We last wrapped with the healing of the Greek Orthodox churches from the schismatic royalist efforts in the 1930’s. Characters like Vasilios Komvopoulos of Chaldea were nothing more than political pariah and Venizelos was swept back into power with an overwhelming majority.
One could be forgiven for thinking this was headed towards a happy ending. Royalist political parties were on the fringes, the church was healing and Venizelos style liberalism had won.
How was I wrong! Little had changed, and tensions remained high between the liberals and conservatives. In 1932, the conservative people’s party came to power in a split election and Venizelos escaped yet another assassination attempt. The liberals tried to nullify the results via a coup route twice but failed. Venizelos fled the country and the continued escalation finally resulted in the Metaxas dictatorship by the late 1930’s.
What shocked me was that this pattern of escalation between the conservatives and liberals mirrored the political landscape of early 20th century Spain. Liberals wanted to reform a government and economy dominated by very established interests. Those who benefited from the status quo were going to resist any attempts at reform which might undermine their established position.
There was a longstanding antagonism between these two sides, which resulted in multiple attempts at starting and stopping democracy in that country.
In 1931, a republic was established a second time around however divisions were too great for any real progress to be made. Coups and violence defined the short republic before the country erupted into a full civil war in 1936 resulting in the dictatorship of Francisco Franco.
Other nations defined by extreme political polarization in a democratic type government include Weimar Germany, Early 20th Century Portugal, Poland, and Albania.
History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does Rhyme
There is a very similar erosion of governmental legitimacy and hyper-escalation of fighting between the right and left in the United States. We are currently seeing a level of political polarization which mirrors the time just before the Civil War. The following examples demonstrate the new bitter political reality:
- Turf battles on college campuses between the Alt-Right and Antifa that mirror gang warfare
- Mass protests of both the Tea Party and Anti-Trump coalitions
- The recent assassination attempts on Steve Scalise and Gabrielle Giffords highlight
Both far left and right leaning press only add partisan acrimony to a populace looking to reaffirm previously existing beliefs.
Several major correlations to the Greek and Spanish situation can be observed:
Erosion of Governmental Legitimacy
Legitimacy is always something we’ve taken for granted in the United States. The losing parties accept the outcome, adjust their tactics for the next round in a couple of years. However, a core condition of any dysfunctional republic is this lack of acceptance by the minority party and their supporters of the elected government.
Political legitimacy of the elected government in the United States really took a shock due to the perceptions that congress acts to the interests of lobbyists more than the voters. This isn’t something new, most notably reflected in the rise of the tea party during the previous administration.
Reconciliation is Unlikely
A partisan press is only adding fuel to the fire as a non-stop stream of opinion pieces. It’s difficult to find reliable news sources, much less separating political beliefs, fake news and real events.
Those who are on the edges of the political spectrum are committed to their ideologies, and won’t accept defeat easily, much less that they are wrong. This ideology mirrors fanatical religious movements.
Escalation is Likely
Historically, the problem with a change in government is that the supporters of the new minority party get to play by the same rules (and many times worse) that were established under the previous regime.
It should be no surprise at the end of the Trump presidency (and assuming a Democrat
takes office), that tensions should be at a minimum as bad as they are now. The main difference will have the Republicans pulling the levers of undermining the government.
The End Game
Without careful action by this government or one of the next, these divisions are unlikely to heal. Given that there are a number of beneficiaries of the status quo, they need to be managed before any sort of real change can happen. If our republic is to survive, it will require a serious intervention from a very strong leader in the future against the fringe elements.