So, unlike a lot of people I am not going to make a traditional new years post. I'm already awesome, so my resolution was to hold the course and continuing my incredibleness in to the new year. Yes my girlfriend thinks I am arrogant, she is right, but apparently I am worth dealing with my ego.
No, what I am going to do is to discuss the political discourse itself. One of the things that is particularly baffling to me even though I have studied and have a thorough understanding of it is the way the framework for discussing politics has, over time, evolved. I'm kind of a contrarian, and definitely anti-authoritarian, so I love to push back against the crowd.
That all used to classify me as a liberal, sure not at any point in my own lifetime, modern liberals are stunningly in favor of centralizing power and authority and divesting the individual of their independance. I'm talking about the Jeffersonian ideal, the Andrew Jackson archetype. So how did the definition shift from one extreme to the other in our discourse?
A little bit at a time, mostly. Andrew Jackson himself helped with how he used the power of the presidency and his bully pulpit to go after the federal banking institutions he considered to be usurious and predatory. the media of the time was sometimes confrontational but often enough lionized him as a champion of the common man, normalizing his aggressive use of powers and the precedent he was setting.
As the media grew before and during the industrial revolution thanks to printing technology becoming better and cheaper it created a new class of men whose job was to discuss the events of the day in such a way as to be informative. In the early days of our nascent republic most journalists worked in another field and published based upon their interest, usually were personally wealthy to some extent, and educated in a field other than journalism. As the field grew up and professional journalists grew it became increasingly common for universities which offered courses in journalism or politics to seek out their expertise for lectures and so enshrined the popular opinions.
Follow so far? Good, the thing is when you define an opinion and accept the core premises it is based on you open the discourse up to the next logical conclusion, which will move the framework of the discussion incrementally. When you by small measures accept further definitions and conclusions it slowly moves that framework, building it up and making it seem more monumental in something like a feedback loop. Rarely is someone going to question the initial premise and when they do there will be an inertia of opinions resisting the impetus to question.
What this means when talking about the American political system for example, is that for over a hundred and fifty years at least, and arguably going back to the second continental congress which forged a stronger federal government after the failures of the first continental congress became clear, is that the assumption that a strong federal government is a necessity has lead slowly to the idea that a strong federal government is good, and a stronger one is better. We've seen slow encroachments on personal liberty and the powers of the individual states year after year, decade after decade, generally with very little questioning. People like to point at the hippies of the 60's and 70's as being rebels, but generally they protested to get the federal government to take action to address real and perceived injustices. Basically they were benevolent (or not so benevolent in some cases) authoritarians, but were thought of as rebelious individualists because of how the debate was framed. The real rebels and individualists have always been the ones who call out the ever increasing consolidation of power, our last really rebelious and individualist president is, arguably, Ronald Reagan, and today we can see what a great leader he was. Here's hoping the current shake up in Washington pushes the framework back in that direction.