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Monday, May 29, 2017

We can see a troubling future looming for America in two seemingly unrelated events — the water crisis in Flint and the Republican presidential primaries.

Both suggest that America is moving away from the high ideals of President Kennedy’s inaugural address — “Ask not what your country do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” Instead we see politicians who say they love America, but hate the American government.

There is a word to describe the kind of government Michigan has and America is at risk of developing. It’s called kakistocracy.

It means government by the worst men, from the ancient Greek words kákistos, meaning worst, and kratia, meaning to rule.

Think of Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Arizona, Governor Paul LePage of Maine and others notorious for abuse of power and utter contempt for those who disagree with them.

We can see one of the worst in Michigan, where Governor Rick Snyder persuaded the legislature to grant him imperial powers to take over local elected governments. Soon a whole city was poisoned.

Snyder, like all leaders seeking to replace self-governance with dictatorship, claims that he acted solely in the best interests of the people. Snyder’s administration did not just fail to forcefully correct the evil it had wrought; it actively tried to hide the awful truth, another badge of dictators.

When the official secret was finally exposed, Snyder showed himself to be at best a slothful minimalist in fixing his mess. He also made what he claimed as a full disclosure, while withholding the most important documents about his toxic administration.

On television you may have seen National Guard troops, called up by Snyder, handing out bottled water. It was a cynical PR stunt: Seven Guardsmen at one location in a city of 99,000 people.

An accountant by profession, who calls himself a tough nerd, Snyder fields mass phone calls rather than take charge in Flint, the once prosperous home of Buick made famous in Michael Moore’s 1989 documentary Roger & Me.

Snyder tries to shift blame to people he appointed. And he remains focused on corporate tax favors, not the people of Flint, a city with a slight black majority.

To those who insist racism is in the past, Snyder’s behavior shows that racialized politics endure.

Bad as poisoning an entire city is, that’s nothing compared to what the Republican candidates for the White House propose – more war, more tax cuts for the rich, massive surveillance and a host of other policies fit not for a land of liberty, but a police state.

Think about Chris Christie, the New Jersey fabulist who misleads about his appointment as U.S. Attorney for the Garden State and who mocks people who say he should be doing more to address shore flooding since Hurricane Sandy in 2012. There’s his false justification for stopping a replacement for the century-old rail tunnel between his state and Manhattan, and his aggressively hiding of the facts about the dangerous George Washington bridge lane closures by his aides.

But the monstrous wrongdoing of Snyder and the incompetency and mendaciousness of Christie pale next to some other GOP presidential wannabes. Many of them love war, especially now that, having avoided military service in their youth, they’re too old to face enemy fire on the battlefield.

Senator Ted Cruz wants to “carpet bomb ISIS into oblivion” until the sand “glows in the dark.” Asked about the legality of this, Cruz doubled down during the Fox News debate last month. The Texas senator thinks this is a brilliant military strategy, even though actual experts think it is a terrible idea and so does America’s top general in Iraq.

By the way, indiscriminately bombing civilians is a war crime.

Donald Trump favors the policies of Mexican drug cartels and the most vicious Mafia bosses. He doesn’t just want to wipe out those seeking to create the Islamic State in Syria and the Levant. Trump vows to kill their families, too. Challenged by a college student on this, Trump too doubled down.

It was fellow candidate-at-the-time Rand Paul, the libertarian senator from Kentucky, who pointed out that killing the families of combatants is a war crime.

Of course killing families would only stir hatred of America and lead to more violence. Sending Americans once again into Middle East combat would only enrage more young Muslim men, which is why I earlier described Trump as ISIS’ chief recruitment officer.

Trump would also break up families by arresting 11 million or so immigrants who are here illegally; bar any Muslim from entering the country; spy on mosques; impose tariffs; punish corporations that make investments he dislikes, among his long list of promised extra-Constitutional actions.

Asked about what laws authorize his proposals, Trump claims unnamed experts are on his side.

Trump’s proposal is not so much for a term or two as president, but for a Trump dictatorship. (see Snyder, Rick; imperial powers).

Then there’s the vile language Trump uses, claiming variously that he was just repeating what someone else said or that he will not be forced into political correctness. Evidently Trump’s mother failed at teaching him any manners. The Presbyterian Church, which Trump recently made a public show of attending, also failed at teaching him about asking God for forgiveness, about the sacraments, the names of Biblical chapters, and the last five of the Ten Commandments.

Except for the now-departed Rand Paul, the Republican presidential candidates talk easily of war, almost as if they were proposing a picnic.  And they all insist we need a bigger military, even though more than 40 percent of all military spending worldwide is American.

ISIS is a pipsqueak threat, nothing like the Soviet Union during the Cold War or the Axis powers of World War II.  Yet the Republicans encourage us to live in fear. ISIS is failing and can do no more than harry us, but Trump, Cruz, and some of the other candidates would have us give up our liberties and grant them powers that the framers of our Constitution explicitly denied the executive branch.

Other Republicans have shown their lack of knowledge to be almost Trumpian in its vacuity, especially Senator Marco Rubio and Dr. Ben Carson. The one woman who was running on the GOP side, Carly Fiorina, has a track record in business (and veracity) that deserves boos, not applause.

On top of this the Republicans, everywhere, continue marketing the economic snake oil that what ails our economy is that the rich do not have enough and are in dire need of more tax cuts.

We should not be surprised that in so many places our governments are under the control of men and women who are careless, destructive, incompetent, and passive-aggressive.

Since Ronald Reagan declared in his 1981 inaugural address “government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem” we have seen more and more people who hate government going into government.

A government run by people who believe it is bad will, of course, make it fail. They are dedicated not to making our government work for us, but to making their own worst beliefs about government come true. We see this at every level from Uncle Sam down to the local school boards that try to replace biological science with religious beliefs.

Big business has learned to take advantage of government run by those who despite it. With cronies in high places big companies find it much easier to mine gold from the Treasury than the market, the subject of my book Free Lunch.

Our Constitution makes the federal government ours. We choose our leaders. We decide what powers they can exercise. And if we elect people who are nasty, brutish, or megalomaniacal we have no one to blame but ourselves.

That anyone in America would think that any of the Republican candidates, save Governor John Kasich of Ohio, is competent to hold office shows how easily politics can drift from ideals to the basest attitudes. (More than three dozen progressive members of Congress told me this month that while they don’t agree with Kasich on most issues, he is unquestionably competent.)

The Founders warned us to beware of those who lust for power.

Now we see on full display those who lust not just for the authority our Constitution conveys on the Office of President, but who seek to do as they please without regard for the checks and balances of our Constitution, without regard for thoughtful strategies in dealing with foreign powers and would-be powers, and without regard for human life, not just among the wives and children of ISIS combatants, but among those American citizens who are poor, black, Latino, Muslim — or happen to live in Flint.

Kakistocracy. Use that word. Get others talking about what it means.

Photo: Ted Cruz greets businessman Donald Trump onstage as they address a Tea Party rally against th0e Iran nuclear deal at the U.S. Capitol in Washington September 9, 2015.  REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst      

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