The Armies of the River

November 15, 2020

by Steve Stofka

This is a story about two armies camped on either side of a river running down the center of your screen – and this nation. On the right side are the Conservatives, and further away from the river, toward the right edge are the Regressives. These radicals of the right include the Tea Party and Christian Evangelicals. On the left side of the river sit the Liberals, and further toward the left edge the Progressives. I hear tell that there are a few Socialists in that bunch. While the Conservatives and Liberals fight each other for control of the river, they must tangle with their more extreme brethren on each side.

Both the Regressives and Progressives are convinced that they should have control of the river, but first they must take the shore position from the Conservatives and Liberals. To do that they have to pull the Conservatives and Liberals away from the river, away from the political center.

I’ll begin with the Regressives, who believe that the way forward is a return to an idealized past. They hearken back to the Constitution, written at a time when less than a few thousand people, the legislatures of each state, voted. In a room with 1000 people, one person got to make all the rules. America was founded on aristocratic, not democratic principles.

The popular vote for President was not tallied until 1824 when some states began to allow popular voting for President. 1.2% of the country’s population voted in that election. These were white males who owned property. Andrew Jackson won the popular and electoral vote but did not win a majority of electoral votes. The winner, John Quincy Adams, was decided by the House of Representatives. Andrew Jackson championed a loosening of voting restrictions to allow white landless men to vote. That got him enough votes in the mid-Atlantic and southern states to win the next two elections. Such is the course of voting rights.

Christian Evangelicals are strongly regressive as they look to the past and future. Again, I caution that these are broad strokes I am painting here. They profess or imply a belief in the saved and the not saved, a Calvinist theme that has influenced Protestant belief since John Calvin in the 16th century. Jesus Saves is a restatement of that Calvinist theme.

The saved vote Republican. Mr. Trump is not one of the saved but offered the saved a way to grab an advantageous position nearer to the river and control the political agenda. Some of the saved believe he is the flawed messenger of God.

Some Evangelicals think that professing their faith is living their faith. They wear their faith on their sleeves, not in their hearts. A fundamentalist Christian preacher cheered the Trump hotel near the White House as the Grand Central of angelic spirit. The faithful are encouraged to patronize the hotel to support the President. It’s harder to hear the stronger and moderate voices of those who live their faith as a profession of their faith. It is they that the loud voiced Evangelicals on the fringe want to unseat.

The representatives of foreign conglomerates patronize the Trump hotel on visits to Washington to promote their country’s interest. “First Tuesdays” at the hotel bring in $1000 donations to various political campaigns. Meeting planners for the gun association get preferential rates at the hotel. Long ago in the 1990s, Republicans raised their voices in outrage when President Clinton allowed influential donors to sleep a night in the White House. Many of those Republicans were pushed into the river by the Tea Party and Evangelicals who were intent on winning control of the party’s agenda.

As many Republicans saw it, Democrats – and the Mainstream Media – punished Mr. Trump for winning the 2016 election. Former President Obama and candidate Hillary Clinton and the FBI and the deep state conspired to get her elected. Their plans were foiled by the Constitutional machinations of the electoral college.

Here is a Christian Regressive interpretation of the Electoral College. It was created by the Constitutional Convention which was inspired by God himself. They can see God’s hand in Mr. Trump’s 2016 win. Some, including Trump himself, are convinced that he won the popular vote as well. In a black and white world, the facts must line up. If they don’t, change the facts.

God’s inspiration created the Constitution; this implies that God approved slavery, of course, and there in the Bible we can see support for slavery. In the black and white, saved or not saved, conceptual framework of Christian Regressive thinking, slaves became slaves because they were not saved. None of the saved become slaves. A slave may become saved but the saved do not become slaves.

The Progressives think in several colors but share a fundamental belief in change, but not gradual change. They are an experimental bunch, willing to try policies that will affect over 300 million Americans. If it doesn’t work out, they believe that the country can flip a switch and try something else. They dream of a fairer world; they disagree on the path to get there. They interpret the Constitution’s “general welfare” clause to mean that the government’s job is to take care of us; that the sum of each’s welfare is the general welfare.

Let’s ask a question, “If your proposed program were failing, what signs could I look for?” What is the answer? The proposal will work because Progressives are confident that they will. They tug at the centrists who believe in gradual change; Progressives cannot get to their vision quickly enough. Despite centuries of evidence to the contrary, they believe that human nature can change quickly. Legislative change is too slow; frustrated with the legislative process, both the Progressives and Regressives look to the courts to enact their visions and beliefs.

From the fringes of conspiracy believers and devotees of the anarchy that will bring on the promised Apocalypse, Donald Trump has torn open the Republican Party in a rush to command the river. To accomplish that, he relied on the Republican fealty to party, not person. The hordes that follow him are convinced that he will bring a return of traditional American values to this country. How his untraditional and vulgar personality and lifestyle will accomplish that is a mystery to many. Most of the moderates in the party have been brushed aside or are quietly acquiescing to his influence. Only those legislators who are retiring dare speak their true opinion of the man for fear of reprisal.

Is there a person from the utopian fringes in the Progressive wing that could tear open the center of the Democratic Party? Bernie Sanders tried and lost – twice. He, Andrew Yang and AOC are candidates for the role, but they are intelligent, devoted to their principles and vision more than they are to themselves. The successful candidate will be someone like Mr. Trump whose loyalty is to himself, who has little analytical intelligence but lots of people smarts.

For much of the last century, only the Democrats have had a strong enough legislative coalition to bend the course of the river. They did so during the Great Depression and again in the 1960s with the programs of the Great Society, Medicare, and Medicaid among them. In each of the past Presidential elections, Republican candidates struggle to capture 50% of the vote. They have not held a filibuster proof majority in the Senate for more than a hundred years. The changing demographics of the country are threatening to consign them to a minority in the Federal power structure. If they are to bend the river, they must do it with a smash and grab person like Mr. Trump.

Mary Trump made a remark about her uncle that has stuck with me. “Don’t look away.” It’s the kind of caution a park ranger might give someone when encountering a wild animal. He is prowling on the bank of the river. Don’t look away.


Photo by Gláuber Sampaio on Unsplash

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