Stephen W. Browne Rants and Raves

July 27, 2016

The Twilight of Democracy

Filed under: Op-eds,Politics — Stephen W. Browne @ 4:15 pm

Is anybody looking forward to this election with anticipation? Or should I ask, is anybody looking at this election with anything but dread?

On the one hand we have a seriously unlikable harridan whose ideology is pretty straightforwardly totalitarian, as defined by Mussolini.

“Everything within the state. Nothing outside the state. Nothing against the state.”

After an investigation for serious felonies the FBI director announced she was guilty as hell but he couldn’t touch her, in almost as many words. Fanatical supporters crowed she had been “cleared.”

The DNC has been revealed to have rigged the nomination process to block Bernie Sanders by Wikileaks via Vladimir Putin.

And by the way, if they’re willing to rig a nomination do you think they would scruple to rig an election?

And is anybody the least concerned a hostile foreign power is openly trying to decide our election?

Which brings us to Trump. An unknown quantity, since he’s run businesses but never held so much as a city council position.

Need I point out government is not business?

Trump has held a lot of different positions on many issues and nobody seems to notice that at present he’s essentially a moderate Democrat. An improvement over the hard left cadre that has seized leadership of the party to be sure.

He’s a bit vague on how he intends to accomplish the things he promises but at times sounds alarmingly like a Latin American caudillo.

But for the first time in more than a century we have a third party candidate in libertarian Gary Johnson who looks like he might ride a wave of disgust, not into office let’s get real, but into vote totals that can’t be ignored.

If either of the two major parties collapses, there is a real possibility of a third party rising to replace one of them.

I hate to be a wet blanket, but the last time that happened a civil war broke out.

So while we still have some semblance of our old democracy, I’d like to reminisce about some things I noticed while I was living in the brand new democracies in Eastern Europe after the fall of the Soviet Empire.

In Poland they call their state “The Third Republic.” France is on her fifth.

This implicitly recognizes the first characteristic of a true democracy, continuity.

“Democracy is a habit,” as English writer Gavin Lyall once put it.

In America we have so far never cancelled or postponed a regular election, not even during the Civil War. We’ve had plenty of questionable elections, including a presidential election that was possibly stolen (Nixon-Kennedy). But other countries experience has shown when you suspend your democracy, you don’t pick up where you left off, you start again from the beginning building a new tradition of continuity.

How something is done is at least as important as what is done.

Not long ago I pointed this out in an editorial vis-à-vis legalizing same-sex marriage via executive fiat. A newspaper editor indignantly replied that we can’t wait for messy democratic procedures to correct an injustice. (She compared it to slavery.)

Yes we can, and yes we must.

It would seem like a no-brainer, but the power to wave your hand and do good is inevitably the power to do bad things, unchecked by democratic restraints.

In a new democracy, it’s not the first free election that establishes it. It’s the first election in which the party in power loses – and gracefully cedes power. Then everyone breathes a little easier.

In an old democracy a party impatient of democratic procedures which assumes more and more power to do things by fiat must face the fact that when power is transferred they put those powers into the hands of their opponents.

The thought inevitably occurs, “Then we have to make sure power never changes hands again.”

And lastly something that a lot of people miss. “Soft on crime” is not a feature of liberal democracies but of tyrannies.

Tyrants are friendly to criminals and often use them for their dirty work. Those who desire to rule without restraint admire those who act without restraint.

Have a nice election.

July 10, 2016

My America

Filed under: Adventure,Op-eds,Personal — Stephen W. Browne @ 11:21 am

Finally it happened, the twice delayed road trip with my children, re-planed and expanded better than ever!

First day to the panhandle of Oklahoma. This year it looked greener than I’ve ever seen it due to an unusually wet year.

Our plan was to cruise the back highways through the panhandle and cross over to New Mexico to see Capulin Volcano National Park. My son saw it when he was five years old and his little sister was all of three weeks old carried around the rim of the ancient cinder cone in a sling by her mother.

My son is by now heartily sick of the story of that first trip, but it’s still a fave with his little sister. How we made the decision on the fly to drive from Black Mesa to see the volcano – and how we made the mistake of telling him what we were going to see.

So for two-and-a-half hours we listened to, “Are we there yet? Is that the volcano?”

“No! It’s two hours. Now be quiet!”

“OK… Is THAT the volcano?”

As we approached the volcano we began to fear he’d be terribly disappointed it wasn’t spewing fire.

No worries, he loved it. Just as nine years later his sister loved it, scampering up the path around the rim as Daddy and Big Brother labored to climb breathing the air available at 8,200 feet.

From Capulin to Colorado to have lunch with a friend who’ll be important in their lives in time to come. From Colorado to Wyoming to bathe in the hot spring pools of Thermopolis, a perennial favorite of ours from when we lived in Wyoming.

After picking up a tinge of pink because of course we’d forgotten that sunlight in high altitudes reflected off water equals burn, we went on to Devil’s Tower, which I’d visited once years before. We took a mile hike around the base and marveled at the climbers we could barely see high above us.

From Devil’s Tower to Deadwood, South Dakota. Took daughter for a walk downtown while my son settled a quarrel on an online gamer group. And how odd is it that he can pursue personal relationships with a group of people, some old friends and some he’s never met in person, while traveling thousands of miles around the country?

Took Little Bit to a sandwich place in an old gas station that also features a glass blowing studio.

“I like Deadwood,” she announced after looking around.

Fetched son, showed the kids the saloon where Wild Bill Hickock was murdered. Kids agreed this was major cool.

A kindly local directed us to Miss Kitty’s for pizza. Kids greatly amused aged Daddy misheard “Poor House Pizza.”

“You named a pizza for a bordello?” I said.

“No, POOR house.”

“Well it is Deadwood,” I said defensively.

Made the hand-off to their mother next day and left the two old Deadwood hands to show her around.

I love traveling. Maybe it’s in the blood. Family genealogies show no generations have been buried in the place they were born for centuries now.

Or maybe I picked up the wanderlust as a Navy brat. I’d made two Atlantic crossings by the time I entered first grade.

I’ve traveled all over Eastern Europe by train, and long stretches of the Arabian Peninsula by car.

But best of all I love to travel in my country by car, especially the Midwest and West. I love to take the old US Highways rather than the Interstates. I love to take my kids to eat in local restaurants where the food is best and the people always ready to chat.

I love to take them to places we’re familiar with, and new places we’ll become familiar with.

I have not been able to provide a lot of stability for my children in many ways. They live in a rental house with an eccentric single father. We’ve moved a lot, and I fear not for the last time. Their closest relatives are far away and hard to visit.

But I can do this for them. I can take them around the vast spaces of this big lucky country of ours, visiting favorite places and discovering new ones. Meeting people with skills and stories.

This is how I tell my children however far they roam and wherever they live, “This is your country, here you will always be home.”

Powered by WordPress