Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
I’ve always been intrigued by William Butler Yeat’s The Second Coming. It is a masterful poem.
A lot of folks are familiar with it for no other reason than Robert Bork used a variation from the last couplet of the poem for the title of his book, Slouching Towards Gomorrah.
It’s really the first three line of the poem and part of the seventh that have stuck with me over the years: “The best lack all conviction.”
Originally written in 1919, post-WWI and on the eve of the Irish War for Independence, the poem encapsulated Yeats’ view that history unfolds in 2,000 year cycles. A civilization begins and from the moment it does, no matter how strong it is, it immediately begins to spin further and further away (gyre=vortex) from its starting point, or as Yeats wrote, “the centre.” For Yeats, the beginning of his era was the birth of Christ and as the world neared the 2,000 year mark, he believed he was witnessing the falling apart. I have often wondered if the widening gyre can be reversed.
But why this poem? Why is it relevant today?
Great question. I was reminded of it as I listened to Ben Sasse talk about a post-Constitutional society in America. The Left is already there, but his question was, and is, is the Right there as well?
For the sake of this post, I am defining “post-Constitutional” in three different ways.
1) The Supreme Court no longer just interprets the Constitution, it is a law making branch unto itself.
2) We are a democracy, not a democratic-republic, and majority rules.
3) The three branches of government are no longer separate but equal.
If defined in these ways, if the Right is already not post-constitutional, it’s teetering on the edge of the precipice.
For months we have heard that this election is all about the judges that either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton will appoint. This is an important component of this election, no doubt. However, it is also a reductionist view of the world that Presidential elections are about one thing and one thing only-judicial nominees.
That is not what the Founders intended. Not by a long shot.
In fact, there is a reason the Founders listed each branch of government in the pecking order they intended, so while “separate but equal” they were not quite so.
Article One of the Constitution established the legislative branch (the House and the Senate). Holders of the purse strings and the power to confirm or reject any of the President’s nominees, the legislative branch was to be a democratic blend of republicanism. The House standing every two years was, and is, the more democratic of the two chambers as it had to be more responsive to the whims of the electorate. The Senate, originally elected by state legislatures until the 17th Amendment, was and is the more republican branch of the two.
Article Two of the Constitution established the Executive branch, i.e. the Presidency. As the de facto commander in chief, the Executive was the figurehead of the democratic republic, the presiding officer who, among other things, nominated judges and other functionaries of the government that the Senate would either reject or confirm and the House would fund.
Article Three established the last of the third, “separate but equal” branches of government. The judicial branch was set up to house the referees of the new republic. If a law passed by the House or the Senate didn’t pass Constitutional muster, the judicial branch, adhering closely to the Constitution, would sent it back to the Legislative Branch with orders to, “Try again.”
If the House and Senate decided that they didn’t like the judges that they had confirmed or funded, they had recourse: they could impeach them, just like they could impeach the President.
Where are we today? We have a President who issues Executive orders to bypass the legislature, we have a judicial branch re-writing (or attempting to re-write) the Constitution as a living document and a legislature lost at sea. In the case of the Republican legislative members, one wonders if they even know why they are in Washington, DC. They don’t really have an agenda they are for, one that resonates with 70% of Americans, which should be the easiest thing for them to do.
The GOP is supposed to be the party of freedom, liberty AND opportunity. The GOP should be handing out all three legislatively ALL DAY LONG, from state legislatures to the GOP controlled House and Senate. We have an electorate that knows something is wrong in Washington, DC but it doesn’t know the solution.
“Our strongman is a better option that your strongman and will give us the judges we want!” seems to be the operating construct of many these days. Or, on the flip side, “At least he is not her!”
The current state of affairs is why I worry about the widening gyre of American politics and culture.
When 70% of millennials are ready for socialism and only 55% of them view communism as a problem we are in trouble. When we have two nominees, either one of whom could be found guilty in a courtroom in the next few months, we have a problem.
When we have lost a knowledge and understanding of our form of government and why it was structured the way it was, we are in a perilous position. I wrote about a lot of this in my post, The Lantern Bearers, so I won’t retread what I wrote there, but what we are seeing play out before us is a populace who has lost a knowledge of its centre.
Where others see despair, I see opportunity, though. I absolutely reject the notion that Donald Trump is other than what he is: a lifelong Democrat who saw opportunity by tossing bread to the masses (“I will build a wall so tall and so big. . .and make Mexico pay for it!”).
But his supporters have gotten one thing right-something is wrong in Washington, DC. But in the problem/solution equation, they’ve gotten the solution part wrong.
I lay the blame for this almost entirely at the feet of the conservative movement. It is a problem that can be fixed, though.
With the rise of the Tea Party in 2009 and the election victories in 2010, conservative groups gained momentum and the grassroots began to think, “We got this, that was easy!” Missing in the equation, in hindsight, were multiple ingredients. The conservative groups exposing the corruption in Washington, DC assumed that when they said, “We need to toss these folks out and replace them with those who understand their Constitutional responsibilities and the need to shrink government” that the grassroots understood. We now know that the grassroots heard, “Throw the bums out!” so when Trump rose up and said, “We need to toss the bums out!” they instinctively thought, “This is who you told us would come. THIS IS OUR POLITICAL MESSIAH!!”
Coupled with that was a misunderstanding of how Washington, DC works. The grassroots won big in 2010 and thought, “Got the right folks elected, they will go to Washington, DC and do the right thing.”
Except they didn’t because they couldn’t. Facing a deeply entrenched system led by the Establishment and corporate money, most (not all) of the Tea Party candidates got chewed up in 2011 and 2012. I refer you to Allen West and other Tea Party freshman and their debt ceiling votes in 2011, among other votes.
This isn’t a one election cycle fix. It’s a multiple election cycle fix and a frustrated American electorate in 2016 decided it had had enough. Sadly, it is very possible they will only reinforce (I hope, in the short term) the very political system they despise so much with either one of the candidates elected one week from today.
Where do we go from here? Assuming that the pattern holds in spite of Friday’s news, the GOP that remains needs serious restructuring and it needs to get ready to fight. The good news is that the Left may have elected a lame duck the day she wins.
We cannot let the Trump voters disappear into the black hole of a Trumpbart universe because if they do they will be no better than the dwarves in The Last Battle and we as conservatives will have lost valuable allies.
We need to present the solution. We need the best to have conviction, not lack it for the sake of relevance.
We need a conservative intellectual movement to leave its ivory towers and come up with practical solutions for America that it will forcefully advance through legislatures. We need a conservative grassroots movement day in and day out educating people on what is wrong with the system and how to fix it.
We need a GOP ready to cast off its Wormtongues and fight for liberty, opportunity and freedom, not be seen as the decaying party clinging to vestiges of power.
Only then will the centre, or what is left of it, hold.