“The Emperor’s New Clothes” has been my favorite fairy tale for a long, long time. Everyone identifies with the lone child who points out that the emperor is parading down the street in his undies. They’re sure they’d be brave enough to shout out the self-evident truth when everyone else was oohing and aahing at robes that were not there.
I’ve long suspected that in the U.S. the child would be torn limb from limb for saying any such thing, unless a few quick-thinking adults snatched her away to safety.
Thanks to this presidential election cycle, I’ve got a new take on “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” In this take, the child calls out that the emperor has no clothes on, the emperor (or one of his quick-witted advisers) says that robes are passé, the undies are a fashion statement, and the faux tailors get away with their swindle.
In national politics, inexperience and downright incompetence have become virtues, even among those who must know how many skills are required to understand and balance the interests of a diverse population and to keep the craft moving forward. It is no coincidence that this disregard and even contempt for experience and competence has reached a crescendo when the most experienced, competent candidate is female. When a woman surpasses the men by the current rules, there must be something wrong with the rules, right?
Disruption is all the rage. This is not surprising. Experience corrupts, but disrupting is easy. It takes little skill or experience and no patience at all. But what comes next?
In dystopian fiction, the usual scenario is that some apocalypse wipes the earth clean of all its corruption, Noah’s Flood style, and a valiant band of survivors build utopia on its hopefully not-too-radioactive ashes.
If you want to see what disruption looks like in real life, check out what happened when the former Yugoslavia fragmented into mutually hostile states. Or when the U.S.-led invasion knocked out central authority in Iraq. “Central authority” may be flawed to the point of despicable, but when it collapses, whether from within or without, what follows is not pretty.
In other places — say, the U.S. after the Civil War or Russia after the breakup of the Soviet Union — the old order manages to reconstitute itself and conditions for the oppressed do not improve. From the ashes of slavery arose not emancipation but Jim Crow, and not for nothing is a recent biography of Vladimir Putin titled The New Tsar.
So often those calling most loudly for disruption and “revolution” (a form of disruption) seem unaware of what they’re disrupting, and what their world would look like without it.
Decades ago I took to heart something Sir Thomas More said in Robert Bolt’s play (and film) A Man for All Seasons. More is arguing with William Roper, his hotheaded and idealistic son-in-law. Roper has just said that he’d “cut down every law in England” to get to the Devil, and More responds:
“Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ’round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man’s laws, not God’s! And if you cut them down, and you’re just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake!”
When King Henry VIII declared himself head of the Church of England, in order to sanction his own divorce and remarriage, More refused to go along. The law couldn’t protect him — he was beheaded for treason — because the king was above the law. The lesson here isn’t that law doesn’t matter but that no one should be above it.
More’s conscience got him killed, a fate that does not await those whose consciences won’t permit them to vote for Hillary Clinton. Do any of these people truly believe that Jill Stein of the Greens or Gary Johnson of the Libertarians is of presidential caliber? More important, do either the Greens or the Libertarians offer, or even aspire to offer, the kind of infrastructure that gets people involved in the political process, not only during election campaigns but afterward? That encourages qualified people to run for office and offers the resources (e.g., volunteers, mailing lists, and know-how) necessary to support their campaigns?
Without political parties, each aspirant has to build an organization from scratch. That’s exhausting, and I’m pretty sure it favors those with the money to pay out of pocket for everything they need.
From where I sit on Martha’s Vineyard, the Democrats at least are looking pretty good. The primary races for state senator, state representative, register of deeds, and county sheriff were all contested by qualified candidates, quite a few of whom are in their twenties or not much older. No one’s calling for disruption. They’re too busy talking about the issues, listening to constituents, and working for change.