“Now, Here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!” – Lewis Carroll in Through the Looking-Glass

Yesterday, Adam Schiff, Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, finally spoke the truth: The strategy employed by Donald Trump and his Republican toadies in Congress is not “OK”. Schiff’s speech should be seen as a watershed moment in our recent political history – a statement of truth where two rivers of thought are emphatically separated. Schiff’s exceptional speech was in the tradition of Joseph Welch, chief counsel for the US Army when it was under investigation by Senator Joe McCarthy during the Senate Army-McCarthy Hearings of 1954. Welch’s famous words were: “Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness.…. You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency?”

Schiff said to the president and his Republican committee members that their refusal to protect the interests of the United States for the last two years is immoral, unethical, unpatriotic, and corrupt. Finally.

The Democratic Party has been in a state of paralysis in the face of Republican tactics like Joe McCarthy’s for the last 50 years. Richard Nixon was not an aberration, he was only the one who got caught, and it looks like that might never happen again. The Republican Party has not contributed anything of value to American political discourse in my lifetime. Their depredations are an invitation to private vengeance – to the crouch of paranoia and fear, and a false hand-up to the disenfranchised and the uninformed. Their lies promote fake economics, fake science, …and picaresque rogues like the repulsive Donald Trump. But what underlies all of these political feints is one overarching doctrine that we constantly try to ignore: the aggrandizement of individual self-interest over the interests of everyone else. It’s the sneering superiority of Mitt Romney over the 47% and the casual indifference of the entitled Betsy DeVos. This Republican article of faith has consequences that are at once immoral – as Schiff points out – and cruel, reckless, and indecent, as Welch said to McCarthy in 1954. And this seminal Republican idea inevitably leads us to The Tragedy of the Commons, a theory first described in 1833.

A farmer grazes his cattle on public lands – “the commons”- along with other farmers. He concludes that if he continues to add cattle to his herd faster than the rest of the farmers, he will gain the most profit at the expense of his competitors, notwithstanding the fact that the eventual outcome will be to start an arms race of sorts and lead to the collapse of the commons itself due to overgrazing. At the root of the Tragedy of the Commons is the unchecked self-interest of some individuals. The underlying reasoning is that, if the commons are eventually going to be used up, whomever makes the greatest use first stands to benefit the most. From an economic perspective, the cost/benefit ratio is colossal, king-sized. And, best of all, while the benefits accrue almost entirely to the selfish farmer, the costs are spread among all others sharing the commons. Sound familiar? This is the Republican economic policy that brought us some of our most spectacular economic collapses, systemic failures like the Great Depression and our most recent Minsky Moment (for all you turbo-nerds), the Great Recession of 2008.

The Republican Party routinely runs what is essentially a Ponzi scheme, a positive-feedback system where funds from new investors are used to pay out unusually high returns, which in turn attract more new investors, causing rapid growth toward inevitable collapse. It is the Red Queen Hypothesis where, “…it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that.”

Arthur Miller, author of The Crucible and one of American’s most important playwrights, was brought before McCarthy’s, House Un-American Activities Committee, and convicted for not cooperating. Miller said of the McCarthy hearings that: “Even worse was the feeling that our sensitivity to this onslaught on our liberties was passing from us—indeed, from me”.

We need many more Adam Schiff speeches – as many as we can generate – because the Democrats won’t win by presenting binders full of policy. Maybe they’ll win the presidency in 2020, but they won’t win the war that matters the most for our country: defeating the Republican Party to the point that they think less about personal self-interest – and more about the country they swore to serve and defend.   If we fail, the Republican Party will finally overgraze the world.

 

image: Gaetano Pompa 1962/private collection

Deborah Long is a Principal at Development Management Group, Inc.  and founder of several non-profit charitable organizations.  If you find her perspectives interesting, controversial, or provocative, follow her at:  https://www.facebook.com/debby.long.98499?ref=br_rs

 

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