Here We Go Again by David Montgomery

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As my wife and I prepare to visit the beach in Normandy where her father landed on D-Day and the battlefields where he fought, we see growing threats from within to the democracy he gave up so much to defend.  Refusals to accept outcomes of elections, physical attacks on dissenting speakers on campuses, ostracism of supporters of unpopular politicians, and disruption of legislative processes all give evidence of a rising wave of totalitarianism that would substitute force for democratic order.  

Demonstrations at the confirmation hearings for Judge Kavanagh are the current examples of the left’s renewed commitment to violent eradication of contrary points of view that has been its strategy since the French Revolution.  Rather than tolerating and giving time and space for questioning and debate of Judge Kavanagh’s legal philosophy, the crazed demonstrators and their abettors in the Democratic Party revert to noise and physical obstruction.

That preference for power over thought, to coerce rather than convince, created the monstrosity in Europe that my father-in-law fought to destroy there and protect us from here.  That was the sad heritage of the French Revolution, but not the heritage we enjoy from the American Revolution.

There is no sugar-coating the fact that we have also had periods of conflict, with violent struggles between employers and unions, slave and free states, and even veterans and politicians.  Some of these were fueled by odious ideologies that in principle substituted violence for peaceful persuasion and democratic processes, but those ideologies never came close to winning here as they did in Europe.  Except for the Civil War even armed conflict was confined to specific locations.

From the days leading up to the American Revolution through the Federalist debates and the adoption of our current Constitution, American leaders relied on argument, debate and ultimately the ballot box to resolve our disagreements.  The Revolutionary War was not driven by a cabal of dissidents willing to impose their ideology by force, but a last resort to resist the actions of a distant ruler. The disagreements between agricultural and manufacturing interests, northern and southern states, city and frontier, and above all advocates of strong central government and loose confederation, were played out in newspapers, broadsheets, arguments in taverns and public meetings, and the writings of literate leaders.

The intellectual foundations of the French Revolution were more romantic and less cerebral.  It broke out in popular uprisings against a weakening king and aristocracy. But civil discourse and persuasion through reasoned arguments were rapidly discarded as ways to decide how to reconstitute society.  Despite the worship of Reason that replaced Catholicism as the official religion of revolutionary France, one faction after another took power by force and executed en masse those who might disagree. Reason was replaced by Terror, as it has been in one country after another in every part of the world except ours.

If we look at France in 1789, Russia in 1917, Germany in 1933, and Spain in 1936 we see the same pattern.  Each had relatively new, moderate governments with mediocre leaders that aspired to democratic processes – the National Assembly, the Duma, the Weimar Republic, the Republic.  Each was overthrown by a small but well-organized group that was not able to win elections but could apply concentrated violence to take power.

That is why it is terrible to see American elections and legislative debates limited to slogans and shouting down of opposing points of view.  Our leaders from both sides bear a great deal of guilt in this regard. They have substituted talking points and one-liners for explanations of the reasons for their positions that respect the intellect of the electorate.  The big three networks and establishment newspapers encourage this behavior by ignoring any politician who does try to take more than one sentence to explain his or her position. For a voter to find reasoned arguments that respect data and try for truth rather than persuasion requires both expertise and willingness to work hard to find reliable sources.  This weakens our tradition of reasoned debate and democratic processes and strengthens those who prefer force to reason.

Protestors disrupting Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination are not even trying to convince anyone of the reasonableness of their opposition – their goal is to create disruption until they get their way.  They are just the latest example of the tactics of those who boycotted President Trump’s inauguration, the celebrities who advocate his assassination, Antifa in its violent suppression of free speech, the attacks on police rationalized by Black Lives Matter, and on and on. The American left is taking these tactics straight from the playbook of its totalitarian predecessors in France, Russia, Germany, Spain and failed states and dictatorships throughout the world.

The Democratic senators who are now using the disruption of his confirmation hearings to create further delays in a vote on Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination are thereby endorsing and encouraging the demonstrators.  If they had any respect for the democratic process and legislative debate, they would agree to a date certain for a vote on the nomination. That would both declare their allegiance to civil discourse and make the efforts of the demonstrators futile.  But instead they encourage every form of disruption in their extra-legal efforts to prevent a vote they must fear losing.

My father-in-law never claimed any credit for preserving our freedoms or rescuing Europe from the tyranny that its unwillingness to defend democratic processes brought into being.   That is just what he and his generation did. My wife and I go back and forth between being grateful that he did not live to see the current debacle and wishing that we could hear what he has to say about it.

David Montgomery is retired from a career of teaching, government service and consulting, during which he became internationally recognized as an expert on energy, environmental and climate policy.  He has a PhD in economics from Harvard University and also studied economics at Cambridge University and theology at the Catholic University of America,   David and his wife Esther live in St Michaels, and he now spends his time in front of the computer writing about economic, political and religious topics and the rest of the day outdoors engaged in politically incorrect activities.

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Letters to Editor

  1. Gren Whitman says:

    David Montgomery decries “refusals to accept outcomes of elections, physical attacks on dissenting speakers on campuses, ostracism of supporters of unpopular politicians, and disruption of legislative processes.”
    Let’s be specific, shall we?
    Perhaps Mr. M. has in mind the GOP senators’ adamant, possibly unconstitutional, refusal to even consider President Obama’s SCOTUS nominee in the last year of Obama’s final term.
    And that protester run over and killed in Charlottesville VA last year allegedly by a white nationalist (plus the black man beaten by his now-convicted brother whites in a garage, plus the also-now-convicted Klansman who fired a handgun).
    And John McCain family’s justified and commendable decision not to invite Herr Twitter to the senator’s funeral.
    And the GOP’s present fiasco masquerading as a Senate hearing on Judge Kavanaugh.

  2. James Moseman says:

    A well-reasoned, polemic-free article. It calls to mind the last Congressional “sit-in,” when elected officials of one party forced the interruption of the constitutional legislative process.
    Thank you, Mr. Montgomery.

  3. Tom Steele says:

    Were you this upset when Mitch McConnell refused to even meet with Merrick Garland?

  4. Patti Willis says:

    So very well written. And so distressing.

  5. vernon miller says:

    well said mr montgomery, hope some understanding comes from your article

  6. Michael McDowell says:

    I will try to be brief, because it would take a lot of space to rebut Mr. Montgomery’s highly selective version of current political history.

    He writes about “refusal to accept the outcome of elections.” American “democracy” is a shambles these days and needs bolstering. Trump lost the popular vote by 3-million, and the anachronism of the 18th century electoral college further distorted the outcome. Many many millions more Democratic votes were cast than Republican ones across the country, and this is a pattern in the last decade, but still the Republicans control the House and the Senate (that is most likely to change in the House in November), Republican legislatures, notoriously in Pennsylvania, until the state Supreme Court stepped in, and in other GOP-majority legislatures, outrageously gerrymandered electoral districts, shut down polling places and cut opening hours and early voting in poor and minority areas, used criminally shameful voter ID tropes, to deny mainly minority voters to cast ballots, and of course Russian hacking and use of massive social media bots, ALL show that Trump did NOT win the election by ANY fair means.
    Not sour grapes, Mr. Montgomery — inconvenient FACTS for you. Then we have your annoyance over the democratic right of protesters  to protest at the Kavanaugh hearings. The cynical but clever and cunning Senate leader McConnell STOLE the seat which hard-line Federalist Society icon Gorsuch took and which indisputably re-elected President Obama should have filled. McConnell never even allowed the moderate Judge Merrick Garland to have a hearing! Ah democracy….No wonder people are mad and don’t sit idly by. Shouting in protest at a hearing is not my style but those citizens were prepared to be arrested and no doubt charged. A defensible moral choice in face of certain dangers to a woman’s right to choose, campaign finance reform, workers collective bargaining rights, environmental protections, etc.

    Then we have the illegitimate President Trump — serial racist, serial bigot, serial liar, serial sexual predator, serial bankrupt, three times married darling of the bigoted evangelical hard right who give him a pass, draft dodger par excellence, admirer of dictators, multiple obstructor of justice when he can do it, totally unfit but enabled by invertebrate Republicans.
    Yes, some of us (most of us, as the polls confirm daily since Day One) don’t regard this president as legitimately elected or fit to serve and who fills his Cabinet with billionaires and grifters who don’t give a damn about the “little guy” this con artist claimed to speak for.

    You speak of “totalitarianism”? Really, it is totalitarianism which Trump would like to institute! That’s why he admires Putin, Xi, Duterte, and, like District 1’s political embarrassment, Dr. No/Dr. Do Little, Andy Harris, Trump loves Viktor Orban, the neo-fascist of Hungary. Trump embodies that wish to be a “strongman” but thank God for the checks and balances of the Constitution, since we can’t rely on the gutless Republicans on Capitol Hill to look out for our democracy.

    Oh and my father also fought in World War 2, in North Africa and Italy. He was part of the British 8th Army. He volunteered to fight, long before the draft, and he was indeed later joined by Americans whose friendship and comradeship he treasured. Dad was of course, like the rest of the British armed forces, in the field three years before the USA entered the war, after being attacked by Japan. Britain up to then stood alone against Hitler and my father would have had contempt for a man like Trump. The returning service men voted overwhelming to elected a Labour Government when they demobilised. One can imagine Trump among the America Firsters like Lindbergh and other tarnished figures who are now in the dustbin of history. Trump will end up there too. Sooner, we hope, rather than later.

  7. Deirdre Lamotte says:

    I love the mentioning of his wife’s father’s service in the Army to begin this utterly ridiculous opinion piece. Any sane person who loves this country and it’s democracy would see through the autocratic tendencies, mental handicap, lack of any decorum, honesty or love of anything other than his pathetic little self of this man in the oval playroom. To defend him or the man he has nominated to protect him from the prosecution he deserves is unpatriotic.

    It is self interest above country and against what my military family have fought for since our founding.

  8. Howard McCoy says:

    Talk about “Here we go again.” Lots of historical facts but short on wisdom and understanding…

    May I quote you, Dr. Montgomery. “That preference for power over thought, to coerce rather than convince, created the monstrosity in Europe that my father-in-law fought to destroy there and protect us from here.” You might want to look a bit harder and closer at the place we find ourselves today in this country. What your father-in-law fought against in WWII is rearing its ugly head again in the present day in the three branches of our government. Those freedoms your father-in-law fought so hard for are coming under the threat of extinction.

    You say, “The American left is taking [its] tactics straight from the playbook of its totalitarian predecessors in France, Russia, Germany, Spain and failed states and dictatorships throughout the world.” What’s more “totalitarian” than what we see coming out of the present White House?

    About the Kavanaugh nomination you say, “If [Democratic senators] had any respect for the democratic process and legislative debate, they would agree to a date certain for a vote on the nomination.” Did we see that “democratic process” when it was Obama’s turn to nominate a Supreme Court Justice?

    I could use some of the same learned phrases you use to justify your stance to justify my own stance… Come on, professor, put the textbooks down and open your eyes and heart and see what’s really happening to your country.

    • Deirdre LaMotte says:

      They won’t open their eyes because all “they” care about is their wealth. Period. “They” could not care less about our environment, as long as business can
      make the best returns. Our Constiutional rights?
      Who cares as long as we get a Supreme Court
      that considers Corporations “people” with first amendment rights. But forget about the rights of women, minorities and the press.
      “They” are the problem. Trump is just their
      simpleton.

  9. Brad Johnson says:

    Dear David,

    A well written article indeed! Your emphasis on the role of process, along with the historical facts of what happens when a society allows that process to be hijacked, should enlighten those who are capable of reading your thesis without pre-judgement.

    On a side note, I just visited the Normandy beach battlefields, it was a truly memorable experience, both awe inspiring and humbling. Given your passion for history and appreciation of the patriotic Americans who fought for the freedom of Western Europe I’m sure you will be as moved as I was when confronted with the physical topography our boys had to overcome. Safe Travels!

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