Long live the Queen

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This might irritate some, but it shouldn’t. In reality it is all about reminding a people where they have come from, what their history is and how it has unfolded. It reminds them how it has given them the stable, even if imperfect, political system they – and much of the world – benefits from today.

Back Story, courtesy of the New York Times:

Queen Elizabeth II will announce Prime Minister David Cameron’s legislative program for the next year at the state opening of Parliament in London today.
Hours before her arrival, the royal bodyguards perform a ceremonial search of the basement of the Palace of Westminster, where the two houses of Parliament meet.

It’s a throwback to the discovery of the Gunpowder Plot in 1605, when Guy Fawkes tried to murder England’s king and its ruling classes by blowing up the House of Lords.

Led by parading soldiers, the Queen arrives in a gilded carriage drawn by four Windsor Greys and guarded by coachmen who are still called bargemen because the monarch used to come by river.

Members of Parliament are ceremonially summoned to the House of Lords by her representative, known as the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod.

In one of the more colorful rituals, he approaches the doors of the House of Commons, only to have it slammed in his face. The custom dates to the English Civil War and symbolizes Parliament’s independence from the crown.

Only after knocking three times with his ebony stick is he let into the chamber, where he announces, “The Queen commands this honorable house to attend her majesty immediately.”

Everyone then heads to the House of Lords, where the Queen recites the speech from her throne and wearing her diamond-encrusted Imperial State Crown.

Your Morning Briefing is published weekdays at 6 a.m. Eastern and updated on the web all morning.

Donald the victim?

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The American – sorry, the United States – electoral system has never looked so chaotic as it does in this election. If it were not for its relatively wise and sophisticated constitutional arrangement for balancing power within the overall political system, it might make the rest of us in the world very nervous indeed.

It has, of course shown its capacity for chaos before. Remember those dimpled chads of the Bush-Gore battle? The New York Times newsletter’s “Back Story” today reminds us that Donald Trump’s allegations of “rigging” the Republican Convention is not a new charge.

At the Republican National Committee’s spring meeting, despite Mr. Trump’s advantage in delegates, his opponents are arguing that it is not too late to stop him. If they are able to do so it will be thanks to the complex system of rules for choosing convention representatives. Those rules are why Mr. Trump is calling it “a rigged” nominating process.

Party conventions have faced those accusations before, the Times tells us, with one of the most famous examples occurring in 1960.

Former President Harry Truman resigned as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention, calling the event “a prearranged affair,” fixed to give the nomination to John F. Kennedy.

Although Mr. Kennedy arrived in Los Angeles as the front-runner, having won each of the seven primaries he entered, his selection was not a done deal.

He didn’t reach the necessary vote total for the nomination until Wyoming, the final state scheduled in the roll call, pushed him over the top.

The political jockeying continued to the very end, with the convention floor briefly taken over by nondelegates who had slipped into the hall to support Adlai Stevenson, the Democrats’ nominee in 1952 and 1956.

The top Democratic Party official said the protest was “the best answer to charges of rigging for Jack Kennedy.”

What the top Republican Party official will be saying after July 18–21, when the Convention concludes in Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio, is anyone’s guess.

Hope for the powerless?

 

 

 

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Ireland’s parliament – Dáil Eireann

For most of the time ordinary people don’t want power. They just want to get on with their lives. Democracy relieved them of dictatorial, aristocratic and oligarchic abuses of power. In our democratic age we expect that all we have to do is choose, every few years, reasonable, just and capable people to look after our public affairs for us – and all will be well. That seems to be enough power to keep us going. But something radical has now happened. We do not seem to be in this comfortable place anymore.

David Brooks reflected on “powerlessness” in a column in the New York Times last week, relating it to an essay by George Orwell reflecting on an incident in his time as a colonial policeman in Burma back in the 1930s.

“In his essay”, Brooks tells us, “nobody feels like they have any power. The locals, the imperial victims, sure didn’t. Orwell, the guy with the gun, didn’t feel like he had any. The imperialists back in London were too far away.” He thinks this is the way much of the world is today, with everyone afflicted with a widespread sentiment that power is somewhere other than where you are.

Suddenly, we are not so sure that anything we think, say or do matters anymore. If it did why do I have to suppress this sense of fear and loathing every morning as I make my way to work past the Irish parliament and the offices of the prime minister of my country?

Brooks, writing in the American context, speaks of the confusion he sees right across the social and political spectrum where every group feels it is being hard done by in the system. A Pew Research Center poll asked Americans, ‘Would you say your side has been winning or losing more?’ Sixty-four percent of Americans, with majorities of both parties, believe their side has been losing more.

“Sometimes”, Brooks says, “when groups feel oppressed, they organize by coming up with concrete reform proposals to empower themselves.” He cites the Black Lives Matter movement as an example of this kind of response.

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George Orwell

Here in Ireland some people afflicted by this “powerlessness” syndrome hope that new political parties might give some respite. Others despair even of that when they look at the options that new fledgling parties provide. They hope that the wave of independent  non-party representatives expected in the next Irish parliament – the general election for a new Dáil will take place in about five weeks from now – will at least throw up something to relieve their pain and their anxiety. Others just look on this as a vain hope, convinced that what they see as a mildly to severely corrupt political and media establishment will manipulate the system to keep themselves in power.

Brooks thinks that “the feeling of absolute powerlessness can corrupt absolutely. As psychological research has shown, many people who feel powerless come to feel unworthy, and become complicit in their own oppression. Some exaggerate the weight and size of the obstacles in front of them. Some feel dehumanized, forsaken, doomed and guilty.”

The ultimate stand of the hopeless is a defiant but pointless one and is made when they feel overwhelmed by isolation and atomization. Having lost all trust in their own institutions, they respond to powerlessness with pointless acts of self-destruction. Brooks cites what is happening in the Palestinian territories as a classic example. “Young people don’t organize or work with their government to improve their prospects. They wander into Israel, try to stab a soldier or a pregnant woman and get shot or arrested — every single time. They throw away their lives for a pointless and usually botched moment of terrorism.”

In the United States today, on a macro level, everyone seems to be scratching their heads and asking themselves how this particular electoral cycle leading to the election of their 45th President got so crazy. On a micro level they are agonizing over the strange dysfunction of their legal and law enforcement system which two Columbia University journalism graduates have exposed in their riveting documentary series on Netflix, Making a Murderer.

For Brooks the first is a perversion brought about by feelings of powerlessness. As regards the second, no one seems to have any answers. It all ends up compounding the despair.

Brooks sums up the American dilemma: “Americans are beset by complex, intractable problems that don’t have a clear villain: technological change displaces workers; globalization and the rapid movement of people destabilize communities; family structure dissolves; the political order in the Middle East teeters, the Chinese economy craters, inequality rises, the global order frays, etc.”

Irish citizens seldom agonize over all of these issues – because they don’t expect their chosen representatives to have to deal with them. Our hapless and helpless representatives had to rely of an international troika of the European Commission, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank to dig it out of the mess they let the country fall into in the mid 2000s. The smug way in which the current political establishment now claims credit for the troika’s vigilance in having guided us to a reasonably safe haven fools some but angers others.

Is Ireland safe from the horrors of the unsafe verdicts and law enforcement shenanigans portrayed in Making a Murder? Irish radio last week was debating whether the dreadful scenario presented in the series could happen in their blessed land. Indeed it could – and from time to time there have been suspicious signs that something like it has.

On the political front, thirty-eight percent of the Irish electorate looked on in dismay last year as a united phalanx of political and media forces effectively consigned the already badly wounded natural institution of marriage to the rubbish heap of history by effectively redefining it out of existence. In the previous year the same coordinated forces took the first step in removing from Ireland’s laws and constitution the right to life of unborn children. It is now building up forces again to complete this work and get Ireland to join the world club of states which judicially take the lives of millions of innocent human beings every year. Ireland legislators will do this again with the help of hand-picked lackeys to form “expert groups” and “citizen forums”, the modern equivalent of the packed juries of former times which put the veneer of justice on the killing willed their masters.

The citizens who see these developments as catastrophes feel as powerless as victims confronted by an alien force from they know not where. Their fear is compounded by the fact that this force comes in the form of a human agency whose framework of values is totally out of sync with everything they know about human nature, human dignity and natural justice.

The consequences of the exercise of power by this agency – or agencies either under their control or influence – are the cause of the loathing that they feel. Among these consequences are the slaughter of the unborn, the termination of lives considered “limited”, whether youthful or aged, the destruction of family and the redefinition of human nature itself by the adoption of a crazy gender ideology.

Some but not all of these things have arrived in Ireland. But they surely will and the feeling of powerlessness to do anything about it in the face of an entrenched alien force is breeding despair. How ironic is this in the very year in which Ireland’s people “celebrate” the centenary of the rebellion which led to their winning independence from Britain?

For more than 700 years Ireland was subject to the British Crown. For much of three centuries of that era, up to the later part of the 18th century, her people suffered bitter and lethal persecution for adhering to the principles of their Catholic Faith. There are many who now fear that the Irish political and media establishment’s adherence to new definitions of humanity contrary to their Faith will usher in an new era of persecution.

In Ireland’s history, constitutional change and violent rebellion, sometimes one, sometimes the other, were resorted to as a way of rectifying injustice and of bringing persecution to an end. The hope is that the former will be the means of choice this time to restore to the powerless their democratic voice in the face of something which at times does not look too far removed from a new tyranny.

In looking for a solution to the problem in his country Brooks argues:

To address these problems we need big, responsible institutions (power centres) that can mobilize people, cobble together governing majorities and enact plans of actions. In the U.S. context that means functioning political parties and a functioning Congress.

Those institutions have been weakened of late. Parties have been rendered weak by both campaign finance laws and the Citizens United decision, which have cut off their funding streams and given power to polarized super-donors who work outside the party system. Congress has been weakened by polarization and disruptive members who don’t believe in legislating.

If we’re to have any hope of addressing big systemic problems we’ll have to repair big institutions and have functioning parties and a functioning Congress. We have to discard the anti-political, anti-institutional mood that is prevalent and rebuild effective democratic power centres.

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David Brooks

So it may be for America – although I doubt it. In the Irish context is a party like Renua the solution? Or will it be the Social Democrats, or Sinn Fein? I doubt it even more. Why? Because none of these parties have anything of the vision of mankind which has in it the core truths which would enable it to frame consistent policies – social, political or economic – which will meet the needs of our nature and the aspirations which arise from that very nature. Some individuals within these movements have such a vision but these are dismissed by the establishment as “sanctimonious” dreamers. But these are the only hope that the powerless have. The fact is that there is no coherent collective voice in evidence yet which convinces the powerless that there is an alternative vision by which their country might be wisely and justly governed.

Until there is this substance in those currently hollow shells which pass for policies among all these alternatives, any new solution to our powerlessness will be fruitless. Until then the political and moral bankruptcy of our time will continue to plague us.

Don’t worry, yet…

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For anyone worrying about the world falling into the hands of this man, courtesy of the United States of America’s electorate, the message in today’s New York Times is, don’t – yet.

There is no doubt but that Donald Trump’s run for the Republication nomination as a candidate in November’s election has made it – so far -one of the most bizarre in recent memory. It will also make it at least the subject of an important footnote in polling textbooks in the future.

The Times’s editorial observer helpfully explains, however, why we don’t need to worry about it at this early stage of the race. It has all to do with the vagaries of polling. In real terms Trump’s dramatic showing in the polls is about as good an indicator of what is likely to happen as are the leaves at the bottom of your tea cup.

Read her well sourced analysis here and don’t lose confidence in the reasonably good sense of American Republicans. What we can hope for from the totality of the US electorate in November is a more moot question.

At the mercy of others’ personal will and judgement

This, surely, will not end well. American writer, Brandon McGinley, writing in The Federalist last week, sounded very nervous about where his country – and his country’s media – is headed. Writing from Ireland one can only feel the same nervousness about the situation here. Reflecting on Thomas Jefferson’s famous dictum, “Dissent is the highest form of patriotism,” McGinley finds it now cast on the rubbish heap. He comments:

While it would be senseless for dissent to always be the most patriotic course, this popular concept points to something true: We have a solemn duty to advocate that the state conform itself to certain moral standards that are outside, or prior to, the state. The state is best—it fulfills its role, dare we say its nature, most perfectly—when it pursues objective standards of truth and justice.

Patriotism, then, is not about conforming oneself to the state, nor is it about encouraging the state to conform itself to the majority. It is rather about advocating tirelessly for the state to conform itself to the truth.

But what is truth? Pilate gave up on that one. The American Supreme Court gave up on it as well – and, by virtue of its all-pervasive influence, the rest of us are drifting in its aimless wake. Relativism rules and there is no truth.

Patriot-News will not be a household brand across the globe but it is part of the PA Media Group in Pennsylvania which boasts of  reaching millions and a Pulitzer Prize.

McGinley tells us that within minutes of the announcement of last week’s SCOTUS decision on same-sex marriage Patriot-News announced:

“As a result of Friday’s ruling, PennLive/The Patriot-News will no longer accept, nor will it print, op-Eds and letters to the editor in opposition to same-sex marriage.”

That needed further explanation to some people so  in a tweet later that day, the paper’s Editorial and Opinions Editor John L. Micek explained: “This is not hard: We would not print racist, sexist or anti-Semitic letters. To that, we add homophobic ones. Pretty simple.”

This was exactly the consequence which Justice Samuel Alito predicted in his dissent to the Court’s use of the “Selma analogy” in it majority judgement:

[The decision] will be used to vilify Americans who are unwilling to assent to the new orthodoxy. In the course of its opinion, the (SCOTUS) majority compares traditional marriage laws to laws that denied equal treatment for African-Americans and women. The implications of this analogy will be exploited by those who are determined to stamp out every vestige of dissent.

It is here that McGinley sees the death of truth playing out in all its starkness. The new arbiter of all justice and morality has become – not even the will of the majority of the people, which itself is no arbiter of objective truth or morality either – the simple majority of the nine-member Supreme Court of the United States.

The decision to censor anti-same-sex marriage opinions is an incredible genuflection to The Nine of the Supreme Court, He says. Note the opening clause of the censorship announcement: “As a result of Friday’s ruling…” Micek may have gone on say this was about giving no quarter to bigotry, but the direct working is clear: They are excluding certain opinions because those opinions conflict with the Supreme Court.

The Patriot-News, he points out, isn’t censoring bigotry – because if it were, it would have been rejecting anti-same-sex marriage letters yesterday as well as today. The Court didn’t say anything about bigotry. He concludes:

 It is censoring dissent—dissent from the new orthodoxy proclaimed by our secular Magisterium, dissent from the prevailing viewpoint of our oligarchs, dissent from the state. And we are to conform ourselves to this orthodoxy not because it is good, but because the state so ordains it.

“As a result of Friday’s ruling…” Six simple words to turn dissent into sedition. Six simple words to the apotheosis of nine men and women. Six simple words to justify anything in the name of the state.

As the Australian barrister, human rights and refugee advocate, Julian Burnside points out the right to life, freedom from arbitrary detention, freedom from torture, freedom of thought and belief, equality before the law etc. are readily accepted in principle. The disagreement arises when the question of protecting those rights is in issue.

The problem is that without our acceptance that there is an objective standard of truth, within the terms of the institutions which we have set up in our democracy, ultimately there is no limit to their power. We are at the mercy of the personal will and judgement – in this case, of nine people on a bench; in other cases, at the mercy of the judgement of elected representatives.

Burnside warns:

There is not much room for complacency. Within the scope of its legislative competence, Parliament’s power is unlimited. The classic example of this is that, if Parliament has power to make laws with respect to children, it could validly pass a law which required all blue-eyed babies to be killed at birth. The law, although terrible, would be valid.

One response to this is that a democratic system allows that government to be thrown out at the next election. This is true, but it is not much comfort for the blue-eyed babies born in the meantime. And even this democratic correction may not be enough: if blue-eyed people are an unpopular minority, the majority may prefer to return the government to power. The Nuremberg laws of Germany in the 1930s were horrifying, but were constitutionally valid laws which attracted the support of many Germans. At times, majoritarian rule begins to look like mob-rule.

This is the state we’re in and with our denial of the existence of any objective truth we have no grounds for opposing the decision of any majority – be it one of five against four, or 38 percent against 62 percent. We are at the mercy of those we elect – so we had better do our best to elect the best available; in other words, those who see that there is a truth beyond their own noses and the realm of emotion. Otherwise there is no guarantee that soon we might not be electing anyone. Democracy must rest on truth or it is nothing.