It is a canon of conservatism that republican government requires a measure of order and predictability in the conduct of public affairs, along with adherence to law by those charged with its faithful execution. It’s not clear exactly when this doctrine of law and order was abandoned, but we’ve come so far from it that our mass media now take abitrariness and lawlessness for granted. Actions without precedent, episodes of spectacular malfeasance, and policy reversals of every kind are now as common as dogshit, and, judging from the equanimity of our media, we’ve somehow grown accustomed to the stink.
Trump’s unpredictability should be an unwelcome sign of the failure of ordered government. Instead, we’re invited to enjoy the mystery and applaud whatever surprises he has in store for us. You wouldn’t know from reading the papers, but this is a radical departure from past practice. If you’re in favor of arbitrary rule–or if you’re in the business of peddling drama, conflict and surprise, as our media seem to be–Trump’s winks and nudges will come as good news. But if you’re comfortable with republican government, you should understand that it’s facing a lethal threat.
There was a time when we citizens, acting through our duly elected and appointed representatives, including our president, could be part of the analysis and debate that used to accompany decisions about public policy. Today, we are isolated from a process so opaque that all discussion and analysis are conducted behind closed doors, so that public policy emerges fully formed, with no history, no rationale, no predictability. And we’re supposed to be OK with that. We understand from news-mongers at NBC and the New York Times that this is the “new normal,” enjoying widespread support among ordinary people. Maybe ordinary people really do want to trash their republican tradition. If so, it’s because they”ve been so thoroughly disinformed by their media that they don’t recognize what’s happening to them.
There was a time when an armed attack by the USA on a foreign country would be front-page news, a shocking development that would provoke public debate over the legality of the action and its potential consequences. Many remember how carefully Richard Nixon covered up the military “incursion” into Cambodia, fearing he might be held accountable for violations of law (as, eventually, he was). Today, despite domestic and international laws that forbid aggressive warfare, the US routinely engages in it. Our media take this for granted, consigning news of such attacks to page three squibs and never questioning the legal basis for war nor examining the potential consequences. To allow such lawlessness to go on without comment is to be complicit in the subversion of our republican traditions
Watchful citizens may have noted the mass media consensus that we the people are to blame for the descent of our government into chaos and ethical anarchy, as exemplified so perfectly by Donald Trump. The media neglect to mention that many more people didn’t vote for him than did. That our congressional representatives are every bit as corrupt as he is, funded almost exclusively by the rich and super-rich, so that they are disabled from reflecting the will of the people. That the media themselves–mainly gossip-mongers, using celebrity to attract an audience for exposure to an onslaught of advertising for the food, drug and cosmetic sellers that sponsor them–have left us so poorly informed that we can’t peform the obligations of citizenship. They take us for idiots, and they tell us we’re idiots. They will be proved right if we accept, as they do, the “new normal” that so grievously threatens our republic.