Friday, March 18, 2005

The Fourth Turning Gets Personal - Part II

But it is the second aspect of this case which disturbs me even more deeply than the mere prospect of fundamentalists with power. That is the increasing sense I have that when fundamentalists of any ideological stripe gain power, their tendency to exercise any kind of restraint in its use is limited if not non-existent. Hence the question my small, still voice was posing in the early light of dawn: When does prosecution become persecution?

In the instant case, a Baptist Republican prosecutor (King) is hired by a Republican governor (Bush) to investigate a Democratic mayor (Dyer) resulting in an indictment immediately upon which the Republican governor suspends the Democratic mayor thought to be a rising star in state politics. But there's more. The current US Senator from Florida, a Cuban-American Republican named Mel Martinez, had employed the same campaign worker to collect African-American absentee ballots in 2000. And the current Florida Secretary of State, Republican Glenda Hood, chosen by the Republican governor after serving two years as mayor of Orlando, had employed the same campaign worker to collect African-American absentee ballots in her mayoral race in 2000. Now, bombshell time - they cannot be indicted because the grand jury waited just long enough to return indictments to place those elections outside the statute of limitations for prosecution.

Of course, the blatant abuse of power to persecute those in the opposing party is nothing new. Democratic Vice President Andrew Johnson who ran with Lincoln in 1864 only to become President upon Lincoln's assassination was treated horrendously by the Radical Republican Congress hell-bent on punishing the South after the Civil War. His impeachment charges were trumped up and he ultimately prevailed by but one vote in the Senate, dying a broken man (as did the Kansas senator who was courageous enough to vote against the conviction who died in poverty and reprobation). Bill Clinton's impeachment for lying about a blow job by a White House aid in an investigation of a real estate swindle is a modern example of the abuse of power for partisan purposes. Clearly prosecution can be persecution.

Moreover, unrestrained use of power to persecute others is not relegated to government. The current struggles within the Anglican Communion to drive out any who do not hold to very narrow understandings of sexuality and very literal appropriations of scripture
simply mirror their counterparts in politics. It seems to me the cycle works like this:

1. Conservatives come to power riding a wave of generalized public anxiety and fear
often itself the result of demagoguery and fear mongering by conservatives

2. Conservatives seek to consolidate their power through exercise of hegemony,
controlling the press and thus public discourse, as well as through control of
bureaucratic policy implementers

3. Conservatives then seek to completely dominate society generally through the use of legal mechanisms, rendering any opposition inert and powerless through the now dominated justice system

4. Conservatives ultimately seek to eliminate all those who do not share their vision.

In years past, this cycle has played out in a number of ways, the most destructive of which is the rather classic Fascist authoritarianism of the Third Reich. Some of us wonder if this is not the trajectory on which the current US power holders are embarked, fascism being the natural successor to capitalist states which inevitably become less and less stable as the wealth, status and power of the nation-state becomes more disparately polarized. I shudder to consider the possibilities.

In Strauss and Howe's study The Fourth Turning, the mark of the end of third cycles is the fragmentation of the public into highly polarized groups locked in the death grip of continual conflict. Preceding third cycles included the post-Jackson antebellum period and the Roaring Twenties. Those cycles preceded two of the deadliest and most destructive eras of American history: the Civil War and the Great Depression/WWII era. I sense the disintegration of American national cohesion and the increasingly bold willingness of the right to use its fear-driven rise to power without restraint is the beginning of a Fourth Turning. I admit to being fearful about this coming time of crisis. But what makes me most fearful is the level of denial I see in most of my fellow citizens.

A poster to a list in which I participate recently forwarded a portion of an address by President Buchanan, the Southern born president who immediately preceded Lincoln and the Civil War. While the guns of Charleston were being positioned for the initial assault on Ft. Sumter, the president was railing against northern agitators seeking to abolish slavery saying that it was these radical dissidents who were the problem for the United States. Substitute those who are not patriotic for northern agitators and this statement could easily have been made by the current occupant of the White House. George Bush exhibits a similar superficiality in his rhetoric which often features very simplistic black and white conceptualizations. But what is particularly disturbing is that George Bush and the many superficial thinkers currently holding power in our land also show no concern for restraint on the exercise of power.

It is this paradigm of superficial reason combined with unrestrained power that begins at the top and manifests itself all the way down to the local level unchecked by any popular outcry. So while my friend's indictment is the closest this tyrannical abuse of power has come to touching my own life, I fear it will hardly be the last. And it is not just for myself that I fear. A country divided against itself cannot stand for long. A country whose powerful cannibalize its powerless is not long for the nation-states of the world. As Jefferson once remarked, " I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that His justice cannot sleep forever."


The Rev. Harry Scott Coverston, J.D., Ph.D.
Member, Florida Bar (inactive status)
Priest, Episcopal Church (Dio. of El Camino Real, CA)
Instructor: Humanities, Religion, Philosophy of Law
University of Central Florida, Orlando

If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding. Most things of value do not lend themselves to production in sound bytes.


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