Author Topic: Lessons from History about Self Government  (Read 2468 times)

NobleHunter

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Lessons from History about Self Government
« on: November 05, 2020, 01:06:18 PM »
So last Friday, Bret Devereaux, a historian of Ancient/Classical Rome and the Mediterranean who's made some buzz analyzing depictions of military history in TV (notably Game of Thrones), posted about how democracies ended in the city states of Greece and Italy.

https://acoup.blog/2020/10/30/fireside-friday-october-30-2020/

It's more than a little alarming since we can see on this forum the kind of divisions described in the primary sources. While I sympathize with the feeling that maximum political force must be used while it's available to prevent the complete subversion of the Federal government by oligarchic forces (note both sides are either arguing this or something close to it), that usually didn't go well for ancient city-states as the winning side then slid into oligarchy or tyranny. Devereaux argues the solution is to reframe political division to re-include the vast majority of the body politic while letting genuine bad actors face justice. If there had been a blue wave--and if Biden is a better statesman than I think he is--Trump and his immediate cronies could have been made into the villains of the piece and the bulk of his supporters cast as noble but duped or some other face saving construction. Add in some symbolic resignations by both Republicans and Democratic leaders and there could have been a sea change in American politics.

Yes, this would mean a general leftward shift but I think that's what most Americans actually want (see the GOP's utter failure at repealing the ACA). I also don't find attempts to portray Democratic leaderships as dastardly villains to be at all credible. Trump is convenient because he's an outsider and disposing of him is much easier to do without needing to liquidate an entire political party. If Biden is as bad as the Right says he is another opportunity might come in 2024.

With the result we appear to be getting, both sides will probably retrench and fight tooth and nail for every bit of power they can get. The signal difficulty is there doesn't seem to be a common touchstone that can be used to effectively influence people across the partisan divide. Without a clear message from voters or an agreed upon political narrative, I don't see how "us" can be expanded to include supporters of both parties and "them" narrowed to a set of people who can be safely excluded from political power.

Grant

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Re: Lessons from History about Self Government
« Reply #1 on: November 05, 2020, 01:44:09 PM »
So last Friday, Bret Devereaux, a historian of Ancient/Classical Rome and the Mediterranean who's made some buzz analyzing depictions of military history in TV (notably Game of Thrones)

Man, you pretty much lost me right there.  I despise those people.  I can't stand military historians applying their knowledge to Game of Thrones or Star Wars or whatever.  If I see one more yahoo talking about military tactics on Hoth or at the Battle of the Bastards I'm going to lose my *censored*.  STFU.  It's a fictional show.  It's fantasy.  Go back to arguing about Thor's Hammer.  Tell me how awesome the T-72 is. 

Look, we found somebody I hate.  I take it all back. 

I'm sorry.  This dude Devereaux may be a fine human being.  I havn't seen his work.  I just have PTBD from too much of that. 

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If there had been a blue wave--and if Biden is a better statesman than I think he is--Trump and his immediate cronies could have been made into the villains of the piece and the bulk of his supporters cast as noble but duped or some other face saving construction. Add in some symbolic resignations by both Republicans and Democratic leaders and there could have been a sea change in American politics.

This is the plan we take from Roman and Greek history?  We're just going to put Caesar on trial?  Isn't that where the *censored* hit the fan?  Jeez. 

The framers knew more about Greek and Roman democracy then we've ever forgotten.  Particularly Madision, who loved to go on and on and on to excruciating eyerolling length during the Constitutional Convention and in the Federalist Papers.  The solution is this:

1.  Separation of powers
2.  Checks and balances
3.  Supermajority for impeachment
4.  Lifelong appointment of judges

additional protections are:

4.  A spirit of civic duty
5.  A spirit of civic unity
6.  A spirit of civic humility
7.  A spirit of civic leniency 


NobleHunter

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Re: Lessons from History about Self Government
« Reply #2 on: November 05, 2020, 04:52:38 PM »
The question Devereaux tried to answer is what do you do when those civic spirits are lost? And what were the warning signs? He also attempted to suggest how we might get them back. It's all well and good to say what the founders (Todd damned shapeshifters) intended but we are so far from where they started it's not particularly useful.

You'll note they didn't put Caesar on trial. They just murdered him. The Roman Republic was quite possibly too far gone by the time Julius Caesar arrives on the scene.

TheDeamon

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Re: Lessons from History about Self Government
« Reply #3 on: November 05, 2020, 05:14:29 PM »
I think we're more on a Civil War 1850's footing here than a decline and fall of empires trajectory.

Now depending on how that Civil War is handled, we might end up on a decline and fall of empires trajectory, but until we see what "the next act" has in store for us and what form it ultimately takes... It's hard to call.

Democrats packing the Courts, and admitting new states to cement Democrat Control of the Senate for at least a decade? That's Banana Republic level stuff that is going to be hard to unwind, as even the Dems being tossed out of office does nothing about those "excess judges" that are now in office for life. How do you legally fix something like that? Pack the courts even more? Pass a constitutional amendment to remove them from office? I guess impeachment is an option, as "impeachment is a political process" but what "high crimes or misdemeanors" would they have been guilty of?

Of course, going the impeachment route to get rid of them leads to bad precedents later on as well. All you could do is hope those judges would resign, or that other judges of comparable affiliation/alignment would retire/resign to address the imbalance.

Grant

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Re: Lessons from History about Self Government
« Reply #4 on: November 05, 2020, 05:29:07 PM »
The question Devereaux tried to answer is what do you do when those civic spirits are lost? And what were the warning signs? He also attempted to suggest how we might get them back. It's all well and good to say what the founders (Todd damned shapeshifters) intended but we are so far from where they started it's not particularly useful.

The counter-argument to this is that we are not very far from where they started.  That the problems of faction (as Hamilton and Madison called it) is a timeless one in politics.  Internal Faction is and was famous for destroying the great democracies of Greece and Rome.  The more things change, the more they stay the same.  People do not change. We havn't ascended.  Yes things are better but the world we live in is built on a foundation of a whole lot of bones.  That's one of the problems with the concept of progress.  Yes, the world is better, but human beings really are not.  People try to read that as people back then being evil so we're still evil, or that people now are basically good so people back then were basically good, but it's just all the same. 

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You'll note they didn't put Caesar on trial. They just murdered him. The Roman Republic was quite possibly too far gone by the time Julius Caesar arrives on the scene.


This is where a good background in Roman history comes in handy.  No, they didn't put Caesar on trial.  But the entire mess started when they did try.  Just some background:

Caesar was a populist.  One of the Populares.  Probably the greatest.  The Boni, the conservatives in the Senate, hated his guts.  Like really hated him.  Trump levels.  To get to the end of the story, they accused Caesar of undertaking an illegal war in Gaul.  Caesar had immunity as a proconsul, but his term was running out and he lost his support from Pompey and Crassus went and got himself killed.  The Boni wanted to charge Caesar with treason and undertaking an illegal war without Senate approval, war crimes, and embezzlement as soon as his immunity ran out.  Caesar knew this.  It wasn't a secret.  The Senate ordered Caesar to disband his Army.  The tributes vetoed.  The Tribunes were stripped of their magistracy and forced to leave Rome and then the Senate passed an emergency decree that could not be vetoed.  Caesar marched on Rome with one of his legions.  War followed.  The Republic fell.  Whatever democracy the Roman Republic had died.  And it all started because they WANTED to put Caesar on trial.  Maybe he was actually guilty of something, but everyone agrees that the Boni were the last people that you would call objective on the matter. 

NobleHunter

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Re: Lessons from History about Self Government
« Reply #5 on: November 05, 2020, 07:44:46 PM »
I think we're more on a Civil War 1850's footing here than a decline and fall of empires trajectory.

Now depending on how that Civil War is handled, we might end up on a decline and fall of empires trajectory, but until we see what "the next act" has in store for us and what form it ultimately takes... It's hard to call.

Democrats packing the Courts, and admitting new states to cement Democrat Control of the Senate for at least a decade? That's Banana Republic level stuff that is going to be hard to unwind, as even the Dems being tossed out of office does nothing about those "excess judges" that are now in office for life. How do you legally fix something like that? Pack the courts even more? Pass a constitutional amendment to remove them from office? I guess impeachment is an option, as "impeachment is a political process" but what "high crimes or misdemeanors" would they have been guilty of?

Of course, going the impeachment route to get rid of them leads to bad precedents later on as well. All you could do is hope those judges would resign, or that other judges of comparable affiliation/alignment would retire/resign to address the imbalance.

Expanding the courts or the Senate is one of those "because we can" things that send the US further down the path of stasis. One side would argue that the current makeup of the Supreme Court is hardly better than an expanded court, but any attempts to repair the perceived damage needs to happen after some agreement is reached that the current state of affair is bad.

The counter-argument to this is that we are not very far from where they started.  That the problems of faction (as Hamilton and Madison called it) is a timeless one in politics.  Internal Faction is and was famous for destroying the great democracies of Greece and Rome.  The more things change, the more they stay the same.  People do not change. We havn't ascended.  Yes things are better but the world we live in is built on a foundation of a whole lot of bones.  That's one of the problems with the concept of progress.  Yes, the world is better, but human beings really are not.  People try to read that as people back then being evil so we're still evil, or that people now are basically good so people back then were basically good, but it's just all the same. 

The point is that the system of separation of powers and checks and balances is in tatters, impeachment seems like a political possibility, and the lifelong appointment of judges means temporary popularity can be used to consolidate political power for a generation. The civic spirits listed are treated more like weaknesses to be exploited than virtues to be pursued. "Gee, the system as designed sure was lovely" isn't a very helpful sentiment.

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This is where a good background in Roman history comes in handy.  No, they didn't put Caesar on trial.  But the entire mess started when they did try.  Just some background:

Caesar was a populist.  One of the Populares.  Probably the greatest.  The Boni, the conservatives in the Senate, hated his guts.  Like really hated him.  Trump levels.  To get to the end of the story, they accused Caesar of undertaking an illegal war in Gaul.  Caesar had immunity as a proconsul, but his term was running out and he lost his support from Pompey and Crassus went and got himself killed.  The Boni wanted to charge Caesar with treason and undertaking an illegal war without Senate approval, war crimes, and embezzlement as soon as his immunity ran out.  Caesar knew this.  It wasn't a secret.  The Senate ordered Caesar to disband his Army.  The tributes vetoed.  The Tribunes were stripped of their magistracy and forced to leave Rome and then the Senate passed an emergency decree that could not be vetoed.  Caesar marched on Rome with one of his legions.  War followed.  The Republic fell.  Whatever democracy the Roman Republic had died.  And it all started because they WANTED to put Caesar on trial.  Maybe he was actually guilty of something, but everyone agrees that the Boni were the last people that you would call objective on the matter. 
In the rosy scenario of reframing politics following a blue wave, Trump would be cast out--not necessarily tried but consigned to political oblivion--after he'd already definitively lost the election. Not to mention Trump has no legions. The proposed solution is about how to handle victory rather than how to achieve it.

NB: I don't think this is actually achievable given what has actually transpired. Trump was not soundly rejected by the voters nor either party defeated sufficiently to force them to accept a transformation of the political arena. Nor is there anyone with the political capital and skill to convince their own party to accept it.

Grant

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Re: Lessons from History about Self Government
« Reply #6 on: November 05, 2020, 08:04:22 PM »
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The point is that the system of separation of powers and checks and balances is in tatters,

What makes you say this?  I mean, I'll grant that Congress has abrogated a great deal of it's power to the executive branch.  But it can take it back whenever it feels like it. 

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impeachment seems like a political possibility

That's a feature, not a bug. It's by design.  For the exact reasons I just pointed out with the story of Caesar. 

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the lifelong appointment of judges means temporary popularity can be used to consolidate political power for a generation

The judges are not beholden to anyone.  They can do whatever they like.  They are beyond popularity.  Lifetime appointment of judges is again by design for good reasons. 

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The civic spirits listed are treated more like weaknesses to be exploited than virtues to be pursued. "Gee, the system as designed sure was lovely" isn't a very helpful sentiment.

I generally agree about the civic spirit part. But what you are missing, what you don't understand, is that the system was not designed for the best of cases.  It was designed for the worst of cases that any system could withstand.  The entire system was designed to minimize the harm of faction under the assumption that it would exist. 

You really need to read the Federalist Papers before you start saying that the system is broken.  You need to understand why the system was built the way it was first. 

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Not to mention Trump has no legions.

Trump doesn't have a military force.  But he does have legions.  Would you like to see the size of the mob that shows up when you arrest him?  It will be bigger than the mobs you are used to.  I know how much certain people respect mobs and honor mobs, especially when they are pissed off and destroying property.  I don' t think you understand the Pandora's Box you will be opening up when you arrest a former President.  Good luck putting it back in. 

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The proposed solution is about how to handle victory rather than how to achieve it.

Ignore Trump.  Forget him.  You guys halfway made him by giving him so much airtime.  Consign Trump to the dustbin of history.  Let him nutter on for the next 5-10 years and then he'll be gone.

TheDeamon

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Re: Lessons from History about Self Government
« Reply #7 on: November 05, 2020, 08:11:59 PM »
Ignore Trump.  Forget him.  You guys halfway made him by giving him so much airtime.  Consign Trump to the dustbin of history.  Let him nutter on for the next 5-10 years and then he'll be gone.

That's what they(the MSM) should do, it's what most Conservatives and Republicans would like to do going forward. But I also know with every fiber of my being that the MSM is going to continue to give him a megaphone for as long as he is able to use it, as he's such a great "foil" to play the Republicans against which then gives Democrats the ability to lambast both Trump and the Republican who "has to respond."

NobleHunter

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Re: Lessons from History about Self Government
« Reply #8 on: November 05, 2020, 08:37:56 PM »
I meant political impossibility. I won't say that it could never happen but it no longer seems like a protection against the kind of executive overreach that it was intended to be.

The odds of Congress taking back any of its powers seems remote. Why take the risk of acting when you can make the President do it? The exercise of Congressional power is noisy and public, it's much more convenient for the President to act quietly and arcanely.

Simply declaring the independence of the Judiciary does mean that it is. If the Judiciary is as independent as intended, why has the primary project of Senate Republicans been the appointing of judges? They may not be beholden to their patrons but ideological uniformity and incompetence can render them dependent all the same.

The system may have been designed for the worst case the founders could envision, but that's not the same thing as the worst possible case. The system has failed totally before, asserting that it was designed not to fail isn't a good way to find out how to fix it.

TheDeamon

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Re: Lessons from History about Self Government
« Reply #9 on: November 05, 2020, 08:56:55 PM »
First step in fixing it is probably to repeal the 17th Amendment, but as congress needs to initiate it, that isn't happening.

And the typical layperson would find the idea of repealing the 17th to be "undemocratic" and tyrannical, so it would be highly unlikely to go anywhere.

Not that repealing the 17th would prohibit states from continuing to do what they're doing right now, but it does give them some options with regards to holding their Senators accountable.

NobleHunter

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Re: Lessons from History about Self Government
« Reply #10 on: November 05, 2020, 10:39:20 PM »
You'd also have to get more of a firewall between state parties and federal parties. It doesn't seem healthy for a state's government first priority being appointing a senator of the correct party.

I don't know how much behind the scenes collaboration there are between provincial and federal parties in Canada but the local parties seem much less concerned with trying to help their federal counterparts win elections than what happens in the US. Granted, since federal elections in Canada are organized by the federal government, provincial governments can't do much to try and stack the deck.

TheDeamon

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Re: Lessons from History about Self Government
« Reply #11 on: November 05, 2020, 11:06:17 PM »
You'd also have to get more of a firewall between state parties and federal parties. It doesn't seem healthy for a state's government first priority being appointing a senator of the correct party.

That actually skews two very different ways. The State Government would want someone who represents the interests of the legislature's majority. But at the same time, they'd want someone who can work with whomever the majority in the Federal Government is, or is expected to be. Nominating someone to go to the Senate and be part of the minority party isn't too much a benefit to their goals, unless they're playing a very long game.

But more generally, de-linking the Federal Parties from the State organizations in general would be a great thing I think. Newt Gingrich and his innovative means of helping finance "a Republican Revolution" in 1994 set the means for the levers of control that have made national politics all about the national organizations.

Their primary means of getting financing they can use/control is through their respective Congressional Campaign Funds, which is naturally going to be contingent on how well they've adhered to what their party's congressional leadership wanted to happen. And/or how forgiving they'll be for the occasion you deviate from their desires, as they do try to understand that you need to at least pretend the politics of your legislative district still matter.

Grant

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Re: Lessons from History about Self Government
« Reply #12 on: November 06, 2020, 09:21:36 AM »
I meant political impossibility. I won't say that it could never happen but it no longer seems like a protection against the kind of executive overreach that it was intended to be.

It was made to be difficult because the founders saw politically motivated impeachment as a greater risk/danger to democracy than executive overreach. 

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The odds of Congress taking back any of its powers seems remote.

The odds of Congress taking back power from the Executive is proportional to the amount that the people want this and hold their Congresscritters accountable for it.  But the majority of the people like having more power with the Executive because 1) faster and more efficient, 2) someone you can singularly blame.  So it's not going to happen, but you can blame the people for that. 

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Simply declaring the independence of the Judiciary does mean that it is. If the Judiciary is as independent as intended, why has the primary project of Senate Republicans been the appointing of judges? They may not be beholden to their patrons but ideological uniformity and incompetence can render them dependent all the same.

I think we have different ideas of what independence means.  The idea of the separation of powers and independent judiciary means that the branch is not physically dependent, or subordinate to either of the other branches. Having a judicial philosophy which makes a judge more attractive to a particular political party doesn't make them dependent.  If the justices required consistent re-appointment by either the executive or legislative, they would be dependent.  If justices required re-election by the people, they would be dependent.  Being independent means that another branch cannot apply pressure on magistrates while they are undertaking their duties.  Congress and the President cannot apply pressure to a justice. 

The flip side is that if the Executive and Legislative did not have any parts in the process of the appointment, then there would be no check on the Judiciary.  Being able to appoint and approve justices or federal judges does not make them dependent on the President or Congress, but it does mean that the President and Congress is responsible for appointing qualified judges. 

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The system has failed totally before, asserting that it was designed not to fail isn't a good way to find out how to fix it.

You'll have to be more specific.  When did the system totally fail?  The entire system is dependent on the people having faith in it and using the system.  If we are talking about the Civil War, then half the country decided to leave the system rather than use the system.  I wouldn't qualify that as a system failure, but rather a failure of half the country's people. 

TheDeamon

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Re: Lessons from History about Self Government
« Reply #13 on: November 06, 2020, 12:38:13 PM »
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Simply declaring the independence of the Judiciary does mean that it is. If the Judiciary is as independent as intended, why has the primary project of Senate Republicans been the appointing of judges? They may not be beholden to their patrons but ideological uniformity and incompetence can render them dependent all the same.

I think we have different ideas of what independence means.  The idea of the separation of powers and independent judiciary means that the branch is not physically dependent, or subordinate to either of the other branches. Having a judicial philosophy which makes a judge more attractive to a particular political party doesn't make them dependent.  If the justices required consistent re-appointment by either the executive or legislative, they would be dependent.  If justices required re-election by the people, they would be dependent.  Being independent means that another branch cannot apply pressure on magistrates while they are undertaking their duties.  Congress and the President cannot apply pressure to a justice. 

The flip side is that if the Executive and Legislative did not have any parts in the process of the appointment, then there would be no check on the Judiciary.  Being able to appoint and approve justices or federal judges does not make them dependent on the President or Congress, but it does mean that the President and Congress is responsible for appointing qualified judges.

I guess there is a constitutional amendment concept I could kind of work with, that "walks the line" on this one.

The problem we have today is we now how two examples of "court packing" being used to threaten/coerce the courts into "ruling the right way" by paying attention to public opinion polling/Congressional+Presidential statements.

SCotUS needs to be "soft capped" at 9, and have a congressional super-majority requirement for any attempt to change it by law. (thus removing the ability to threaten the Supreme Court as a whole from the table on all but the most extreme of cases--impeachment of a Judge becomes easier)

Also on the agenda while making that tweak to the composition of the Supreme Court, add provisions to allow for Congress to establish a "sub-ordinate 'Federal Trial Court'" to the Federal District (Appeals) Courts. This (lowest) tier of "Federal Trial Courts" could be comprised of judges appointed ("lifetime") by the members of the Federal District Courts. (Congress still determines the size of said judicial bodies, and can place stipulations on the mechanism of how "Trial Judges" are assigned after being confirmed by the Judiciary--IE possibly having them serve under another, different, District Court)

This gets the Senate out of needing to appoint hundreds/thousands of Judges as the needs of the legal system continue to expand with the population. But it also retains the oversight role for the higher tiers of the Judiciary Appeals process as those positions continue to require nominations by PotUS and approval of the Senate. It also helps potentially increase the number of available "Federal Trial judges" available for hearing cases, which should help clear out a lot of case backlogs. And as that frees up the District Court Judges from holding trials, they're able to focus their attention on hearing and processing appeals instead.