Sunday, April 14, 2019

On Elizabeth Warren's Tragic Banality

Bloomberg News recently reported that Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren and her husband earned almost 1 million USD in 2018, proving America's national politics are a contest between the out-of-touch and the even more out-of-touch. (Two days after the media disclosed her income, Warren attended an event with boxes from Dunkin' Donuts, America's working-class brand.) Outsiders like Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump are popular because they seem relatable, but are they really so different? 

Both Bill and Barack were raised by single mothers and became Ivy League lawyers, an unorthodox but similar path. Donald Trump graduated from the Wharton School, part of an Ivy League institution. Elizabeth Warren's husband is an Ivy League law school professor and she herself is a former Harvard law professor. It seems the American presidency is reserved for the Ivy League, which may explain voter disenchantment and America's fascination with anyone politically incorrect. 

The Democrats' tone-deaf choice of Warren should come as no surprise, especially after Hillary Clinton's nomination. Like Hillary, Warren is an excellent candidate on paper. She has brothers in the military, supports unions, and is hostile to big banks, all positions designed to attract as many voters as possible. Her oft-mocked claim of Native American heritage makes sense in light of Oklahoma's broadly-defined affiliation and her team's desire to market her to every single group. And yet, I am falling asleep as I write this, and I had ample energy (and coffee and tea) before I began writing. 

I'm tempted to say Ivy League institutions extinguish students' ability to be appealing or authentic, but JFK, who had a surfeit of charisma and appeal, is a Harvard graduate and therefore an Ivy Leaguer. Before him, the most maverick Supreme Court Justice, William O. Douglas--nicknamed Wild Bill--attended Ivy League Columbia University. 

Perhaps it's the times we live in? Eighteen years of perpetual warfare, extrajudicial killings (including at least one U.S. citizen), hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths overseas, and the fecklessness of the legal establishment couldn't have helped, but I think the matter goes deeper. The very second we allowed our politicians and intelligence agencies to call civilian deaths "collateral damage," the American spirit was diminished. The minute Democratic Secretary of State Madeline Albright casually dismissed 500,000 child deaths resulting from her government's policies, "American leadership" became an oxymoron. The moment Congress began using semantics to stretch the definition of torture, America's moral ground was lost. Today, we speak of compassion as if it is a foreign or missing element in our society, and we may be right. 

I've always believed human intuition is underrated--one particular scene from Carl Sagan's Contact plays in my mental background whenever I debate--and as we move closer to a society controlled by machines, whether physical or digital, we allow our culture to be further dictated by numbers and data unable to understand integrity or compassion. As such, our current endgame is necessarily dystopian, though even dystopian fiction fails to realize its heroes and heroines would not exist in a society where surveillance has been perfected. 

Indeed, the primary glue holding societies together is not money, security, or education but genuine interest in one another. Family matters because such interest is presumed, but whether we succeed depends on how broadly each familial unit can extend its definition of family. A cap exists on how much stretching can occur, a limit inapplicable to semantics or data, a fact that ought to make us more skeptical of anyone or anything refusing to acknowledge inherent bounds. 

Speaking of limits, if Elizabeth Warren is nominated as the Democratic Party's presidential candidate, it will represent definitive evidence her party is so far removed from reality, the time for a viable third party or independent candidate has finally come. Warren has no humility, no workable original ideas (her anti-trust proposals are copied from the EU), and no charisma. When she does have an original idea, it makes no sense (this often occurs when someone has never run a business or personally filed tax returns). For example, her latest idea to tax corporate profits above 100 million while disallowing various credits or deductions may have extinguished Amazon Web Services and allowed China's Alibaba to dominate world commerce. In short, Warren is incapable of shielding honest citizens from the tidal wave of complexity involving unions and Wall Street; business and immigration; military and industry; education and politics; inflation and necessities; overlapping jurisdictions and accountability; and entitlements and debt. 

A society collapses not when a tyrant is elected, but when the opposition cannot admit its mistakes and proffer practical solutions. This counterintuitive dynamic occurs because tyrants are elected or put into power when societies finally realize--always too late--they are on the wrong path. The only way to reverse decline is for the opposition, which has been asleep, to 1) admit it has misjudged the facts as well as the remedies (including a failure to co-opt more radical elements within its ranks); and 2) correctly identify the numerous factors that have brought everyone to the present-day situation. Absent this humble, analytical approach, the tyrant will continue to prevail by canceling programs s/he deems unnecessary, then diverting revenue to allied interest groups, thereby solidifying his/her power. 

In the end, progressives need to realize "checks and balances" are just words in legislators' books and inherently inferior to paper conferring financial gain. (If nothing else, Donald Trump knows this aforementioned truth.) No judge or lawyer has ever been able to withstand the chaos spread by a climate of fear combined with the wholesale disintegration of government funding to existing large groups. The number of paths to a police state are many and simple, while the way out is labyrinthine and difficult. Let's hope Americans realize Elizabeth Warren gives them the most difficult maze possible for a re-emergence. 

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