A few days ago the president of the United States made a provocative tweet, as is his fashion, about the need to liberate certain states. This was immediately taken by his political enemies as being an incitement to violence and a possible violation not only of the (frequently unjustly applied) terms and conditions of Twitter itself but of the law, which properly views the call to violence by anyone as being a criminal act. That this is not so is a trivial task that will not detain us very long, but that such a thing could be believed and professed does demonstrate the sort of problems that our contemporary republic faces. These problems will detain us longer and they are a more interesting, as well as more dangerous problem that does not appear to be in the course of a resolution at the present time.
First, though, let us briefly address the question about how the president was not inciting his followers to violence in those states which are misruled by tyrannical leftist governors. The simple reason is that such governors or, if they are term-limited, their parties, can always be removed from office via voting or, in some cases, via recall efforts. The efficient and ordinary operation of representative politics, with fraud removed so that such elections are free and fair, is sufficient to liberate an area so long as the population preserves its desire to be free. One does not have to overthrow dictators in state capitals by storming their executive mansions and slaying the unworthy office holders as is necessary in third world countries without republican virtue. That said, it is perhaps not very surprising that a political opposition which lacks republican virtue itself may ascribe to its political opponents the very same low standard of behavior that it adopts when seeking to gain power. Those who view regime change as primarily involving anarchy through protests by brownshirts or through violent regime change and destabilization efforts aided by various institutions rather than through orderly and fair elections might assume that their opponents have the same low regard for the will of the people that they do.
The survival of unity in any regime or institution that relies on the transfer of power of offices via balloting elections depends on there being confidence in the will of the voting public, such as it is. If we believe that our minority position can be reversed through our successful efforts in persuading others that their interests can best be met by our proposals and that our principles are in alignment, then any electoral loss can be viewed as temporary and reversible and therefore not worth breaking up the unity of our organizations in order to gain or preserve power. This trust is not always present in either nations or institutions, but where it is present, institutions can preserve their unity. When this trust is lacking, though, it is not always clear how it is to be gained. After all, if we are unscrupulous and unjust people ourselves, we will assume others to be likewise. Also, if we have little faith that our opponents and rivals and enemies are people of principle, we will likewise not be willing to trust their willingness to avoid using power to punish political opposition and thus behave corruptly. It is hard to be just in power when one wants to use one’s power to deal with political problems, and it is hard to deal with the injustice of authorities when you think you and your party deserve power more than those who are currently in office. Yet to the extent that we are fair and just ourselves when we have power and are able to endure the slights and disappointments of temporary electoral defeats, we are the better for being in institutions where there is trust that power can be transferred in an orderly fashion and where no loss is permanent or irreversible, because it is only such institutions that can manage to endure the threats to unity that always exist between competing agendas and philosophies without the exercise of tyrannical restraints upon freedom by those in authority.
Do we deserve to live in free institutions? That is a question without an easy or an obvious answer. To live in free institutions requires a great deal of us. It requires that we practice restraint so that we do not abuse our freedom to exploit and take advantage of others when we have the power to. If we cannot be trusted to refrain from doing harm when we have the ability and frequently the desire to do so, then we will not be trusted with freedom or with power and we will be judged for the abuse we have committed against others. Yet if we cannot trust others to rule over us with restraint we will not be able to deal with them over us as well, with the result of the fragmentation of institutions and the breakup of any group larger than those few people we can trust. If our present world gives us any indication, it is that a lack of trust in institutions and the people in them is widespread to the point where we cannot trust others of other generations, other political parties, other genders, other races, other social classes, other educational backgrounds, and so on and so forth. At some point we will reach the point where we will only be able to trust ourselves and our hopes for unity of any kind will be just about nonexistent. Those days may not be far off.