WORDS: 1,684 — If one had to lend a definition to the goal of democracy one might suggest it’s to preserve a level of a universal status quo to lend comfort and security to the citizens it represents. In other words, democracies exist to keep power out of the hands of one person or one interest. But is that always smart?
In a democracy it’s ok to select a leader but that leader will only lead to extent the limitations granted by the people. This helps to assure that indeed each “boss” follows a relatively consistent rule book in administering the power of the leadership office. But if anything, this pandemic has graphically illustrated the inherent problems working a crisis inside a democracy.. or, a democratic republic.
The Power of Absolute Power
In the World War II movie tale, “U-571”, there is a scene where Harvey Keitel, depicting a seasoned Navy Chief, confronts Matthew McConaughey’s character trying to meld into his sudden inherited role of the reluctant submarine captain, having just expressed open doubt of their current situation to his crew.
“This is the navy, where a commanding officer is a mighty and terrible thing… a man to be feared and respected. All knowing.. all powerful. Don’t you dare say what you said to the boys back there again, “I don’t know.” Those three words will kill a crew, dead as a depth charge. You’re the Skipper now and the Skipper always knows what to do, whether he does or not.”
I think this captures the essence and flavor.. and responsibility, of wielding absolute power. Ships at sea are by nature alone and at the whim of nature and the ship’s survival depends on every member of the crew doing their jobs to set the sails, steer the ship, as a team, under a single commander calling the shots. A ship at sea is no place for democracy. Just as a military commander expects his soldiers to follow orders to be uniform in facing the enemy on a battlefield.. moving only upon command from a single officer… the goal being to work together for victory. The Romans of old had this down to battlefield science… troops trained to perform complex field formations to meet an enemy threat, many times outnumbering their own army. It had to be strict discipline to defer to the authority of one as ruling by committee would surely be disaster. If you know history you will recall the Napoleonic way of military field maneuvers in battle used in our Civil War. The lines of soldiers moving in unison to the barking commands from their sword wielding commanders on horseback.. marching straight into musket and cannon fire. It’s inherent in human evolution having a trait where we will tend to defer to following another human who we might perceive knows better our situation which we must fight through to survive… and if this other human gets us through the crisis then it serves to cement the trust and devotion we place upon this person to keep him/her our leader.
The Will Of The People Is Always Right(?)
A democracy presumes that no one person has all the answers for leading the nation. We spread out that responsibility by having a representative government inside a system of institutional checks and balances. As completely wonderful that is in a normal day in America, it is a bit of a double-edged sword in that change, necessary, very necessary, or not, moves along at a cumbersome pace because of all the debate and filter of those checks and balances to assure all our rights are maintained. The intentional idea is that the end result of a given new law has passed the gauntlet of cultural, social, political, introspection and extrapolation, to be a value to all.
Then one day… out of nowhere (to the public at large, at least), totally by surprise to the public, a foreign country bombs one of our military bases on sovereign American territory, destroying or incapacitating our Navy providing security to our Pacific interests and the approaches to our West Coast… and most importantly, killing 2,403 Americans.. military AND civilians engaged in a typical routine for a sleepy Sunday morning.
“On December 8, 1941, Congress approved President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s request for a declaration of war on Japan with only one dissenter. The vote was 82–0 in the Senate and 388–1 in the House.”
That’s pretty damn fast getting Congress to move that fast inside of 24 hours! I guess we were pretty pissed off, huh? Heck, by the 11th we were on a roll and declared war on Germany! Well.. just declaring a war is not directing a war. Overnight we had to change from a “butter to guns” economy and no one person in a free market democracy has control to press all that into action.. much less do it all according to a plan rather than various states, entities and institutions just doing their own thing at their own paces.
“On December 18th (11 days after the attack) Congress approved the First War Powers Act in 1941 to improve the nation’s efficiency in fighting World War II. It empowered President Franklin D. Roosevelt to reorganize the executive branch, federal agencies, and government corporations.”
In March, 1942 a Second War Powers Act granted the Executive ever more power. Democracy worked! Congress (with grand public support) gave the leader great power to begin to rally the nation for a war on two fronts… cutting the red tape of democracy. It worked.. and 4 years later we won both fronts… and the world was changed forever.
There was even a termination of the War Powers Act…
621. Termination of sections 601-605, and 611 of this Appendix. Titles I and II of this Act [sections 601-605, and 611 of this Appendix] shall remain in force during the continuance of the present war and for six months after the termination of the war, or until such earlier time as the Congress by concurrent resolution or the President may designate. (Dec. 18, 1941, ch. 593, title IV, § 401, 55 Stat. 841.)
Hmm.. they actually put in an on-off switch to these powers. You would think this bit o’ history would have been an inspiration toward meeting the threat of the pandemic crisis in the beginning. But a lot has changed regarding politics.. and the public trust in government… in the last 75 years. Kennedy’s secret Bay of Pigs, Johnson’s Gulf of Tonkin excuse (followed by 10 years more of lying to the public about the conduct of that war), Nixon bombing Cambodia but talking withdrawal, (Ford and Carter?) Reagan Iran-Contra affair, Father Bush and the Mid East, Clinton and his Kosovo and Somalia, Son Bush and the War on Terror, Obama and the continuing war in the Mid East, Trump and his behavioral wackiness, and his “solution” to defer solving the problem to all fifty individual states, and territories… is it honestly that much of a surprise that when Covid took off no one had a lot of faith in any leader to bestow to anyone vast control of the nation to address this pandemic crisis? It’s already well over 600,000 deaths and still counting with the flare up on the Delta variant… already far more American deaths than all our 20th and 21st century wars to date. As illustrated, World War II alone resulted in less that half those deaths and we called THAT a crisis worth giving the leader then expanded powers. Now we have nearly a third to a half of the nation upended with defying basic virus countermeasures, including taking a life-saving vaccine, as a political infraction impeding personal freedoms… in the midst of a rising death toll.
Of course there’s context to all that and very likely the Senior Bush up to Obama could have initiated a proper pandemic response if given such controlled power. Trump.. the guy we were stuck with, fell on his face… and we are still working past all that with no end in sight. There’s not a lot of confidence in government in general or any faith at all in the leadership. In fact.. half the country barely believes there’s a pandemic at all. You can’t do a lot of leadership when there’s no faith, trust, or respect in each other much less in someone to lead us out of the mess. People are dying over a contrived fear, political ideology, conspiracy, and just plain stupidity (and I honestly don’t mean that as a dis; it’s a failure to comprehend the gravity of the situation for simply stubborn reasoning). You want to know if the vaccine will work? Simple.. don’t take it. Because “when” you get it you will wish you had taken it. In the meantime you can pass it along to another stubborn person… and with it a hope that nature might enable yet another more lethal variant to make even the vaccine worthless. It’s truly a madness as a result of the nation sinking into an abyss of political idiocy. This pandemic war is not about fighting the virus at all but rather each other… with both sides having little faith in their own government. We’ve lost grip of our moral center as Americans.
For the future…
If we ever make it to the next crisis the country would be best served being prepared by anticipating the kinds of crisis can befall the nation.. from conflicts, to weather extremes, to the inevitability of more pandemics… we need to prepare ahead of time for making a leader take charge to match the threat to our survival. As voters we best start considering that those we vote for to lead us have the capability to do so, rather than falling for political posturing and outlandish promises that will never be delivered.
We seem to be quickly reaching the point where we simply have no faith in ourselves or the traditional spirit that made us a world power. While our political divide is eating at our moral fiber, a virus is also eating us alive. Nice legacy we are leaving our kids.