In this post I will concentrate on the USA but I am all too aware of a similarly accelerating slide in Europe from which Dave's half-hearted efforts are unlikey to free us. I confess that I was surprised that a majority of Americans gave a racist, Marxist, and rather dim, president a second term. That opened my eyes to the fact that the old America had passed and what I viewed from 'over here' was now very definitely a foreign country. In intelligence circles, the Americans used to be referred to, sometimes fondly, sometimes not, as 'the cousins'. I guess, or I hope, that stopped some time ago. The Anglo-Saxon, English-speaking union is as dead as Monty Python's parrot! I genuinely mourn its passing.
The death of traditional democracy and the inexorable slide towards White House diktat is described elegantly in an article by Charles C. W. Cooke in the National Review. The fact that this dissection of the American body-politic has been undertaken by a Brit - Mr. Cooke is a graduate of Oxford University now living in the USA - adds a necessary detachment to a grim, unfolding tragedy. He begins by quoting Thomas Paine:
in America, the law is king. For as in absolute governments the King
is law, so in free countries the law ought to be king; and there ought
to be no other.
Well, there is certainly an 'other' in the land today! As Mr. Cooke reminds us, John Adams wrote of "a government of laws not of men":
Adams’s axiom has become American scripture; an impulsively recalled maxim of
liberty to which all men who feel threatened by government power return at will.
Yet recent trends call into question whether the two things remain mutually
exclusive. In Common Sense, Paine sets the king and the law as being
diametrically opposed. But what if, instead of holding him back, the law is
happy to give the king carte blanche? And what if a Congress that we
instinctively believe to be jealous of its territory is in fact content to cede
it to the executive branch, thereby producing not traditional laws but enabling
Congress and the Supreme Court, those other two arms of state designed to be of equal power to the presidency, have simply surrendered. The King is dead, long live the King! The irony that Americans fought a revolutionary war against a king is delicious to an irony-lover like me but leaves a foul taste.
The most pernicious example of this creeping dictatorship is to be found in the jungle mountains of legislation passed through Congress, so huge and complex that no-one can read them and thus whole swathes are left to the 'discretion' of department and quango heads:
One of the more insidious developments of this presidential era has been the
replacement of prescriptive, detailed, and fixed domestic law with bloated and
open-ended legislation that is punctuated ad nauseam with instances of “the
secretary shall.” As my colleague Andrew Stiles has noticed, the Senate’s
desired immigration bill fits this new model of “living law” perfectly. He writes:
"The 844-page bill
contains 129 instances of what the DHS secretary “shall” do to implement its
myriad provisions, 102 mentions of what she “may” do, and 35 cases in which
implementation will be based on what the secretary “determines.” On five
occasions, the bill affirms the DHS secretary’s “unreviewable discretion” to
waive or alter certain provisions as she sees fit."
The source of this dirigiste approach to administration, in a country that never stops repeating the mantra, "government of the people, by the people, for the people", can be found in the rule (I use the word advisedly) of Woodrow Wilson:
To ask for a concise explanation of what these new sorts of laws do would be
futile, because the only meaningful answer is that they give the president the
scope to run certain parts of the economy the way he wants. And what he wants is
what Woodrow Wilson wanted in The Study of Administration: a means by
which to “open for the public a bureau of skilled, economical administration”
that is filled with the “hundreds who are wise” and that thwarts the “selfish,
ignorant, timid, stubborn, or foolish.” Government of the expert, by the
powerful, and for the unworthy, in other words.
Thus was the scalpel taken to the first English limb which had hitherto been the skeleton for the American body politic:
This, it should not need saying, stands in diametric opposition to the
underlying principle — the “all-important English trait,” Orwell called it —
that made the Anglosphere exceptional in the first place: that the law is
regarded as “something above the state and above the individual, something which is cruel and stupid, of course, but at any rate incorruptible.” “The
totalitarian idea that there is no such thing as law, there is only power, has
never taken root,” Orwell claimed of his native England. It has not quite taken
root in America, either. But even here, the law, which should be firmly and
beautifully dead, is in danger of taking on a life of its own. If it is allowed
to do so, Americans will invite in caprice, the half-brother of whim, which, as
Christopher Hitchens astutely observed, is the “essence of tyranny.”
Of course, even the most charismatic, or even efficient, president cannot rule alone - satraps are required, and deputy-satraps, and under-satraps, and assistants to under-satraps and so on ad nauseum, and all of these and their pox doctors clerks, pecksniffs and jacks-in-office must be coddled. As indeed they are, according to Glenn Reynolds in USA Today - and thanks to No More Mister Nice Blog for the tip:
All over America, government officials enjoy privileges that ordinary citizens don't. Sometimes it involves bearing arms, with special rules favoring police, politicians and even retired government employees. Sometimes it involves freedom from traffic and parking tickets, like the special non-traceable license plates enjoyed by tens of thousands of California state employees or similar immunities for Colorado legislators. Often it involves immunity from legal challenges, like the "qualified" immunity to lawsuits enjoyed by most government officials, or the even-better "absolute immunity" enjoyed by judges and prosecutors. (Both immunities -- including, suspiciously, the one for judges -- are creations of judicial action, not legislation).
And so we watch, helpless, as America slides at an accelerating rate into a dictatorial abyss, and perhaps we shed a tear or two - but not three because we suddenly realise that we are sliding even faster into the Undemocratic Union of Europe!