E pluribus unum

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Three weeks from today our country will have completed its 59th quadrennial presidential election. While vote counting may still be going on, news outlets may very well have projected a winner the night before.

As threatened, we may not have a concession from the projected loser for weeks. We may even have an unprecedented resistance to accept the will of the people. (Strange threats coming from a tax dodger who would have us fear that Muslims and Hispanic immigrants can’t be trusted to obey our laws and customs.)

The history of leadership changes is often violent, particularly where the incoming leaders brings radical régime changes. The French, Russian, and Chinese Revolutions are examples of a complete overturning and rejection of existing government institutions. In many instances new leadership moves to eliminate all opposition and mold the new régime into its own likeness. Napoleon, Mussolini, and Hitler moved quickly once gaining control to eliminate challengers with murder, imprisonment, and exile.

The frequent tools of these dictators are the cult of personality and tribal hegemony.

Wikipedia says the former is “when a country’s régime – or… individual – uses the techniques of mass media, propaganda, the big lie, spectacle, patriotism, and government-organized demonstrations and rallies to create an idealized, heroic, and worshipful image of a leader, often through unquestioning flattery and praise.”

The Oxford English Dictionary says the term “hegemony” came to denote “social or cultural predominance by one group within a society or milieu.” It has also come to mean “a group or régime which exerts undue influence within a society.”

Tribal hegemony can be synonymous with “peer pressure.” In the extreme, as tribalism, it becomes bullying and can give justification for ethnic, religious, political, and racial persecution. It can even endorse genocide.

The authors of our Constitution knew the history of autocracies and the dictators that rule them. They knew of the instability of violent changes in leadership and created a republic with the lawful, peaceful transition of leadership determined by free elections.

They crafted a government with checks and balances, even rivalries, that would be a hindrance to any despot who would seek absolute power – three equal branches of government with different responsibilities. They protected freedom of speech and freedom of the press, two of the first things tyrants suppress to gain and stay in power.

They also understood that tribalism is anathema to an egalitarian society. Tribalism does not tolerate the iconoclast, the nonconformist who thinks too independently.

The trick for a democracy is guaranteeing individual rights while protecting the rights of the general population. They created a court system, free of political pressures, to review laws and see that they follow the spirit of our constitutional rights.

Tribalism that fails to respect legitimate differences cannot be tolerated. The break-up of an alleged plot to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan exposed a group of alleged outlaw people who felt more loyalty to their tribe than to our republican ideals.

In 1794 another tribe in western Pennsylvania, thinking itself above the laws of the land, rebelled against a tax on whiskey and used violence and intimidation to prevent federal officials from collecting the tax. President George Washington himself led 13,000 troops against the 600 rebels. They all went home before he arrived.

I doubt the current president would take such a stand. It wouldn’t be bone spurs that deter him.

For all their foresight, I doubt the authors of our republic could have anticipated the malfeasance in the mishandling of the current health hazard.

The latest edition of the New England Journal of Medicine has an editorial highly critical of our government’s woefully inadequate response to the coronavirus. It points out that “China, faced with the first outbreak, chose strict quarantine and isolation… These measures were severe but effective, essentially eliminating transmission at the point where the outbreak began and reducing the death rate to a reported 3 per million, as compared with more than 500 per million in the United States.”

Of the administration’s handling of this crisis the editorial concluded, “Anyone else who recklessly squandered lives and money in this way would be suffering legal consequences. Our leaders have largely claimed immunity for their actions. But this election gives us the power to render judgment. Reasonable people will certainly disagree about the many political positions taken by candidates. But truth is neither liberal nor conservative. When it comes to the response to the largest public health crisis of our time, our current political leaders have demonstrated that they are dangerously incompetent. We should not abet them and enable the deaths of thousands more Americans by allowing them to keep their jobs.”

The Constitution does not release us from our responsibility to protect our republic individually. Those of us who believe in civility, honesty, fairness, and that sacred document are the majority of Americans.

“Out of many, one” can just as easily refer to those of us in that majority who, in loyalty to our republic and despite our differences, acting as one, “mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.”

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