Monday, June 11, 2018

How Power Moves

Power in a “divine right” monarchy supposedly comes down from God to the king or queen, then down to the royal family, then down through the “peerage” to the courtiers, then down to the commoners. If there is anything amiss with royalty on any level, king, queen, prince, princess, it leaks down to the people. When something is rotten in the state of Denmark, you can smell it in the royal court. According to Shakespeare, it’s like putting compost on an un-weeded garden.

On the other hand, power in a democracy or republican form of government supposedly comes up from the people who exercise their power to vote their leaders into office. There is an assumption, then, that if anything is amiss with the voting public, it travels up to the highest levels. Thus, when anyone condemns a leader, he or she is condemning large portions of the voting public that put the leader there and the condemnation sounds and feels like hate for one’s country to some.

Shakespeare depicted power coming down in a monarchy in his most famous play, Hamlet. The old king is poisoned by his brother Claudius, whose motivation is usurpation of the kingship and the claiming of his brother’s wife, Gertrude, as his own. As he says, “my sometime sister[-in-law] but now my queen.” The bard thematically shows that poison in high places in such a kingdom leaks and flows down, contaminating everything and everyone it touches. There are corpses galore on the stage in the last act, all victims of poison.

The phenomenon of power moving up from the people in the USA is a little more complex, especially when the country is seriously divided politically. In my lifetime, I have witnessed the proverbial pendulum swinging, sometimes radically, from election to election. Sometimes those who want to conserve a tried and familiar course, you know, conservatives, prevail. At other times, those who want to fundamentally change the country to something different from the past come out on top. This intermittency is positive in some ways but divisive in others. Factions can become so enamored of their own point of view that they see no merit at all in any other.

Just as the poison of corruption moves down in a monarchy, the poison of divisiveness moves up in a democracy and both conditions are tragic. There was no antidote for the poison in Hamlet. Old Claudius could not un-pour the poison from the old king’s ear. The deed was done. However, there could be an antidote for the poison of divisiveness in our country: recognizing and respecting other points of view.

I know we cannot respect any opinion that wants the destruction of our country, but we can respect and honor other well-meaning ideas for the improvement of our lives as Americans. I am resolved to give reason and respect a chance. Those who advocate love are destined to bring about change much more felicitously than those who condemn.

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