The great threat of our time is the unity of the state and religion.
It’s happening everywhere. The dominant religion unites with the local dictator, then oppresses or exterminates all opponents. The religion threatens those who see faith differently. The state goes after secular critics.
The result can be stability, even short-term prosperity, if a nation’s business leaders throw in with the dictator. This has kept Latin America in bondage to its “iron triangle” of church, police, and oligarchs for two centuries.
This is the real threat to American democracy. It’s not Trump.
We pretended it was Trump because he was an easy target. He was such a clown, so obvious. Yet he only lost by 7%. He still got 47% of the vote. People ask how. It was the iron triangle. Churches, in this case evangelical protestants, right-wing Catholics and orthodox Jews. Wall Street, the oligarchs who run money instead of making it. Police, especially the unions.
The victory of secularism and democracy was narrow. It was top-down. Republicans still dominate the Congress and the courts. The crisis of our time is not over.
Look around the world. The situation is worse.
Islam is surrounded by enemies. India and China are ruthlessly oppressing believers. Israel holds the Holy Land and is expanding under Orthodox control. Islam itself remains split, between Shia and Sunni. Dictators, the more ruthless the better, seem the only way to keep people in line. Meanwhile, the oil power that keeps dictators afloat, ebbs.
Just because you’re paranoid, that doesn’t mean people aren’t out to get you. India is ruled by ultra-nationalist Hindus who see every Muslim as a terrorist. The Buddhists of Myanmar have exterminated their Muslim minority, the Rohingya. China is doing the same in Xinjiang, for the same reason.
Europe isn’t immune. Extremist Catholics in Poland are oppressing the secular minority, again with the support of financial oligarchs. Hungary is doing the same under Viktor Orban. Whether the dictator dominates or the church it’s the same thing. It’s inflexible, it strangles the economy.
China has made “communism” a secular religion. Mao Zedong is a symbol, like George Washington. The word communist has become nothing more than a slogan. This lets the regime go after Alibaba’s Jack Ma, Hong Kong protesters, and Xinjiang at the same time. Communism keeps everyone in line because you don’t know how the regime might define it. It can mean anything.
America’s oligarchs like to say “Red China” because they envy China this control over its people. They want that for themselves. It’s got nothing to do with ideology. Capitalism isn’t a religion. It isn’t even a political system. It’s the desire for control – over people, over money, over resources – that unites Wall Street with religious extremists and police unions. It’s strong. It’s half the country.
Against all this, what can I offer?
Flexibility is the key to growth. Flexibility is the key to change. Flexibility is the key to progress. It’s the only way to save the planet.
Democracy works because it’s flexible. People can change their minds. They can invite a dictator like Trump. They can kick him out. They can do the same thing on a state and local level. The interplay between levels of government, between branches of government, between government and other institutions, means there’s always a pressure point, a way to make things move forward. Dictatorships, no matter how they’re based, don’t have this. That’s why they fail.
Capitalism works for the same reason. It’s flexible. Corporate leaders who believe their own bullshit and fail to invest go down and take the company with them. Even the biggest are subject to market discipline.
At the start of the last decade General Electric, Exxon, Intel, AT&T, and IBM dominated the business world. As I wrote this on December 2, they were worth a combined $779 billion. Facebook, which was founded in 2004, was worth $817 billion.
Science and technology require the flexibility of capitalism and democracy to do their best work. These should be our trump cards against China. But it’s hard to play them if Wall Street unites with dictators, then uses government to go after technology’s leaders. What’s the difference between that and what China did, putting down Jack Ma over Ant Financial?
Arbitrary power, of any kind, is the enemy of flexibility.
But power is necessary.
You can’t run a big corporation by committee. The best companies are entrepreneurial, run with one vision. When a big company fails, someone new takes their place.
So-called liberals love to complain about Mark Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos. But they have secret knowledge. Zuckerberg knows Facebook is the new global phone company, not a social network. Bezos knows Amazon is an infrastructure company, not a store and not a cloud. They know their real missions, and they make their companies mission oriented. The market will discipline them if they’re wrong.
I’m not an idealist, but I do have an ideal. Flexibility. The more freedom of action, however that’s expressed, the faster society evolves.
The problem is that there seems no market for this in today’s America.
Conservatives have found common cause with religious extremists. Liberals have found common cause with government control of the economy. Both are wrong. Their fight threatens the very existence of the Republic.
People need to stand for flexibility, for ambiguity, for uncertainty. We need to stand for a balance that is subject to constant adjustment, for systems that make change possible. You only learn when you change your mind.
It’s going to be a hard sell.