When novelist, warrior-historian, journalist, filmmaker and all around polymath Jim Webb (D-Va.) left the Senate in 2011, I was sad to see him go.
I considered him a national treasure. “We have not seen his likes since Davy Crockett graced the halls of Congress,” I wrote here back then. I proposed that as a native son of Jefferson’s Virginia, he consider putting his endless well of creativity to a new and unique task; perhaps a task more suited to the times. I proposed that he run for governor of Appalachia.
After all, as I said, “We face a seismic shift ahead. It is already upon us. It is a shift from Hamilton’s model of centralization to an age of Jefferson and sovereign regions. … Without doubt, Jim Webb, born fighting native son of Appalachia, would be the natural first regional governor of Appalachia.” (You’ll have to hear me out.)
Events since have taken a turn, but not an unexpected one. President-elect Donald Trump has gathered the fire of the heartland to himself but I doubt very much that he is a Jeffersonian or if he even understands the meaning of it.
And why should he? After all, ours is not a time of Hamilton, Jefferson, Madison and Adams. They may, in fact, no longer be relevant to our advancing American condition, which should give us cause for concern.
I thought I overheard the phrase “Trump mystique” mentioned in passing on Fox last week. The phrase has been around a while. To understand this, to understand political or cultural “mystique,” we must go back a hundred years to Lucien Lévy-Bruhl, the philosopher who coined the term “participation mystique.”
As Wikipedia explains, “In his work How Natives Think (1910), Lévy-Bruhl speculated about what he posited as the two basic mindsets of mankind, ‘primitive’ and ‘Western.’ The primitive mind does not differentiate the supernatural from reality, but rather uses ‘mystical participation’ to manipulate the world.”
And that is what we are seeing today with the Trump phenomenon. Indeed, it may well be that is what mass media has left us with this past century. As Canadian scholar Marshall McLuhan put it, in our half-century, “the medium is the message.” Quite the opposite of Jefferson’s intention. In that light, Trump cannot be compared with other politicians but must be understood instead in the same league as Hollywood idols (“The Apprentice”) and rock gods — or, even in style, with professional wrestlers.
A very good observation by Joseph Brean of Canada’s National Post compares Trump to the god Vishnu: “In his novel Kalki, the late Gore Vidal invents a doomsday cult led by a charismatic blond American who claims to be the tenth and final avatar of Vishnu, a destroyer of filth whose arrival on a white horse heralds the apocalypse. He turns out to be a con man whose scheming wipes out humanity all the same.”
As Brean writes, we — America and the rest of us — are coming to a historic turning today perhaps as important as those we faced in 1776, 1860 or 1941. It is what I felt was just ahead when I wrote about Webb in 2012. It has arrived.
This is where I would like William Weld, a “Jeffersonian liberal” who ran for vice president on the Libertarian ticket last year, to come in. He was brave when it was time to be brave and we need him still. He and his running mate, Gary Johnson, may be the very last standing American Jeffersonians. Weld was an enormously popular governor of Massachusetts and I would like him to come back and run again, but this time, maybe, run to be the first governor of New England.
It is time for New England to begin thinking of itself holistically again as it did prior to the Civil War. As New York City does, as Texas does, as California to some degree does today. And the first item on the agenda as Congress and Trump attempt to unravel ObamaCare should be to bring back Romneycare to Massachusetts and expand it to all of New England. Better that way, anyway.
As then-Gov. Mitt Romney (R-Mass.) said back then, “One size does not fit all.”
This is not my idea. But I reached for it as one would a life preserver in a sinking boat. It was first proposed by George Kennan, the father of the “containment” strategy and probably the most important American ambassador since Benjamin Franklin, in his autobiography, “Around the Cragged Hill: A Personal and Political Philosophy,” published in 1993:
I have often diverted myself, and puzzled my friends, by wondering how it would be if our country, while retaining certain of the rudiments of a federal government, were to be decentralized into something like a dozen constituent republics, absorbing not only the powers of the existing states but a considerable part of those of the present federal establishment. I could conceive of something like nine of these republics — let us say, New England; the Middle Atlantic states; the Middle West; the Northwest (from Wisconsin to the Northwest, and down the Pacific coast to central California); the Southwest (including Southern California and Hawaii); Texas (by itself); the Old South; Florida (perhaps including Puerto Rico); and Alaska; plus three great self-governing urban regions, those of New York, Chicago and Los Angeles — a total of twelve constituent entities. To these entities I would accord a larger part of the present federal powers than one might suspect — large enough, in fact, to make most people gasp.
“States’ rights!” became the rebel yell of the Tea Party when then-Gov. Rick Perry (R-Texas) raised the cry at the Alamo in 2009. But since the Trump election, liberals have begun to evoke states’ rights, according to reports. And California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) calls for outright defiance of the Trump administration on environmental issues.
“A lot of people say, ‘What the hell are you doing, Brown? You’re not a country,'” he said to a room of scientists recently, according to The Sacramento Bee. “Well, judged by measures of gross domestic product of over $2.2 trillion, we’re the fifth or sixth economy in the world. And we’ve got a lot of firepower. … And we will persevere. Have no doubt about that.”
Brown invites other states and nations to join in with him. Governors are coming to understand that a few bound together for singular purpose have a good deal of power.
Gov. Jerry Brown and California open the gate: New England and other sympathetic regions should follow their initiative.