Sunday, January 24, 2016

The Natural Law of Bullies and Babies

By Bob Ferris

You can certainly stake your future and life on a constitutional lecture about "natural law" and "common law"given by a diesel mechanic, a contractor, and a foster parent.  From Peter Walker's story and see also here.
Experiments have shown that if you ask a single person what the temperature of a room is that they will more than likely be wrong.  But if you ask twenty or thirty folks what the temperature is and then average their answers chances are you will be pretty darn close.   I think of this tendency when I ponder our country and this ridiculous standoff in Oregon: Here the Bundy Brood and their allies—including the Tea Party, Oath Keepers and Dominionists—are the ones declaring a 70F degree room 35F degrees with their wild claims about the US Constitution and the intent of the Founding Fathers.

Now admittedly there is plenty of room for debate about “natural law” and “common law” in terms of which rules the roost in the US Constitution and in what proportion.  There is also room for debate in terms of how much “natural law” is influenced by the Bible and what was meant by Thomas Jefferson, who was probably a Deist, when he wrote: "to which the laws of Nature and Nature's God entitle them…" in the Declaration of Independence.

There is debate too on how much intellectual evolution can be implied by the verbal trajectory from the Declaration of Independence which mentions God directly to the Articles of Confederation which employs the dampening euphemism of “Great Governor of the World” to the US Constitution which eschews mention of God totally.  How much of this change in language is caprice and how much was the result of a group starting to understand that they actually could be free of church rule after a millennium and half of obedience?

In ecology ecosystem strength and resiliency are often a result of diversity.  I suspect that some of that is at play in the United States as well.  Our diversity of thought—regardless of how annoying it sometimes is—acts “naturally” to make us a stronger nation.  I use the word “naturally” purposely because holding a wildlife refuge and community at gun point is both unnatural and un-American. As alluded to above, it is the functional equivalent of standing in that 70F degree room and saying it is 35F degrees, only in this instance if you do not agree with this mob you might get shot.  That is extreme.
“By a faction, I understand a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adversed to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.” James Madison in Federalist Papers No. 10.
I say extreme because in all instances where there is debate and a choice this group has elected to take the most absolute view on the primacy of “natural law,” the influence of God on “natural law,” the Christian nature of this country, and their sole ownership of “truth” regarding the Founding Fathers.  They would de-diversify our country and therefore weaken it.  And in a stinging bit of irony, they are exactly the “factions” that the Founding Fathers warned us about and showed us how to address in their decisive handling of Shay’s Rebellion.

The solution looks pretty straight-forward but it is not really that easy.  Because this Bundy Bunch is a mere the pimple on a much larger tumor caused by the Citizen’s United ruling—acting in concert with the removal of the Fairness Doctrine and massive gerrymandering—which has had a much, much larger “un-natural” impact on this dynamic of diversity by causing a disconnect between the will of the citizens and the composition of Congress (see here and above).

Why, for instance, are Rob Bishop from Utah and others pushing actions to attack or dispose of federal lands when retention of federal lands and maintain access in the West is extremely popular—even in the West?   Why also are we seeing a slew of presidential candidates who want to drive us towards a theocracy when poll after poll indicate that millennials—the next generation of Americans—are less and less religious than their elders?

I sidetrack myself here not to get lost in some larger and needed discussion about the democratic peril we now find ourselves in, but rather to define the challenges faced by those agencies trying to solve this situation which the public wants solved but those who often control of the purse strings of these agencies apparently do not.  Congress has been informed about this domestic terrorism threat from anti-government and white supremacy extremists but elected to close the office of the Department of Homeland Security that was charged with dealing with these domestic threats (1,2,3).

You would think that with all the Pocket Constitutions at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge that one of these "constitutional scholars" would have read beyond  Article I, Section 8, Clause 17 (the Enclave Clause) all the way over to Article IV, Section 3, Clause 2 (the Property Clause) because it seems silly to put people's lives at risk because some were too lazy to pick up the document they all seem to carry and  actually read it.    
So back to Burns.  The Burns standoff is critically important because while it is about a specific ideological conflict and how we deal with these conflicts in general, it is also about how we treat those unwilling to accept the answers offered up to them by our complex system.  In this latter regard we really have to ask ourselves questions about the legitimacy of any protest and the related issues. Are the people involved truly disenfranchised by a flawed system?  Have they been given legitimate avenues for resolution? Have they been heard? Are their arguments sound and justified?  Or are they just spoiled brats not getting their way?

In looking at Cliven, Ammon and Ryan Bundy we find that they all have been heard or allowed to participate in the system.  They have been shut out of nothing.  Cliven, for instance, was given a chance at responsible cattle grazing, has certainly burnt up court time, and even had legislation offered up to solve his "situation."  He failed at the first two and the last was declared un-constitutional.

Ryan Bundy has run twice for state office in Utah’s District 72 in 2008 (see above) and 2012. Ryan was selling the same platform he espouses at Malheur to folks in his own county and his extreme ideas came in dead last in a very conservative district near concentrations of federal land.  (If your show is not even loved on your home turf, one wonders why you would bother to take it on the road?)

And Ammon Bundy has run his family’s political dogma up the flag pole for the whole world to see and has received relatively few salutes, except for those that involve the mere minimum of fingers like the meme above. He like all of the Bundys have had full access to the system, but their arguments, platforms, beliefs, and behaviors have been found wanting in all instances.

So we are left with people whose extremeness puts them on the edge of the right-most error bar of political thought and who pick up arms to get their way which makes them not only removed from reality, but bullies.  Moreover, when asked to obey contracts, the law, or legal judgments they behave like babies whining, crying and ignoring their responsibilities as US citizens.

New Mexico rancher Adrian Sewell who says he will ignore his grazing permit.
In  all of this I cannot help, but think about the video recently posted on Facebook (click here) by the New Mexico rancher Adrian Sewell who has now joined the Bundy ranks (feel free to comment on his video, he has asked for input).  While he has the hat, stylish neckerchief and now the pocket constitution that marks his kind, there is something un-brave and hollow about his near whimpering video "battle cry" and rush to “defend” a document he has clearly not read. He seems not the cowboy of legend making America greater, but rather the shadow poser weakening our country with every misguided keystroke and uninformed utterance.  We all grow tired of this unnecessary drama.

[Note: After I published this piece I learned of Adrian Sewell's history of drunkeness and violence. In 2002 when he was 22 he threatened 8 Oklahoma State University students with an ax while he was on probation for a misdemeanor charge of domestic violence.  This standoff is attracting America's best!]

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