GABlog Generative Anthropology in the Public Sphere

March 10, 2015

A Modest (Really) Proposal

Filed under: GA — adam @ 10:25 am

47 US Senators just did something unthinkable: they sent an open letter to Iran’s Ayatollah-led government pointing out that the agreement said Ayatollahs are (apparently) about to conclude with the American President will be meaningless without Senate approval (which Obama has shown no signs of seeking). (The Ayatollahs wrote back, purporting to tutor the Senators in the “nuances” of the US Constitution and, more importantly, the overriding importance of international law in determining the obligations of nations. That part of the story is tangential to my interests here, but this is undeniably fascinating stuff.) But, of course, the President forging ahead, mostly in secret (with the occasional lie), in such negotiations without any consultation with the Senate, even Senators of his own party, despite widespread skepticism (to put it mildly) about the details of the agreement as they have become publically available, is also unthinkable. But that’s the funny thing about the unthinkable—it’s unthinkable until someone does it, and then it becomes eminently and irresistibly thinkable.

The rules of American political order are fracturing. No one who is at all familiar with my thinking will be surprised that I hold the Left, and more directly, Obama, responsible for this breakdown, but that doesn’t matter any more. The question is, what now? The Left has tried to keep the game going by applying the rules with increasing rigor and Jesuitical zeal to their political enemies, while holding themselves, in victimocratic fashion, exempt from those same rules (which would unjustly constrain them in their attempts to hold the “privileged” accountable). But that’s obviously not sustainable—the Republican party can play along in the hopes of maintaining their share of political power without having to pay close attention to the people who vote for them, but no one outside of government has any incentive other than sheer fear to do so—and, as this letter demonstrates, there are now quite a few Republicans who don’t want to play anymore, at least when the stakes are high enough.

When the rules break down, we have resort to the tried and true method of tit-for-tat. Tit-for-tat is essentially hostage taking, and hence barbaric, but there are rules and rules: these are still second or third order rules that are breaking down, and tit-for-tat is not about to spread to all of our social practices. That is, we are not on the brink of a hot civil war, but we are in the middle of the beginning of a cold one, with unforeseeable consequences. Tit-for-tat is kept within civilized bounds according to Kant’s maxim that wars should be fought in such a way as to make peace possible afterward, which in this case means gesturing to the meta-rules as possible means of adjudication when the daily rules break down. So, senators interpose themselves prominently in the middle of head of state to head of state negotiations in such a way as to essentially promise the nullity of the results of those negotiations, but they do so by simply reminding the other side’s negotiators of the Constitutional provisions for treaty-making that, by implication, our own negotiator seems to have forgotten. The bankruptcy of the administration’s position here, as in the wake of Netanyahu’s speech, is evident in its response and that of its allies, which is to accuse the senators of breaking the meta-rules, i.e., calling them traitors—which thereby proves the viability of this method.

We are sure to see new forms of tit-for-tat emerge across the broad as social rules break down under the pressure of victimary obsessions. This is the way front lines in cultural (and other) wars take shape. Most immediately, though, this Gang of 47 has provided an opening to the Republican candidates for President, none of whom so far give the impression that they really want to win. Rather than go dutifully down the checklist of “positions” one needs to affirm in order to satisfy the “base,” telling fairy tells of restoring the American Dream and complaining that the media isn’t interested in the “real issues” of economic growth and whatever, the candidate who wants to break out should make a list of actions carried out by Obama that only Presidents can carry out (executive orders, “prosecutorial discretion,” etc.), starting with the blatantly illegal and proceeding to the merely harmful and promise to undo each and every one immediately upon taking office. At the same time, promise a series of previously unthinkable, but now quite thinkable, actions that would match Obama’s egregious rampage through our economic and political order. And from then on, stalk the President—remind others of the list as new events bring reminders of his actions, and add new ones when necessary. The media will pay attention to that, and whoever takes this approach will take all the other candidates hostage, forcing them to affirm or add to the list, ultimately producing a united front among the serious candidates, giving the voters the opportunity to dismantle the entire Obama regime, declaring before the world the anomalous nature of the that regime, and forcing the Democratic candidate to defend each and every piece of it. Even better, such an approach could turn into a genuinely public way of thinking through all these questions.

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