Newton’s third law of motion speaks to politics: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Science isn’t alone in recognizing this critical phenomenon. Scripture warns, As ye sow, so shall ye reap and Buddhists see the eventual cosmic balancing of deeds in Karma. But 15th century historian and politician Machiavelli might have nailed the inevitability of retribution most poignantly when he advised, If an injury has to be done to a man it should be so severe that his vengeance need not be feared. In other words, you’d better finish your enemy off or he’ll be back to get even. Unless Republicans have a plan to eliminate all the Democrats they might want to consider changing course a little.
Despite all the Golden Rule advice, our newly empowered Administration of governing neophytes is exercising power in recklessly aggressive bursts that are almost guaranteed if not intended to provoke a fight. So far, respect for the rule of law has kept most domestic reactions civil and fear of U.S. power has mostly muted international responses. But if current trends continue, and Newton was right, this restraint is unlikely last.
It’s said that Donald Trump, Steve Bannon, and several of their new cabinet choices have been on the outside of the social and political mainstream looking in, resentfully, for decades. Suddenly their ship has come in and docked. Americans who don’t understand the pathology of narcissism thought the surly Donald Trump was speaking for them, that he understood and sympathized with their feelings of marginalization. Many still seem to think the Administration’s anger and goals are the same as their own, that Trump & Bannon’s ruthlessness is remaking the government and the economy for their benefit. Hence, they’re all quite happy with themselves and see no reason to deviate from full speed ahead.
The Right asks why the Left can’t just accept that they lost the election and that elections have consequences. After all, the Right was sure Obama was a satanic socialist and then had to endure having the Affordable Care Act shoved down their throats and they didn’t protest and riot like spoiled children.
The Left is reacting to more than just a partisan turn of the worm. They see what they thought were non-partisan norms of civil society being dismissed as servile “political correctness” and a commitment to governance for all the people being replaced by a Libertarian funded hostile takeover designed to finish the plundering of the middle class by corporate one percenters. So far, our president and his mostly white male billionaire cabinet are doing little to counter those perceptions. Their expressed goals include cutting federal government functions that advance affordable health care, public education, relief from poverty, consumer protection, civil rights, women’s health, and protections for the economy against Wall Street excesses and for the environment against profit driven polluters, while at the same time cutting taxes for corporations and wealthy individuals. There’s even talk about reducing the government’s commitments to Social Security and Medicare. From a more mature and more traditional Administration one might hear much of this as red meat being thrown out to their base and not get overly anxious. But maturity, experience, and thoughtfulness are nowhere in sight.
Less partisan but just as worrisome, the Administration is shutting down government global warming research and information sources and withdrawing from international carbon reduction commitments. It denies the need for evidence to support cruel and probably unconstitutional immigration policies, and proudly defends its positions and executive orders with made up facts. With a wink to their base, the message is “Don’t question, we know what you want, trust us.”
It’s fair to say this White House doesn’t deal in facts and hard data, at least not the kind that would support or fail to support policy. People who prefer a strong father or authority figure may be comfortable with this, but to people less trustful of authority facts are important; they want to see the data and judge for themselves. Celebrity governance doesn’t work for them. It’s hard to argue that an informed, attentive citizenry is not a crucial component of a well functioning democracy and yet this Administration seems to resent being asked for evidence of anything.
What do you call a regime that denies facts, keeps everyone off balance, generates populist support by churning fear based nationalism, demonizes courts that disagree with them, aims to discredit and suppress independent press, and wants simple blind obedience?
Perhaps traditional conservatives are not worried because they assume they will be able to reign in this amusing, flamboyant White House group if they go too far. If that’s the case, I hope they’re right that they can and that they will. This is a very dangerous game they are playing.
It’s not hard to imagine a nightmare scenario in these circumstances. Without some change, the equal and opposite reaction is almost certain to build. What choice does the Left have? Trying to ignore a bully almost never works and in any case is impractical. There is no higher authority to appeal to and so far no balancing power. The third branch can help but the scope of their authority is limited and their process is typically slow.
If Congress will not impose restraints, if they excuse and rubber stamp irrational White House actions, the Left must either accept whatever the executive branch serves up or look for ways to resist. With no political leverage and no restraint coming from the Right their opposition will probably be unorthodox and clumsy. And here is where the picture can turn really dark. The temptation of our thin skinned president and his authoritarian Administration to escalate the use of force to counter challenges to his status and their authority will be hard to resist and easy to justify. Perceiving a rising fascist, and having no political power, the Left could easily see law enforcement as a tool of oppression and resist it further. Students of history and human nature know well where this can lead.
Perhaps Congressional Republicans are hoping the Democrats will take on Trump, Inc. themselves and spare their Party the strife and embarrassment. Already one can guess that news of thuggish rioting by “liberal demonstrators” might be pushing moderates toward the GOP. They could be sitting back and hoping Democrats will do more damage to its own brand than theirs. If so, this is a short sighted perspective. If we do end up with widespread protests, social chaos, and even violence it’s hard to imagine most people not recognizing the Republican’s nominee and president, Donald Trump, as the cause.
Whether you look to science or religion for guidance the warning is the same. A remorseless barrage of attacks on core values held dearly by at least half the population of the country is likely to provoke equally strong and perhaps equally destructive reactions. It must be obvious to anyone watching by now that Mr. Trump will not change, mostly because he can’t. He is as much at the mercy of his mental illness as the rest of us are. If this unraveling of the social order is not part of a calculated or at least a welcomed agenda Republicans are playing out, they should take stock now of the fact they are the only ones who can stop it.