America needs to study the enemy within, the headline hovering above the LA Times op-ed advises. Which raises the simple question: who would that be? Although Pulitzer Prize-winning UCLA geography professor Jared Diamond’s article doesn’t come right out and say it, it’s you and me, baby. Diamond warms up with a cautionary tale of Chile’s disastrous de-evolution into a military dictatorship. And then draws the parallel with modern day America . . .
Should we worry about possible parallels between Chile in 1968 and the U.S. today? . . . like Chileans before and under Allende, we have become stuck in political gridlock. Our citizens are split by deep disagreements about basic economic, social and political issues, including government interventions, immigration, investment in education and infrastructure, and inequality of income and opportunity. Our economy is decidedly sluggish.
Meanwhile, our politicians have been increasingly unwilling or unable to craft compromises. The most recent Congress passed fewer laws than any Congress in decades. Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill couldn’t agree even on matters that should have been noncontroversial, such as funding the Federal Aviation Administration and confirming the nominations of judges and second-level government officers. And American democracy is being eroded by partisan measures aimed at preventing registration or voting by citizens likely to prefer the other party, and by massive distortion of elections by big money.
I’m amazed that an educated man singularly, spectacularly fails to understand that America’s Founding Fathers set up our political system to create gridlock. To limit government power. Specifically, the scope, scale and speed of government intervention in citizens’ lives. The idea that politicians should all be marching towards “progress” — opposing principles be damned — is exactly what our system was designed not to do.
Speaking of balance of powers, gridlock-by-design and such, it should be noted that the Second Amendment is an integral part of the United States’ political system. Congress enacted the 2A protection against government regulation as a bulwark against government tyranny. Freedom’s final redoubt. Not to ensure hunting rights. According to Mr. Diamond, the right to keep and bear arms enables the very thing it was designed to prevent.
You may object that the American armed forces, unlike those in Chile or Indonesia or Spain, have no precedent at all for interfering in American politics. That’s true. But consider what happened in 1933 in Austria, where private citizens had increasingly been arming themselves and forming private militias. When Austria’s Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss abolished the country’s legislature and established an authoritarian right-wing government, he didn’t use an Austrian army to crush his left-wing political opponents. He did it with a militia of his own armed supporters.
Could that be possible here? Already, plenty of Americans are asserting the right to carry guns in previously unlikely places (such as in schools and government offices). Already, they are forming private militias for purposes such as patrolling the Mexican border and protecting a claimed right to graze cattle on federal lands. Again, when private citizen militias already carry guns for those purposes, it’s “just” a matter of expanding the scope of an established principle to use guns for other purposes.
As I said, Diamond dances around the central question posed by his thesis. But you don’t have to be an academic to know who’s in his sights, and what he means by “other purposes.” He’s asserting that armed Americans are the enemy. That they’re proto-inssurectionists leading to a military dictatorship, and all the horrors that entails. The enemy within? Tag. You’re it.
We Americans today are focused on the wrong threats to American democracy. We are obsessed with threats from overseas: from terrorists and Islamist extremists, and from other countries. But realistically, while terrorists and Islamists and other countries will continue to cause trouble for us, the chance of their ending American democracy is nil. The only real threat to American democracy comes from Americans themselves. If our politicians continue to yield to pressure from extremists not to compromise and remain mired in gridlock, the majority of decent Americans may in frustration come to view an authoritarian government as the only solution to political gridlock — as a lesser evil that has to be tolerated.
I don’t think extremism means what Diamond thinks it means. Refusing to compromise your principles isn’t extremism, especially when those principles are the ones mooted by the Declaration or Independence and the United States Constitution. Which, by the way, includes the Second Amendment.
I also find it funny that Diamond used Austria to “prove” that armed, domestic, right-wing extremists are America’s greatest threat. I guess he forgot that [agents of] the German National Socialist Party assassinated Herr Dollfuss in 1934, and annexed the country in 1938. Nor does the fact that Austrian gun registration led to confiscation get a look in. Anyway . . .
Decent Americans should learn from recent history. Compromising cherished political beliefs will be painful, for both Republicans and Democrats. But the alternative, as Chileans and Spaniards can attest, might be something far more painful than compromise.
When you’re an ivory tower egghead, the only thing that isn’t negotiable is the belief in your own intellectual superiority. Here in the real world, some things should never, ever be compromised. Our natural, civil and Constitutionally protected right to keep and bear arms is one of them.
And make no mistake: armed Americans are not the enemy of democracy and freedom. We are its greatest protectors, praying we never have to do so by force of arms, but ready to do so if needs be. [h/t JP]