Juneteenth, Democracy, and Managed Dissent

Politics is now a “top down” affair. Permanent incumbents in both parties and their auxiliaries in the administrative state, along with business, media, and academic elites, now constitute a true ruling class with a common worldview. While we have an ostensible democracy, what ordinary people want bears little relationship to what they get from politics. The exclusion of popular sentiment ranges from traditional policy issues to those disputes that make up the culture war. 

What is allowed on the agenda controls what gets accomplished. Novel ideas might originate in academia or Big Tech boardrooms or among party officials, but the mass of the people are mere spectators, and their sentiments count for little.   

June What?

A good example is Juneteenth. Having lived in Texas, I was familiar with it. It’s been an official state holiday in Texas since 1980, partly because it originated in Galveston. 

But it was also entirely new to me upon moving there 20 years ago, just like the storied Battle of San Jacinto. Of course, I was familiar with the Emancipation Proclamation, but the details of the Union Army’s post-war occupation of Texas weren’t exactly on my radar, nor the rest of the country’s.

Recognizing Juneteenth is not offensive in the abstract. The end of slavery was a good thing, both for slaves and the rest of Americans alike. But making this particular celebration a national holiday 155 years after the end of slavery practically came out of nowhere. During the George Floyd brouhaha, suddenly every corporation in America pretended as if Juneteenth was a longstanding American tradition. But this was all new.

Not only was it new, but it had a whiff of gaslighting. 

There was almost no campaign to convince the nation of the merits of a Juneteenth holiday. Congress made Juneteenth a federal holiday in the blink of an eye, where it faced almost no Republican opposition, even though a majority of their voters were not on board. This contrasts with the move 40 years ago to honor Martin Luther King, Jr., for which activists labored for a number of years to persuade the public to establish a national holiday in his honor. 

Under the circumstances, making Juneteenth a federal holiday has a “spike the ball” quality during a particularly fraught time in race relations. The official name—Juneteenth National Independence Day— strongly suggests that the legacy Independence Day on July 4 will be removed as a relic of white supremacy, just as actual monuments of the nation’s founders have been

Some enthusiasts have already articulated this long-term goal.

Riots for the Ruling Class

Last summer, we had race riots across the country. The pretext was police brutality, but the facts do not support this as the real cause. Police killings, justified and otherwise, have been declining for years. And crime has been going up, particularly after last year’s riots

The riots were more accurately understood as a media and elite-driven war on traditional America and self-respect among white Americans. As shown by the aggressive treatment of the January 6 Capitol protests, the system is perfectly capable of suppressing dissidents when it wants to. Antifa and BLM are not dissidents from this regime, however, but cannon fodder for advancing elite opinion. 

Their message is plain: white America will always be guilty and white America can never put the past behind it. 

Predictably, ordinary white and Hispanic Americans are now less keen on Black Lives Matter than they were at the beginning of this frenzy. If the reward for denouncing racism is to be denounced further and hit up for limitless reparations, what’s the point? Americans believe in fair play, but not wanton violence, nor their own self-destruction. 

The elite meanwhile enjoys this racial infighting, because it is a cosmopolitan elite defined by its credentials, and they are succeeding in a country where many people are sinking into poverty. For the elite, the phantom problem of structural racism distracts attention from the real problem of structural economic inequality. 

Juneteenth, of course, is merely one in a series of elite-driven political changes. Americans do not want the country flooded with millions of unskilled immigrants every year, but that’s what they get. Similarly, they did not ask for the nation’s factories along with their good-paying jobs to be sent to China. Finally, voters in 2016 did not elect Donald Trump to carry water for corporate America, but that’s what Paul Ryan and the GOP-half of the ruling class served up. 

What the people want and what the government provides have very little relationship to one another. 

Manufactured Consent and Managing Dissent

Noam Chomsky usefully described the phenomenon of “manufactured consent.” What appears to have majority support is a function of elite control of the media, through which a narrow range of options are presented as the only possible choices. 

Although Chomsky is a man of the Left, his is a useful insight. Rather than merely downplaying unpopular ideas and diverting them from public consideration, lately actual censorship squelches criticism that otherwise would permeate naturally through social media and other unfiltered sources. 

In other words, the corollary to manufactured consent is “managed dissent.” Disagreement with the ruling class is only permitted when it reinforces their broader world view. Unfortunately, most so-called conservative institutions and the Republican Party willingly play along.

Consider immigration. Everything in the debate is treated as a question of economics. Democrats and Chamber of Commerce Republicans tout the needs of the economy for labor and the dynamism of immigrants compared to native workers. Critics say it pushes down working class wages. But no one says that immigration is a problem because it changes the character of the country, or that the people already living here should not have to feel like strangers in the land of their birth. Such beliefs are ignored, deemed irrelevant, and dismissed as pathological “xenophobia.” 

Similarly, on Juneteenth, Democrats say the country is racist, and Republicans respond by saying Democrats are the “real racists”. No one questions the racism obsession of our public discourse, which eclipses all other political and social concerns. Everyone carries on as if political debates are chiefly a question of how something affects minorities.  

What about the majority?

Democracy Spectators

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “The louder he talked of his honor, the faster we counted our spoons.” 

No one today speaks more loudly of the virtues of democracy than the Left. Even as the country’s white majority is constantly vilified, the Left speaks of democracy in solemn, reverent tones. Thus, to remain on the side of angels, the Left typically casts its political opponents as the enemies of democracy. 

This creates problems, as sometimes the people “choose wrong.” When the people elected Trump, his critics on the Left resorted to the deus ex machina of Russian collusion to explain his improbable victory; thus, the democratic principle was vindicated. Similarly, when changes to election procedure in 2020 led to serious questions about how Joe Biden became president, gatekeepers deemed the questions themselves a threat to democracy

For all the Left’s pious talk about “our democracy,” the “of the people” aspect of our government, including the people’s participation in decision making, is more absent than ever. Popular causes are shouted down as racist, and mere beliefs are now classified as a form of treason.  It is now entirely normal for regular Americans to be doxxed, destroyed, and separated from the financial system for uttering some impolitic thing in private or attending a public protest.

Far from respecting democracy, the ruling elite freely compares grassroots movements like the Tea Party or Virginia’s gun rights movement to terrorists. They even deem suspect any concern for the most important part of democracy: voting and the counting of votes. Since democracy is the highest good, and the Democrats won the last presidential election, questioning election integrity undermines the Left’s basis for legitimacy. Thus, the attorney general has suggested that election audits underway in several states best come up with the right answer or criminal indictments may ensue. 

New customs and new rules are appearing weekly, with the fait accompli being the chief mode of convincing people to accept them. Voting now has little to do with registering the concerns of the people or determining their preferences; democracy instead functions to reinforce elite opinion by ratifying it through a vote. 

Like Soviet or Iranian elections, democracy will become a form of theater, a tool of the regime’s ruling class to claim the mantle of popular support, even when these policies constitute a revolutionary campaign against widely held beliefs and habits and have no relationship to the struggles and demands of the populace. The real independence we once celebrated on July 4 will become unrecognizable.  

Perhaps it is fitting the country will have a new independence day, because the sham manner in which Juneteenth became foisted on the country is the way everything happens nowadays: elite-endorsed dictates, which manifest “freedom” from the burden of self-government.

 

About Christopher Roach

Christopher Roach is an adjunct fellow of the Center for American Greatness and an attorney in private practice based in Florida. He is a double graduate of the University of Chicago and has previously been published by The Federalist, Takimag, The Journal of Property Rights in Transition, the Washington Legal Foundation, the Marine Corps Gazette, and the Orlando Sentinel. The views presented are solely his own.

Photo: iStock/Getty Images

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