As my spouse will readily confirm, I am a worst-case-scenario kind of guy. Two years ago, when America’s political world was turned upside down, I shared my view with anyone who would listen that we were looking at the beginning of the end of our Republic, which elicited universal but friendly rebukes based upon the belief that, in America, one person can never be above the law.
My retort was that the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and all of the laws that have followed are written on fragile, easily-destroyed paper. Those documents have no magical powers, and anyone with sufficient power—ill-gotten or otherwise—can choose to circumvent and/or ignore them.
The power of which I spoke then and write about now is not the power of Law, which is a mythical power that depends upon the Tinkerbell Effect; rather, it is the power that comes from an ability to instill fear in the minds of a majority of citizens—their individual fear of significant material loss, of physical pain, and/or fear of death—in order to force them into compliance.
Human history is replete with thousands of examples of this use and abuse of power, from a playground bully, to Al Capone, to Adolf Hitler and Attila the Hun, and each manifested our primate legacy: the instinctive need of some (almost always) males to seek and ascend to positions of power coupled with the instinctive response of the majority of us to acquiesce in the face of fear.
There is no difference in effect between the results of Adolf Hitler’s actions and the actions of a dominant silverback gorilla, actions which the latter uses to dominate his troop and the former used to dominate a nation. The principal difference between the two is that a silverback uses his personal size and strength to overcome opposition and maintain control, while the strategies used by dominant male humans are more complex but no less effective.
Driven by what some authorities suggest was a pathological narcissism, Adolf Hitler dominated a nation by using deceits, most notably the practice of blaming scapegoats for his country’s ills, and by relying upon media outlets eager to curry favor, the rise of subordinates willing to do his bidding in the realms of the military and justice, and by exploiting the inability of millions of his countrymen to understand and foresee the negative consequences of absolute power in the modern world.
When Hitler was appointed Chancellor in 1933, Germany had a constitution. The Weimar Constitution had articles and paragraphs and expectations outlining the rules by which the nation was to be governed. The government and people of Germany accepted the Weimer Constitution as the Law of the Land. It was different in specific content from the United States Constitution, but it was exactly alike when it came to it being printed on paper.
Gorilla societies, we know, are guided by power pure and simple. When a stronger silverback appears, he literally overthrows the existing leader if he can, after which the troop responds to the whims and wishes of the new boss. We assume that our American society is far more sophisticated because it is guided by the “Rule of Law;” unfortunately, the Rule of Law is a myth, a beautiful contrivance of truths and beliefs that not only transcend primate instincts; the Rule of Law contradicts those instincts, so that a society in compliance with the Rule of Law can rise above the world of fang and claw: the natural world in which humans fear to tread.
Living in a nation where the Rule of Law is unquestioned due to complacency or ignorance or both—as sometimes happens with myths—there can come a time when the Rule of Law is thought to be as unmovable as Gibraltar. It is then when the Reverse Tinkerbell Effect ascends and the Rule of Law becomes vulnerable to pathological, narcissistic needs of a leader who understands the Rule of Law only works when everyone believes.
Thomas Jefferson and other founding fathers understood the fragility of the Rule of Law and understood that in order for a democracy to survive, the comprehension of the importance of the Rule of Law must be nurtured among a democracy’s citizens. Jefferson wrote:
A government is like everything else: to preserve it we must love it…Everything, therefore, depends on establishing this love in a republic; and to inspire it ought to be the principal business of education…
This morning, I sit gazing at my laptop, but what I see in my mind’s eye is an approaching storm of totalitarianism. It is unlike, in specifics, the storm that had approached Germany in 1933, but the approaching storm I see is nonetheless as near and real as that which ultimately resulted in the deaths of as many as 85,000,000 humans around the world.
As I write, the President has surpassed 10,000 documented untruths. Illegal immigrants and Muslims have been branded as scapegoats. Subordinates who are surviving the continuing exodus from the White House, as well as a major media outlet and voices on the Internet, are trumpeting support for the President’s deceits. One by one, loyal subordinates are being appointed to the Department of Justice and the military: the organizations that are a government’s instruments of fear. And there are millions of Americans who—by their votes, their shared memes, their written and spoken observations—have demonstrated their inability to understand and foresee the consequences of absolute power.
As a retired educator who has had some influence directly or indirectly in the instruction of children under my care since 1970, I share in the collective failure of American Education to make establishing love of our Republic the principal business of education.
My generation of educators has failed miserably in fulfilling this responsibility.
It is time for Americans to figuratively and literally take to the barricades and fight for the decisions needed to ensure that American Educators do what is necessary to fulfill Jefferson’s charge. It may be too late to stop the approaching storm, but if, somehow, we survive the tempest, our children are the ones upon whom the Republic must rely to carry forward the vision of the Founding Fathers. If we, as educators, are able to fulfill our responsibility to install love in the principles of our Republic, the day may come when we will emerge from the world of fang and claw into an America that is a land of wisdom and love governed by the Rule of Law, which now only exists in the imaginations of a slight and diminishing majority of Americans.