Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The Disloyal Opposition

Democracies have, historically, been fragile vessels.  Whether in ancient Greece or Renaissance Italy, they were torn apart when factionalism erupted into civil war.  The question with which America’s Founders wrestled was therefore: Would this happen here?  Could our constitution withstand the conflicts inherent in self-governance?
One of the great political advances made by the British during the evolution of their democracy was the invention of the “loyal opposition.”  The party system, which is no more than three centuries old, depended upon electoral losers remaining loyal to the government even when ousted from office.
We now talk about peaceful transitions of power and take pride in over two centuries of non-violent changeovers.  With the exception of our Civil War, whenever a new party won the presidency, the outgoing one stood back and allowed to newcomers to govern.
This has been so ever since John Adams made way for Thomas Jefferson.  These men had become political enemies; nonetheless Adams did not try to subvert his successor.  Has this changed?  Have American Liberals become so anti-democratic that they are prepared to discard a vital tradition?
The leaders of the Democratic Party tell us that their aim is to “resist” Donald Trump.  Although they condemned Republican “opposition” when Obama was in command, they regularly double-down on their hostility to the policies—and person—of our current president.
But is this “loyal opposition”?  I submit it is not.  It isn’t a spirited defense of competing policies, but an effort to subvert those of their foe.  Liberals are, in short, intent on sabotaging a government they do not control.  They want to prevent it from operating, rather than to contest its programs.
One of the latest manifestations of this anti-democratic mindset was Leandra English’s refusal to hand over control of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to the interim director appointed by Trump.  So far as she was concerned, her authority was independent of an elected administration.
The same attitude was revealed in the Senate’s slow-walking of hundreds of administrative appointments.  Whether these were judges or the heads of agencies, their approval was delayed so that holdovers from the previous regime could continue to make critical decisions.
Nowadays we have grown accustomed to talking about the “deep state.”  In this we are referring to the bureaucratic moles entrenched in government organizations.  Instead of carrying out the mandates of higher-ups with whom they disagree, they implement the guidelines of the previous administration.
We have seen this at the IRS, the FBI, the Department of State, and the Justice Department.  It is also on display in the Department of Education and the Environmental Protection Agency.  Many of those who run their day-to-day operations are more loyal to their own ideological commitments than their new bosses.
As for the lock-step resistance of Democratic legislators to the either a tax-cut or ObamaCare deregulation, it is reflexive and spiteful.  Instead of seeking compromise, these lawmakers want it all.  Their idea of cooperation is to have their opponents capitulate to them.
Indeed, when we hear Democrats warning—in apocalyptic terms—about the consequences of conservative initiatives, they do not fear the dire effects of these programs.  To the contrary, they are terrified that they might succeed.
Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi are acutely aware of what happened when Ronald Reagan cut taxes.  Not only was he re-elected by a landslide, but his coattails extended to George H.W. Bush.  The current Democratic leadership does not want that to happen again and so they have dug in their heels.
This is understandable, but does not make it any less threatening to the integrity of our political system.  To the degree that those who have lost elections refuse to abide by the will of the electorate, they destabilize our delicate democratic balance.
So why are they doing this?  Why have they decided to abandon principles to which they have hitherto paid allegiance?  The answer is that Liberalism has failed and they are in a panic.  They know better than anyone that Obama did not deliver “hope and change.”
Their goal is accordingly to make sure the public does not realize this.  Were voters to do so, it might be catastrophic for leftwing political fortunes.
Melvyn L. Fein, Ph.D.
Professor of Sociology

Kennesaw State University

Naughty or Nice?

As the Christmas season approaches, we caution children about the need to be nice.  We tell them that if they are naughty, Santa Claus will not visit them—or if he does, will leave lumps of coal in their stockings.
But what about us adults?  Have we been behaving ourselves?  I submit that naughtiness is as rampant as it has ever been in my personal experience.  Never before has there been this much lying.  Never before have so many people sought to inflict injury on others.
The media and politicians once attempted to be role models.  They at least pretended to be high-minded individuals who desired the best for our nation.  Similarly, once ordinary Americans were civil.  They didn’t call each other names or refuse to talk to those with whom they disagreed.
At the moment, we are also in a full-blown moral panic.  Accusations of sexual impropriety swirl about us like snow in a blizzard.  The environment has grown so chaotic that we are unable to distinguish between a pat on the fanny and bona fide rape.
What has happened?  What poisoned the national atmosphere and converted us into a society of mean spirited finger-pointers?  Has so much gone wrong that we feel a need to punish anyone who might be remotely responsible?
In fact, corrupt behavior has become thoroughly brazen because it has long gone unpunished.  Starting at least with Bill Clinton’s sexual peccadilloes, there have been few negative consequences for outrageous transgressions.  Mouths were not washed out with soap.  Careers were not put in jeopardy.
Instead a hyper-partisanship has gripped the country.  People on both sides of the political aisle are so consumed with winning that they are blasé about how they do it.  As former senate majority leader Harry Reid put it when caught lying about Mitt Romney’s taxes; “Well, it worked, didn’t it.”
This tactic may not seem to make sense, but follows from our current ideological crisis.  Liberalism has not worked.  Piling government programs on top on one another did not produce the promised nirvana.  It only generated bureaucratic gridlock.
But neither did an unregulated economy bring forth universal happiness.  While it generated unprecedented wealth, not everyone shared in the bounty.  As importantly, prosperity, by itself, did not ensure strong families or provide personal satisfaction.
Meanwhile, religion too proved unable to plug the gaps.  For some of the devout, it remains an end all and be all.  Yet they are in the minority.  Although most Americans continue to believe in God, they doubt that regular church attendance will fill their bellies or ward off disease.
So instead we flounder.  We are all sure we are going to heaven, but are convinced those other folks—the ones with whom we disagree—will not.  They are so cruel and vengeful; they merit a horrible fate.  Why?  The answer is self-evident.  Because they disagree with us!
The result is that naughtiness abounds.  Of course, we do not blame ourselves; we are too busy blaming others.  Unwilling to admit our confusions or the inability of our political agendas to deliver the goods, we divert attention by concentrating on the shortcomings of our adversaries.
Naturally, our adversaries do the same.  They return our accusations with matching fervor.  Consequently, few of us look to our own faults.  Even fewer try to figure out why we reached this impasse.
Not that long ago, it was assumed the American Dream would solve all of our problems.  After we became fabulously rich, there would be nothing to fight over.  As a result, we would live in bubbles of eternal joy, freed from the worries of our ancestors.
But then we got our cell phones, television sets, and personal automobiles.  This was more than our forebears ever imagined, but not enough to assuage the emptiness in our souls.  For that reason, someone had to be held accountble.  It must be those other guys.
Paradoxically, this buck-passing made us naughtier.  And so we began to praise being nonjudgmental.  No one was going to accuse us of being wicked.  Our lies were not really lies.  They were a defense of civilization.  Similarly, our selfishness was not really selfish.  It was our just desert for protecting all that is good and noble.
Melvyn L. Fein, Ph.D.
Professor of Sociology
Kennesaw State University

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

It's Complicated

We were warned against it.  We were told that it would be unwise to discuss political matters over Thanksgiving.  The levels of partisanship have risen to such heights that we might be unable to recover from the vicious recriminations hurled over a roasted turkey’s carcass.
Actually, when, last year, we assembled at my brother’s house for the magnificent feast he always provides, we held our tongues.  My brother and his wife were in mourning.  As die-hard liberals, they had not come to terms with Trump’s victory.  Rubbing it in would have been unkind.
This year was another matter.  The day began well enough.  At first, we were too busy admiring Joel’s new Florida home to be concerned with politics.  Then, after his in-laws arrived, we were too busy getting acquainted to deal with the news.
Only after most folks went home did the partisan fireworks flare up.  All of a sudden, Joel, his wife’s cousin Dale, my wife and I found ourselves standing in the kitchen sharing our reactions to current events.  Under most circumstances, I would have joined the battle.  This time was different.
It was Joel and Dale who traded opinions with the vigor of medieval knights swinging battle-axes.  Joel was liberal as ever, whereas Dale was more conservative than I.  Moreover, since the two were equally matched, they held their own.
As a bystander, I was impressed with how frequently they resorted to prepackaged arguments.  These were both well-educated paladins.  Joel is a successful lawyer.  Dale is a successful executive.  They were thus well read and abreast of the news.
The trouble was that in the heat of the battle they lambasted their opponent with abridged explanations of why their policies were right the other’s wrong.  There was no time for lengthy corroborations.  It was make a quick point and prepare to counter the other’s equally quick rejoinder.
As an academic who studies social change, I found these kaleidoscopic interchanges too much to bear.   They were riven through and through with over-simplified accounts of history and political theory.  The combatant’s goal was evidently to score an immediate knockout; not to engage in scholarly investigations.
Too often nowadays the need is to be clever, rather than accurate.  The talking heads we see on television and the tweets we read on our cell phones jabber past one another.  They do not stop to clarify the details of their arguments.  That would be boring.  Gentle insults are much more fun.
Nonetheless, one thing I have learned is that life and society are complicated.  If history seems simple, it is because we are largely unfamiliar with its intricacies.  Likewise, if political maneuverings appear to be clear-cut, it because we are seldom privy to what goes on behind closed doors.
Hence, when we impute straightforward motives to politicians—for example, that they are all crooks—we are usually wrong.  Or when we predict that legislation will have an unambiguous outcome, we are customarily off the mark.
The trouble is that we don’t like complicated.  We want to believe we are in control of events and this would be impossible if we recognized that we don’t always understand what is going on.  And so we pare things down to a minimum and imagine this is the whole ball of wax.
In fact, the world is so complex that no one ever grasps it in its entirety.  We are all to some extent blind.  But that does not excuse us from having to navigate uncharted shoals.  We must frequently make decisions upon which to act or suffer dreadful repercussions.  Hence, when we err, we are wise to correct our mistakes.
Fortunately, although we are not omniscient, we can be modest.  We can, when we run into unexpected headwinds, ask why.  If we are sensible, we pause to examine what we do not comprehend.
Yet that is not where Americans currently are.  It is as if we are on a runaway train that is destined to crash if we do not discover the brakes.  Our thanksgiving day fights are merely temporary diversions.  Feelings get hurt, but people recuperate.
It is on the larger social stage that we must learn to be more careful.  Ignoring critical complications in this venue could eventuate in the collapse of our civilization.
Melvyn L. Fein, Ph.D.
Professor of Sociology
Kennesaw State University

Go Owls!

The Kennesaw State University football team is the Big South Conference champion.  In its third year of existence, the Owls soundly beat many better-established teams, such as Liberty University, Charleston Southern, and Monmouth.  Then they defeated Sanford and Jacksonville State in the FCS tournament.
This was a remarkable feat and deserving of more recognition than it has received.  For years, the debate raged over whether Kennesaw should enter the football arena.  Should the school continue its emphasis on academics or divert resources into sports?
To this end, the administrators weighed the pros and cons.  Students and professors also chimed in with diverse opinions.  An extensive study was likewise done to determine the feasibility.
So here we are with a team and, as of yet, it has generated underwhelming support.  My wife and I hold season tickets, but to date have not seen a completely filled stadium.  There are a decent number of fans, but never have all the seats been filled.
Nor, in the football-happy South, are the Owls the talk of Cobb or Cherokee counties.  Diehard University of Georgia and Georgia Tech fans abound, whereas Kennesaw is an afterthought.  To some extent, of course, this is an artifact of its newness.
Nonetheless, I have witnessed the birth of what promises to become a major football program.  KSU is not a small school.  It is one of the fiftieth largest in the nation.  Indeed, if its population has not yet outstripped that of UGA, it shortly will.  Why then shouldn’t it have a team to match?
Among KSU’s advantages is that it is located in the Atlanta Metropolitan area and therefore within a major media market.  There are thus more than enough potential rooters to care about the team and sufficient television coverage to provide a wide audience.
As for the team itself, it has had its growing pains.  Many of the squads it has faced were tiny and therefore did not furnish substantial opposition.  They did, however, deliver invaluable practice.  Sports teams are not created on paper.  They only come together in the sweat and blunders of the trenches.
And make no mistake, there have been plenty of blunders.  Earlier this year, in a game against a lesser-ranked opponent, well over a hundred penalty yards were accumulated.  KSU only prevailed because the team had more raw talent.
Furthermore, because I have an offensive lineman in one of my classes, I learned that coach Bohannon did not let this carelessness go unnoticed.  He realized that sloppy play is usually losing play.  Fortunately, the turnaround was astonishing.  When it counted against the better teams, the number of foolish infractions declined almost to the vanishing point.
One of the Owls great strengths has been takeaways.  In most games, they have benefited from the fumbles and interceptions of their opponents.  This cannot have been an accident.  It was a consequence of the aggressive play of the entire KSU squad.
Football is a rough sport.  Those who engage in its can suffer serious injuries.  Nevertheless, it is also a sport that teaches important lessons.  One of these is personal discipline.  If players do not have the self-control to carry out their assignments, they will be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Another advantage is that it teaches teamwork.  Aggressive individuals learn to submerge their egos in a group endeavor.  They discover that if they cannot rely on each other, they all suffer.
Clearly the young men who together constitute the KSU team have absorbed critical attitudes.  Had they not, they would not have done nearly as well.  So my hat it off to them!  They have done themselves and our university proud.
Coach Bohannon and his assistants also deserve accolades.  They started from scratch and came very far very fast.  Not only have they instilled valuable outlooks in their players, but they taught them how to play a smart game.  Winning isn’t easy, yet they are plainly winners.
As for the future, it is hard to say.  A championship by the third year is tough to beat.  Next years squad will have a high standard to meet.  Let’s hope it can—and even surpass it.
Melvyn L. Fein, Ph.D.
Professor of Sociology

Kennesaw State University