity and narrowing focus, the United States has been moving away from the opposition being His Majesty’s Loyal Oppositions to being His Majesty’s Disloyal Opposition. There are many contributing factors to this evolution, of which the growing inability to deal with growing complexity and the resulting increase in the narrowness of focus and awareness are the most basic.
The election of Barack Obama as president resulted in an announcement by Sen. McConnell that the opposition’s primary objective was to cause the Obama presidency to fail. This de facto sabotage was a great leap forward in transforming the opposition party into His Majesty’s Disloyal Opposition.
The election of Donald Trump as President made the opposition go all out for payback for the way Obama had been treated by Trump’s litany of bombastic campaign rhetoric. Both extremes of the electorate saw a moral duty to engage in total and unyielding sabotage to anything those on the other side might say or do. This extremism has precluded all reasonableness by otherwise reasonable people.
The reasonable people in both parties are more in fear of being voted out by the extreme fringes within their own parties than they are of being ousted by the opposition party. It remains to be seen to what degree these fears are justified, but extremists are turning on the moderates in their own parties and creating even more incapacitating divisiveness. Sitting down with an opposition member can occur only when both are confident that they will not get caught. This situation becomes an albatross on the nation when reasonable people dare not agree on sensible things.
Understanding how the American governmental system has evolved in the years following the American revolution sheds some light on this situation. The evolutionary similarities and differences between the British and American systems have created respective strengths and weaknesses in both countries, as well as having built complexity traps over time. After the American Revolution, there was a great fear of a new king arising who would dictatorially run a tyrannical central government. This fear led to crafting the American constitution to have substantial power limitations and checks on the central government. The American system was intentionally designed to make it difficult for the central government to exercise excessive power.
It was assumed when the nation was founded that any farmer, tradesman, or merchant would have no difficulty being a legislator in Congress. The relatively simple problems in governing at that time would be easy for the average Joe to understand. Governance issues would require at most a few weeks out of a legislator’s life during his two-year term. The idea of an urban, industrial, and technologically advanced society that would be confounding even for full-time legislators was not on the founding fathers’ radar.
The representatives in Washington were expected to represent the interests of their home districts without having any political parties. The need for some discipline soon led to the rise of political parties, but the representatives generally voted the interests of their home districts ahead of party loyalty. The political idea of parties keeping discipline with a robust Prime Minister is only partially present in the American system. In the American system, a representative is more likely to resolve conflicting loyalties by voting for the desires of his constituents and against his party’s wishes. His British counterpart would tend toward going with his party rather than with his constituents.
Historically, American parties have rarely voted as a bloc. This is now changing. Indeed, the two-party American Congress increasingly looks like a parliament of splinter parties within mother parties. In such a situation governing cannot happen without party loyalty. Congress has become a parliament without a Prime Minister.
A parliamentary system typically has a head of government (the prime minister) and the head of state (a King, President, or Governor-General) who is a different person from the Prime Minister. Most power is held by the Prime Minister, with the head of state being in the background most of the time. Strict party discipline and a parliamentary majority (or coalition) guarantee that getting things done is prioritized over constraining legislative power. In a presidential/congressional system, the president is legislatively and constitutionally limited in getting things done. The president does not have the same powers as a prime minister because the powers of the President and the legislature are constitutionally separated.
On the other hand, a president is both the head of government and the head of state. As the complexity of governance grows, increasing administrative powers are necessarily delegated to the president, slowly making him the king that the founding fathers feared. And this kingship is not the kingship of a constitutional monarchy, either.
The moral outrage at the slowly ensnaring complexity trap and its oversimplification causes Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition to morph into His Majesty’s Angry and Disloyal Opposition. The main governing objective now becomes retribution and sabotage against the other party.
In this new world facts and opinions are conveniently identical, which aids in backstabbing either the “king” or the other party. This hobbles the government’s credibility when dealing with bad international actors. Nothing but more rampage on the international stage can come from bad actors when they see the President as domestically wounded or made impotent by the fractious discord.
Worse yet, the extreme opposition could spawn persons who see killing the president as their highest moral duty. Should such an assassination happen, the assassin’s most extreme sympathizers would likely turn out en masse to dance in the streets, as happened on a much smaller scale at Margaret Thatcher’s funeral. The backlash to an assassination could well open the gates of Hell.
Observers of the scene have noted the current national discontent’s similarity to the anger extant before the outbreak of the American Civil War. Things could become quite ugly because today’s extremists are equipped with tens of thousands of far better guns than were the soldiers in the Civil War. It is worth noting that the first significant battle in that war was the First Battle of Bull Run, also called the Battle of Manassas. Each side believed before the fight that the other side would quickly cave and that the conflict would be over. Large numbers of people brought picnics to the Bull Run battlefield to watch the rebels get trounced, but the picnickers ended up fleeing from the victorious insurgents when the day was over. This minor squirmish went on to kill more people than any other war in American history.
No one going into the war thought it possible that His Majesty’s Disloyal Opposition could create so much havoc, but that’s the way things turned out. Who knows where the developing backlash to today’s Disloyal Opposition will lead? One can reasonably ask “Is the United States today the way it is because of Donald Trump, or is Donald Trump the way he is because of the United States?” In any event, the problems are much deeper than The Donald’s competence.
Now you can honestly say “Nobody told me.”
Copyright © 2016-2019 Charles E. Dial. All rights reserved.
Posted Nov 21, 2018 at 16:55. Revised Aug 30, 2019 at 19:49. –> Retrieved Oct 23, 2019 at 01:43.
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