Don’t Let Politics Get Under Your Skin
“Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.”
— Mao Zedong
Joel Bowman writing on free thinking…
“I can’t bear to think about it,” the lady said, clearly exasperated. “It’s just so disturbing. To imagine this candidate actually becoming president. It’s…it’s unspeakable.”
Your editor was enjoying cake, coffee, and conversation at a friend-of-a-friend’s condo in Houston’s museum district last week. The atmosphere was convivial…the company a bright, educated bunch, older and much wiser than your editor. And the view from the 16th floor on Montrose Boulevard was pleasant indeed.
Outside, an afternoon storm rolled in over the city. The rain came down, softly at first…then in big, warm drops…and finally in thrashing, tropical sheets.
Talk inside veered from the sites and sounds of the town – Houston has resident companies in all the major arts; theater, opera, ballet and a symphony orchestra – to travel, history and…eventually, inevitably, politics.
“I can hardly sleep I’m so worried,” the lady continued, visibly upset. “I mean, we’re talking about a real sociopath here…someone who will say anything to get what they want…and do anything to make it happen. In my 86 years on this earth, I never thought I’d see something like it. Not in this country, anyway.
“Now, I’ve lived through dictatorships,” the woman pressed with a knowing gleam in her eye. “I was in Argentina during the Peronista regime…and the military dictatorship that followed. And I was in Hungary, on and off, during the worst of it there.
“I guess I just hoped that was all behind us. But I’m worried we might see something even worse here…”
Politics has a way of getting under people’s skin. Perhaps it’s democracy that does it.
Under other forms of government – monarchies, for example – people tend to know their place. Obeying King or Queen, the average commoner understands full well that politics is largely something that happens to him…not by him, and certainly not for him.
In post-Reformation Europe, kings claimed rule by Divine Right. “God’s lieutenants” was how King James I of England explained his own role in the Creator’s grand plan. James based his opinion on a conspicuously self-serving interpretation of selected biblical passages (in particular Romans 13: 1-7).
“In the scriptures, kings are called gods,” he reasoned, adding humbly “and so their power after a certain relation compared to the Divine power.”
To disobey the head of state was to go against the will of God himself. To commit a sacrilegious act.
Who was going to argue with a royal edict when eternal damnation hung in the balance?
In France, Louis XIV invoked the celestial clause to lord it over his people here on earth for 72 years and 110 days (until his death), the longest reign of any major European power in history.
And back in England, Henry VIII employed the Divine Right argument to divorce (and behead) several wives who obstinately refused to bear him a male heir (this being some time before knowledge of the XY sex-determination system that would have absolved the hapless queens).
Today, in largely secular England, voters are not so concerned with the will of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Nor do they pay much mind to the unintelligible jabbering of her nonsensical scion, Prince Charles.
Rather, the Britons of 2016 genuflect at the altar of a civic religion: Democracy.
Last week, dêmos from England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Island and Gibraltar dutifully donned their galoshes and marched off to play their part in the show. The question at hand; whether to remain in the European Union…or to leave it.
The count was more or less even…a few percentage points tipping the “leave” crowd for victory.
Of course, the EU itself is nothing without its members. Without the collective imagination of its 500 million subjects, all believing in the cosmic permanence of a grand, bureaucratic superstructure, the thing would cease to exist in an instant.
So too, by the way, would the “states” abovementioned. What, after all, is “Britain”…but for a commonly held idea? An idea, moreover, that is subject to the fickle mind of the majority.
(Scotland very nearly redrew the imagined borders with its own referendum to secede from the U.K. not two years ago…and will almost certainly do so now as the majority of Scots voted to remain in the EU, as did most of the Northern Irish turnout.)
“The will of the British people is an instruction that must be delivered,” adjured David Cameron during his resignation address after last week’s vote.
Whether Dios or Demos, the message remains: “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.”
Or something like that…
Back in the charming living room on Montrose Boulevard, we listened as our host continued her concerned lament.
“I mean it. This election could be a real catastrophe for the U.S. I certainly don’t need to tell anyone sitting here…we’re dealing with a lunatic here, an absolute monster!”
Your editor nodded in complete and truthful agreement…without yet knowing to which of the candidates our earnest interlocutor was referring.