Sacre Red, White and Bleu

Sacre Red, White and Bleu

Political change is an inevitability. As society evolves and technology advances, laws must adapt. The adaptation of these laws is decided by politicians, and what measures they adapt may be sufficient to have them evicted from office by those who are represented by them. This eviction can happen by election or by forceful and possibly bloody removal. The latter is usually referred to as a revolt or, if sustained, a revolution. But revolution, like death, is not an instantaneous thing - there are stages that take place, and deterioration can be faster or slower depending on the body succumbing to its end. A revolution can begin democratically, but it can decay in stages to absolute anarchy. The best example of this is the French Revolution.

The French Revolution may be the most consequential revolution in history. Inspired by the virtues seen in the American Revolution and its Founding Fathers (particularly Benjamin Franklin), the French Revolution in its early stages can also serve as a historical baseline for contemporary American politics. Historical context means that what happened back then will not directly repeat to what might happen now, but it is important to realize that history doesn't repeat - it rhymes. There are many concerns that afflicted the French people in 1789 that would sound quite familiar with Americans in 2016; detailing these concerns may give insight to what actions steer society, and what repercussions may come from action or inaction.

First and foremost was the influence that global trade had on the domestic labor market in France. Colonization changed the trade patterns of Europe, and as France developed into a more industrial state, more people flocked from farms and pastoral villages to the cities to work in textile factories and metallurgic workshops. But the amount of unemployed in cities grew at a faster pace than jobs opened up; exacerbating the pressure in cities was a series of grain shortages caused by inclement weather and mismanagement by royal authorities. An attempt to secure French grain for French mouths by banning flour exports caused further price fluctuations as bakers and millers withheld some stock in order to keep prices high enough to maintain a profit. Cries of "bread and blood" would reverberate around Paris, leading to the terrors to come.

This can be equated to the angst American industrial workers faced when globalization made production of products in the United States less profitable than if the same product was made in cheaper labor markets such as China. Though executive boards turned great profits at this exporting of American jobs, the gains did not trickle down to the American worker. The only thing awaiting them were dead-end retail jobs and opiate addiction. Is it any surprise that nostalgia of a more secure livelihood would steer them to vote for somebody - anybody - that could bring back their jobs?

This links directly to the second point - the initial instigators of the French Revolution were not the poor, huddled urban masses. They were wealthy owners of property and capital that wanted to expand free trade for their own gain, which would in turn benefit France. But the proles in the urban masses did not care about free trade - they cared about not starving. They wanted a paternalistic guarantee of bread and safety, not free trade. The initial phase of the French revolution did not reverse the calcification of wealth, all it did was redistribute where the wealth flowed. What was going to the crown for investments and payments instead went to those who already held capital. These capitalists were heavily drawn from former nobility and had more in common with foreign nobility than the French people they formerly held feudal supremacy over, and though they abandoned their feudal titles, they did not so hastily relinquish their economic advantage.

Likewise in America prior to 2016, lobbyists promoted the causes of corporations and special interests in Congress with far more influence than those that could be mustered in the cause of small businesses and laid-off workers. This became particularly exacerbated after the Citizens United ruling in 2010, when any person could make a LLC and funnel money to an entity with political influence so they could buy the vote of a Congressman. These corporate lobbyists promote the cause of international entities with no loyalty to the nation and ride the train of free trade to the destination of profit, side-effects be damned.  And as executive board members get to jet-set across the world, one must wonder if they feel greater attachment to foreigners of similar social standing than their countrymen. Likewise, one must wonder what attachment the common American has toward the idea of free trade - what has it given them to make up for what has it taken from them? More important than the tangible aspects of the trade-off is the perception that the average American has - they may have access to cheaper televisions and cell phones, but that is a tepid advantage when your source of income is gone.

The third point is based on perception of who the common man saw benefiting from the economic system in place. In France, there was frequent fears of foreign plots to destabilize French society - either through starving France by buying all its grain, stealing France's cultural wealth by noble families sending their artifacts overseas, or foreign nobles plotting to reinforce Louis XVI's position on the throne by invasion. Over time, it became a position in Paris that those that held great personal wealth came to do so by weakening France - either directly by plotting, or indirectly by withholding the full capacity of their wealth from tax collectors. The fusion of capitalism and foreign influence made anybody with wealth a potential traitor, and as the French revolution progressed the number of initial instigators of the revolution were declared traitors and sentenced to death. 

Fear of influence by the "other" was very much a theme in the 2016 election. The overwhelming amount of animosity toward undocumented immigrants came from the right, and a non-negligible amount of that animosity was based on the belief that immigration was going to make America a non-white majority country. President Donald Trump's rhetoric before, during and after the election shows a clear preference for immigrants from a specific part of the world - the white one. The border wall that Trump pushes for is a direct result of this. Meanwhile, the left concerned itself with Russian interference in the election. Though revelations of the scope of Russian interference in the American election did not become public knowledge until after the election (and are continuing to be made public), Russian attempts to rile up American voters predated the 2016 election. Since at least 2014, when Russia forcibly annexed the Crimea and started a civil war in Ukraine, Russia has been trolling the internet, spreading whataboutism and conspiracy theories that infected the critical thinking skills of Americans. Today, Russian instigation of conspiracy theories surrounding the Jade Helm military exercises in the American Southwest was made public knowledge.

2016-ish America does have one significant structural difference from 1789 France. In France, the state was based around the king, echoing Louis XIV's proclamation of "L'etat, c'est moi" - I am the state. This made the guidelines for institutional change inside a legal framework extremely difficult - for instance, the French king had the executive ability to arrest anybody, for any reason or no reason at all. This made critical investigations about corruption almost impossible. America has, for the moment, a government based on the integrity of laws. The country is based around the institutions created by the Constitution, not around the person that inhabits the executive office. As long as those institutions maintain their integrity and independence from executive tyranny, America will not fall. 

You can lend your voice to maintaining this integrity by registering to vote and showing up the polls on November 6th. Do not take the republic for granted.

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