“While our country remains untainted with the principles and manners which are now producing desolation in so many parts of the world; while she continues sincere, and incapable of insidious and impious policy, we shall have the strongest reason to rejoice in the local destination assigned us by Providence.”
~ John Adams, Letter to the Officers of the First Brigade of the Third Division of the Militia of Massachusetts (11 October, 1798)
Palace intrigue has always been a part of political warfare. Maneuvering for political advantage in the background through leaks, coercion, extortion, character assassination – and often actual assassination – was the operational standard in the gilded and exalted Courts of Europe for centuries. This was the basis for Machiavelli’s “The Prince” (written in 1532) and is also a feature of today’s banana republic, third world governments and their tin pot dictators. While the aforementioned characteristics have never been overtly apparent in American political jousting, it is reasonable to assume that conditions bearing very close resemblances have been at least present in the undercurrents and the “smoke-filled back rooms” of American politics.
Perhaps too many have always held a bit of a pollyannaish view and American politics really have always been a purely Machiavellian enterprise, perhaps contemporary American politics and the 15th century Courts of Europe truly are distinctions without a difference. To maintain the illusion of a functioning Republic, the presumed distinctions with which I have clung were that both sides observed certain rules of conduct, that as a minimum, there was a tacit “honor among thieves” agreement between the dealmakers.
In the classic tome, “On War” by Carl von Clausewitz, he states that “War is politics by other means,” and if true, one can make the case the converse is also true – that politics is war by other means. Nothing illustrated that more painfully than when in 2012, Harry Reid took the coward’s path to remorselessly malign and lie about Mitt Romney’s taxes, hiding behind the immunity accorded to speech on the Senate floor. How do we know he is remorseless? When asked in 2015 by CNN’s Dana Bash about continuing to defend a statement that is not true, Reid responded, “Romney didn’t win, did he?”
Of course, the reprehensible and disgusting Reid continued his incendiary rhetoric against the Trump administration right up to the end – just prior to his blessed retirement at the end of his final term in 2016. He has apparently passed the torch on to the equally reprehensible tag team of Chuck Schumer and Elizabeth Warren, both of whom have accused many of Trump’s cabinet nominees of racism and bigotry – but not because they are racists and bigots, this is war by other means.
Now, in a move not even senior Democrats support, America is seeing another first – a former president who is “organizing” and heading up an alternative political movement to overtly and publicly “oppose” President Trump’s evisceration of his monstrous legacy. Some, including myself, would say that it is a continuation of a Jim Jones like cult of personality and that in 2012, the shine had worn off of Obama’s shtick – that most Congressional Democrats realized how many seats this man had lost their party (now totaling something approaching 1200 nationally) and just wanted him gone – but they had him, he could win. Many leading Democrats put a lot on the line while covering up scandals like Benghazi (I don’t think many even wanted Hillary but she was the next round in the chamber and her nomination was payback for taking the heat for Benghazi and allowing Obama to win) and they didn’t want their efforts to go to waste.
But as the commercial says, “This is not how this works. This is not how any of this works.”
Our form of government was established by a constitution that sought to bring Machiavelli out from behind the curtains and into the light. America was designed to have open debates based on policy, not personality. It was founded to render inert the self-serving machinations of bomb-throwing politicians through honest and public debate – but that only works when all sides agree that playing by the rules benefits all, win or lose.
John Adams wrote, “Because we have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net.”
That is just as true today as when Adams put quill to paper on a Thursday in October of 1798.
While one may feel the satisfaction of a President who is willing to “hit back”, how he “hits back” matters. Lowering himself to the level of his opponents is a mistake. Winning until you are sick of winning is great, but how the war by other means is won matters – for it is the very way America has governed itself with principle and honor that has kept it from descending into the Machiavellian politics of lesser nations.