About the Name of this blog

This blog's title refers to a Dani fable recounted by Robert Gardner. The Dani live in the highlands of New Guinea, and at the the time he studied them, they lived in one of the only remaining areas in the world un-colonized by Europeans.

The Dani, who Gardner identifies only as a "Mountain People," in the film "The Dead Birds," have a myth that states there was once a great race between a bird and a snake to determine the lives of human beings. The question that would be decided in this race was, "Should men shed their skins and live forever like snakes, or die like birds?" According to the mythology, the bird won the race, and therefore man must die.

In the spirit of ethnographic analysis, this blog will examine myth, society, culture and architecture, and hopefully examine issues that make us human. As with any ethnography, some of the analysis may be uncomfortable to read, some of it may challenge your preconceptions about the world, but hopefully, all of it will enlighten and inform.

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

The Political Drowning Pool



In medicine, there is a condition called “delayed drowning.”  It happens when a person inhales water but seems to be “fine” until suddenly they aren’t.  Delayed drowning typically occurs about 24 hours after the initial event, when the trachea spasms and shuts down, killing the person.

Democracy in the United States at this moment is very likely facing a delayed drowning event, where it seems to have recovered from the events of 1/6, but will probably drop dead, seemingly without warning, in 4 years’ time.  This is because the Republicans have set up a probable no-win scenario that will end the very idea of any sort of majority rule for the selection of the President.

Part of this stems from the Constitution, and the fact that the framers had literally no intention of ever allowing the majority to truly select the president.  They set up a complex system of allowing the states to determine how the Electors were determined, and then established the Electoral College to give significantly more power to small states than large ones.  In total, they set up a system where “the people” had a very limited say in who became the Head of both the State and the Government.  The fact that for most of the last century, the President was the winner of both the popular vote, and the REAL vote, is actually more of an accident than any deliberate intent.  And this is exactly what the Founding Fathers intended.  They never really wanted the unwashed masses to be able to choose the president in the first place, a fact demonstrated by the lack of inclusion of the right to vote anywhere in either the original document or in the Bill of Rights.  Under their ideals and intent, both Bush’s and Trump’s victories would be proof that their system worked, rather than failures of that same system.  To the Founders, it would show that the Electoral College served the stated purpose of tempering the masses and avoiding what Jefferson explicitly called “mob rule.”

This is the core of the argument behind much of what is going on in the States today.  While there might be other motives at work, and we can certainly speculate what they could be, the general principles that the Republicans argue are based in the foundational documents of the country, which sadly do support their side more than they do the points of view of the Democrats.  We can see this in play every time a Republican (correctly) argues that the United States is not a Democracy, it is a Republic.  It is also shown by the Federalist Society’s insistence on judges that are “strict constructionists,” who believe that the Constitution must be read according to the specific intent of the Framers.

However, two and a half centuries have passed since those documents were written, and it is certainly legitimate to question the wisdom of people who lived in a completely different society, and whether those antiquated views have a place in a modern Democracy.  This is the view of those who consider the Constitution to be a “living document,” and that we need to adhere to the spirit of the Constitution rather than the explicit text.  This is how modern jurists can “discover” rights, such as the Right to Privacy, that were never explicitly spelled out.  It also allows judges to sanction things that were inconceivable in the early days of the country.

We can also say that while the Founders may have intended a true Republic, the current understanding is that the U.S. is, at most, a Democratic Republic, where it is “One Person, One Vote.”  We can reject the Founder’s views, and not undermine what they built.  We can say the “arc of history bends toward justice,” and validate what the country stands for now.  We can stand firm and say, “yes, they had an idea of what the country should look like, but we have moved on form that, and we want to evolve into a more democratic (with a little “d”) nation, where we all have an equal say in how the country is governed.

However, this is increasingly improbable, and we are quite likely on an irreversible road, because the “checks and balances” in the Constitution are not just there to check the powers of each branch of government, they are there, more importantly in the Founders’ views, to check the power of the people.  And because of this fact, majority rule in the country is probably going to have a delayed drowning, that will all be perfectly legal, constitutional, and utterly horrific.

Before I explain this, I need to say something about strategy.  Democrats are generally “reaction based,” something happens, and they react to it.  They generally reel from situation to situation without much, if any, long-term planning.  They deal with things when  they become urgent, and because of that, there is generally not an examination of long term consequences, nor is there a coherent strategy behind their actions.  Democrats are generally expert in crisis management, and good at responding at immediate needs, but there isn’t a far reaching plan involved, and they typically have no idea on how to weave a larger narrative out of these short term fixes. 

Republicans, as befits a pro-military organization, strategize, and plan battles far in advance.  They plan for contingencies, lay traps, advance and retreat, without ever losing sight of the big picture.  While they may sometimes not seem disciplined on the surface, every single thing they do advances a larger strategy.  Because of this, they are conversely terrible at addressing the unexpected, sudden and surprising, and consequently frequently botch response to hurricanes, economic crises, and black swan events.  That said, they are very good at incorporating those events into their larger, long term strategy.

As my father, who was a career military officer said, “a battle is won or lost before the first shot is fired.  If you don’t know who is going to win before you take the field, you will not be the winner.”  And the Republicans know they ultimately, they WILL be the winners.  There is always the chance that the Democrats could luck out, that an unexpected event will change the battlefield, but in general, the better strategy almost always wins.

And this leads to why the America we currently know is in its final months.  To explain why they will win; they have set up a literal no win scenario for the Democrats, whether it is by brute force, or by hanging the country on the structure of the Constitution, they are likely going to be victorious.

The brute force option is the simplest course, but certainly the hardest and the one most likely to end in total violence.  For this scenario, we can posit in 2024, a Republican candidate, probably Trump, declares victory, and his supporters take over the Congress and force the issue, staging a successful version of the trial run of 2021 coup attempt.

However, this probably will not pass even a very compliant Supreme Court, and consequently, this is not the likely route unless they are absolutely certain that they will succeed.  It will also likely kick off an actual Civil War, which again, they will probably not want unless they can be absolutely sure that large parts of the military, and the billionaire set, will support them.  However, the advantage of this path for them is that if they win, they will know that they will have permanent power, and can abandon even a pretense of democracy.  Many pundits fear this happening, and it is getting a lot of press, which is overall a good thing, but it is ignoring the much more realistic course of action for the Republicans.    

The long game that they are establishing now is the more likely path.  Although this will lack the “drama” that Trump seems to love, nor will it be as overtly decisive in completely establishing a new order, it will be completely legal, and probably be easily ratified by 6 Supreme Court Justices.  For the “Law and Order” party, this fact will be very important.  The fact that it is also completely legal will likely cause most Democrats to roll over and accept it.   

Buried in many of these “election security” bills passing in Red States, and in states with enough of a majority in the Assemblies to override gubernatorial vetoes, are clauses that will allow the states to override the results of the popular vote and select the electors themselves.  Again, this is perfectly Constitutional, and the Supreme Court recently reinforced that States have absolute authority to determine the election rules.  And, as stated before, there is no requirement in the Constitution that electors must be selected by popular vote in a state, and in a Republic, it is certainly possible to claim that the vote for a state legislator fits within the system of representation; the state elects an Assembly, which then, “in their wisdom of what they were elected to do” can select the electors for President.  This was the original system to select US Senators and is fully compliant with the intent of the Founding Fathers.  It also fits neatly in the Federalist Papers, and most of the other writings around the formation of our government. 

With these laws in place, it is only a matter of a completing the process, again, completely compliant with the Constitution.  Step one is that the States will ratify electors for the Republican, again probably, but not certainly, Trump.  This will give that candidate an Electoral College victory, regardless of the popular vote.  They may claim that the vote was corrupted, or that they have evidence of fraud, or they might just say that they are acting in the “best interests of their constituents” as a justification, but in any case, they will send Republican electors to vote in the ACTUAL election.  Despite the weight the population of the country puts on it, the General Election, at least for President, is literally just an opinion poll that everyone can participate in.  The ONLY actual election occurs when the Electoral College meets.

But the plan doesn’t, and can’t, end there.  In theory, if the Democrats controlled one or both Houses of the Congress, they could refuse to certify.  Now, given their outrage over Republicans pulling this in 2021, they will be extremely unlikely to do so, because the accusation of “hypocrite” hurts Democrats disproportionally more severely than Republicans.  However, if they did this, which they can under the Constitution, then the next stage of the Republican’s plan kicks in.  By the Constitution, a contested election is settled by the House. 

In theory, if the Democrats held the House, you would think the outcome is certain, and they would elect the Democrat.  But again, the Founders had NO interest in Majoritarianism, and in that election, it is based on one vote per state, where the majority of Representatives in THAT state decide on their vote.  In this system, Wyoming has exactly the same power as California, which is a greater distortion of power than even the Electoral College.  The Constitutional backup to the Electoral College is even less majoritarian than the College itself.  Every step in the process makes the will of the masses less important, which again can be used to validate minority rule in America.  As the Republicans, structurally, will almost certainly dominate more states, the House vote will deliver a Republican President.  The Supreme Court will not interfere with this, as this has all been done perfectly Constitutionally, and further, will meet all of the tests of a Strict Constructionist judiciary.

Then we enter the crazy phase.  If this were to happen, it is likely that the Democrats will do exactly what the Trump supporters did in 2021, and engage in large scale, sustained violence, leaving Biden the responsibility of either putting down the insurrection, and allowing a completely legal usurpation of power to occur, or to throw in with the revolutionaries and tear down the country.

This brings us full circle to the title of this post, “the Political Drowning Pool.”  A drowning pool is created when water flows over a shallow structure, creating an almost invisible, but virtually inescapable, current that sucks a person down.  The states are building a shallow structure designed to create inescapable political currents that will ultimately drown the United States.

The only way to escape a drowning pool is to not get into it in the first place.  The only way to escape this trap in 2024, is to change the course of the political river in 2022.  This is NOT winning the US House and Senate.  Doing that will do nothing to escape the inexorable trap that is being built.  What we HAVE to do is win state legislatures and governorships all across the United States.  If we do not take back enough states to have complete control of 271 Electoral College votes, Democracy will fall, legally, and exactly as the Founding Fathers intended.  After all, this is a Republic.