The Iconoclastic American Political Party – Eugene Weekly
The term “iconoclasm” comes from the Greek description of the movement to destroy cherished beliefs or revered institutions on the grounds that they are wrong or pernicious (Oxford English Dictionary). It is usually associated with opposition to the use of religious images (i.e. “icons”) as objects of veneration, but also applies to cultural, political and other societal norms in general .
We are witnessing political iconoclasm today, as the Republican Party methodically embarks on a mission to tear down traditional norms and principles en route to completing the execution of democracy in the cradle of modern democracy – the states United States – and its more than two centuries of constitutional government.
Over the past five years, this anti-constitutional momentum has accelerated at a breakneck pace. If I had to pick one defining moment out of thousands, it would be when Donald Trump floated the idea at a campaign rally in 2016 that if his opponent won the election, there was nothing his supporters could do to keep their guns, except maybe “Second Amendment Solutions.
Thus was introduced the concept of violence against one’s political opposition (and frankly its thinly veiled cover of subtlety never got beyond college level). This remark, coming from no less than a candidate for the highest office in the land, was an undeniable warning sign of what was to come to our political system after the election.
And, predictably, we have indeed received thinly disguised threats against political opponents, against media critics, and against those who place duty above the demands of the Party leader – such as pitchers. alert and honest election officials – and overt and undisguised threats and acts of violence from his supporters became common water on the evening news. For the first time in memory, we saw election monitors and volunteers at polling stations asking for police protection as they carried out their patriotic duty.
This new order of political non-etiquette came to a head on January 6 (another date joining December 7 on the calendar as historic days of infamy) when a mob was instigated to storm the Capitol to prevent the transition of power to the president by an overwhelming majority. chosen by the people to replace the rejected incumbent and his increasingly authoritarian program.
As this essay is being written, an ongoing congressional investigation into this violent insurgency uncovers evidence that the planning surrounding the January 6 violence included a PowerPoint presentation by senior officials and advisers in positions sensitive with access to the White House regarding details of exactly how the election results were to be overturned to allow the losing incumbent to remain in office indefinitely. The insurgents included those who planned to physically harm targeted political officials, which even involved executing some on a gallows erected nearby on the grounds of the Capitol.
In the wake of this violent uprising against democracy, we now hear of the looming specter of civil war, secession and bloody infighting as party members hurl military weapons in their Christmas greetings to voters, demanding to Santa Claus to bring more ammunition (shattering icons of peace and goodwill in a season that is sacred to many and already hurt by another mass shooting at a Michigan high school).
Beyond the normalization of a violent motive, the denigration of certain racial, ethnic, religious and sexual identities flared up like wildfire. Acceptance or even tolerance of underprivileged categories is despised as ‘woke’ sentimentality.
As for what remains of the Constitution after four years of plunder, the answer is very little. The rule of law has been effectively riddled with corrupt exceptions, the emoluments clause swept into the dustbin, the appropriations clause and its authorized expenditures hijacked to build a symbolic Great Wall or hung before a foreign potentate to extort an optical inquiry into a black-eyed national political opponent of the party leader.
Worse still, the impeachment process that the founders envisioned as a safeguard against the tyrant they foresaw as the greatest danger to our democracy has been shelved, as this prophesied tyrant has proven too strong for the branch of government. to which the founders had entrusted the task. The Founders never imagined that its carefully constructed political system would produce a party so slavish and unprincipled that it would slavishly adopt a platform of not doing the will of the people – but only the whims of the party leader.
Indeed, the party is now at work coordinating voter suppression, gerrymandering and a major facelift of the Electoral College system to create a model in which the popular vote in the next presidential election cycle will be reduced to a mockery, entirely subordinated to the manipulation of party apparatchiks in state legislatures. So, in the event that the party’s candidate is again soundly rejected by the majority of people who actually vote or are eligible to vote, but are denied the opportunity by the party’s suppression tactics, their votes will not will not be relevant.
It is truly the ultimate dismantling of the fundamental principles and values of our constitutional democratic system of government. Steve Bannon, one of the architects who hopes to contribute to the new order that will emerge from the rubble of the old, calls this process of demolition the “deconstruction” of the state. It’s far too polite a term, and perhaps also “iconoclasm”. However, mine is precise enough to take stock. The party diagnosed and soon judged by history is no longer attached to the guiding principles it once espoused. Instead, he is destroying this revered heritage and turning to what he once considered heresy or betrayal – and in doing so, he is destroying what our nation proudly stood for.
Finally, I don’t want to overlook another “deconstructed” icon: the Supreme Court.
The party obstructed the president’s prerogative to nominate candidates to fill court vacancies during President Barack Obama’s final year in office on the grounds that it was an election year, but hypocritically reversed that premise during President Trump’s final months in office. This move changed the composition of the court to a conservative supermajority court for perhaps decades.
Another norm has been shattered and the collateral consequences of this disrespect for tradition has been the implosion of the court’s image as an impartial, non-partisan tribunal above the fray of political ideology. In the eyes of the public, and even in the words of some judges, the integrity of their decisions is seriously threatened.
This is no small blow to our constitutional system of government. If we are not seen as governed by the rule of law and if we lose faith that the law is applied equally and correctly to all, we become a fake democracy where freedom is fragile and our Constitution negotiable. If the court were to suffer the loss of its institutional respect, the nation would lose its compass.
The party is no longer recognizable. He turned against the principles he used to embrace. It has become the Party of iconoclasm and we must open our eyes to its transformation. This is the reality of January 6.
To save democracy, we must, at a minimum, recognize this truth. We also need to have a sobering discussion with ourselves. Do we really want our political and ideological differences to lead us down a path that culminates in totalitarianism?
If anyone has any doubts about where the party wants to take America, please consider their admiration for Hungary’s politics under strongman Victor Orban, who transformed that country from democratic ideals to a de facto white supremacist authoritarian regime.
A conservative US political delegation led by former Vice President Mike Pence recently paid tribute to Orban by making a pilgrimage to Budapest to honor him at a far-right nationalist conference focused on an authoritarian anti-democratic agenda. Orban, some of us may remember, is notable for once unilaterally impeaching his country’s parliament, which then bestowed virtually absolute power on Orban, including the power to imprison members of media for criticizing him. The European Union considered downgrading Hungary as a democracy.
And the iconoclastic group sitting at Orban’s throne to take notes and learn from him is a chilling harbinger of his final destination. v
Thomas Coffin is a retired American magistrate. He served 24 years on the United States District Court for the District of Oregon, from 1992 to 2016.