Two Faces of Institutions

The DNC email scandal has been generating a lot of controversy–at least in the Twitterverse.  A lot of talk has been focused on the apparently hypocrisy of the DNC, acting in contravention of the letter of the DNC bylaws requiring fairness–notwithstanding the fact that, from the beginning, it was obvious that the mainstream Democrats did not like Sanders and his movement, who, not inaccurately, were outsiders to the Democratic Party (1/3 to 40% of the Sanders voters being independents and all that).  Equally, a lot of talk has been over the probable fact that not a whole lot had been done, explicitly, by the DNC to overtly rig the outcome in favor of the Clintons.

I think these are mistaken.  The role of institutions is not simply to serve as the tools that can be rigged by those who wield them, subtly or overtly, to win the immediate outcome.  They are to serve as focal points to rally all potential members of the coalition around.  While the two might, in practice, be more similar than not, this implies exactly the opposite use of institutions.

If the goal is to use institutions as weapons to beat one’s “enemies” with, then there is no point in sticking to the spirit of the rules.  The letter of the institutions may be adhered to, but there is enough flexibility for a clever lawyer to find loopholes around. The Clintons and their allies can revert to their old habit of arguing over what “is” means, if a favorable definition would net them an advantage over their rivals, like Sanders and his supporters.

But, if the goal of institutions is to serve as focal points, inflexible adherence to the spirit as well as the letter of the rules is critical.  Perhaps the potential allies are lost, confused, or uncertain.  If so, they need to learn where the party is and find the path to where the party is leading them.  To paraphrase Shakespeare, the party’s rules must be as constant as the North Star to provide as reliable a guidance as possible, even if maintaining that constancy requires considerable sacrifice.  That sacrifice may be worth while if the allies thus gained can provide valuable aid.

Of course, the premise behind the second perspective is the existence of uncertainty and the faith that, if sufficient goodwill and constancy can be shown, the “lost” partisans will appreciate it and find their way themselves.  A useful analogy might be to that of a lighthouse.  The lighthouse serves to provide the path for the mariners who are uncertain about where they are headed, but are skilled enough that, if they do, they can find the way themselves.  In order for the lighthouse to function properly, its light and location needs to be both well-known and constant–with the knowledge known to all that a great deal of effort is being made to keep things as constant as possible.  Once the lighthouse becomes a tool of manipulation, the mariners would no longer trust them.  They are not incompetent:  they are skilled enough that they may still find their way on their own, but at greater peril to themselves.  Knowing that they’d been tricked, however, will destroy their faith in the institutions of the lighthouse in the long run, and with it, any advantage that the lighthouse keepers to extract advantages therefrom.  In other words, strategic manipulation of the lighthouses may frustrate the mariners who are enemies of the lighthouse keepers, but, in the long run, it will simply ensure that the mariners will be mortal enemies, since they will not, probably, be killed off merely by the evil lighthouse tricks.

The Clintons and their allies have been quite clear, I think, in their view that they do not view Sanders and his supporters to be a valuable ally so far in the campaign.  The so-called “Rendell strategy” has focused on winning over affluent and educated segments of the Republican electorate, rather than the poor and the working class. The behavior of the DNC is consistent with this worldview:  Sanders and his people are not, ultimately, welcome (enough) in the Democratic Party that they control.  Maybe they can get away with it this time, with the Trump campaign in total disarray, but this subverts the ability of the Democrats to expand the electorate in the long run (Even today, will they be able to get away with it?  If they do lose all of the non-Democratic Sanders supporters to the degree that a significant portion of them do indeed choose Trump, they will have lost even that bet, even if that seems rather unlikely now).  Lost trust will take a long time, if ever, to recover.  Rules are rules for a reason:  by adhering closely to them, even if they could get away with bending them out of shape, the elites can induce the masses to rely on them as focal point–because everyone will be there, so to speak.  If the rules are only for the little people, why should the little people abide by them if the only people they will find are other little people?



2 thoughts on “Two Faces of Institutions

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