The Byzantine Irony Of America’s Color-Coded Parties (Think Racing, Not Race)

Alan Keyes Former Assistant Secretary of State
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During the Reagan era the colors associated with the Democrat and Republican parties were red and blues respectively. It always made sense to me that the Democrats were identified with the color historically associated with the communists; and the Republicans were identified by the color that signified fidelity (as in the phrase “true blue”) — which to my mind at the time seemed fitting for the party loyally committed to the U.S. Constitution, and the principles it is founded upon, as set forth in the American Declaration of Independence.

These days, of course, the media has reversed the color code, applying red to the GOP and blue to the Democrats. In the spirit of the times, the best explanation for this reversal is an effort to deceive and confuse. Given the actual course of events, I think blue and green would be more appropriate colors. In light of the slide toward elitist tyranny, spearheaded by Obama and the Democrats, blue is an increasingly accurate description of the state of the American state of mind. And green, as it is the color that results when blue and yellow combine, appropriately represents that fact that, under quisling leadership, the GOP actually connives at the slide toward elitist dictatorship; but in a fashion that appears “yellow” (i.e., the result of cowardice) to GOP voters who refuse to face the repeatedly proven fact that the GOP now works in harness with its purported opponent.

Blue and green would also be appropriate because that color scheme is reminiscent of the factional split among the fans of the two teams that competed against one another in the chariot races that engaged the passions of the populace in the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire after the fall of its counterpart in the West. When I hear people speak as if America’s history is passing from Republic to Empire, I always wonder whether people realize that the empire referred to is more Byzantine than simply Roman. Like its ancient Roman counterpart, the Byzantine Empire was, in principle, an exercise of power without regard to any transcendent standard of justice. Though anointed and clothed in the ritual pageantry of a form of Christianity, it retained many of the features of the Oriental pagan world from which it was a hybrid growth.  

After the fall of the West, the Eastern Empire was rejuvenated during the reign of Justinian, by a combination of outstanding military and administrative leadership. That field had its counterpart in the social realm, spoken to by the person of Theodora, an athlete, actress, courtesan, and Green team partisan, who became Justinian’s empress. The empire’s orgies of strife among the populace (focused on the horse races and other games, but possibly infused with religious and political passion as well) had their counterpart in reported episodes of hedonistic self-indulgence that reflected the Empress Theodora’s multifarious life experience.

Thanks to the whole panoply of technologies that have rapidly transformed America’s entertainment culture, what may be the mortal remains of the American Republic appear in the garish twilight given off by the 21st century’s version of “bread and the circuses.” Of course, in this era the “food” provided , includes ingestibles that serve for intoxication, of one kind or another, rather than for nourishment. Intoxication is, of course, a composite experience, involving bodily sensation as well as the conscious perceptions of the spirit/mind (a union captured in the French language by the use of the same word, “ésprit”, for both).

Because it is mostly based in digital technologies, this increasingly pervasive “entertainment” culture has an aspect of programmatic ritual reminiscent of both pagan and Byzantine religiosity. Key words or sequences of actions are among the prerequisites for releasing its power. So is accepting the reality of complex experiences that mostly exists as projections of one’s inner life, since most interactions take place through scripts and images that are supposed to correspond to “real” people and things most of which are not present in the same “place” as the beholder.

This primacy of imaginatively projected experiences surely has profound implications for every aspect of human moral and social life.  I briefly evoke it here in order to invite consideration of its political implications. America’s political life has more and more become a spectator sport, like the chariot races of the Byzantine Empire, or even the professional sports of our own time. But when political “parties” take on the aspect of the Blue and Green factions of Justinian’s reign, what becomes of real self-government, in the sense required for the Constitution of the United States to be more than a façade for (or convenient distraction from) tyranny?

The factional strife of the Byzantine Empire could and did result in real violence, leaving thousands dead. But did they have any lasting implications for the policies and conduct of the Empire’s governance? Did the people who invested them with passionate allegiance gain, from that investment, any real, self-conscious control over the government of their society? Did their battles arbitrate the content of the laws, or the appointments of the people who administered them?

I have alluded to Donald Trump’s transition from “reality TV” impresario to political candidate before. It strikes me as a kind of hieroglyph, an illustrative event that has a meaning that transcends its immediate appearance. It must be taken in the context of what has become the media’s standard paradigm for our electoral contests — which is precisely the image of a horse race. In that paradigm, voting is like placing a bet. But I am always quick to put people in mind of the difference between “picking the winner” at the racetrack, and determining the winner in an election.

In the horse race analogy, the winner is not determined by the people who place their bets, but by other forces: the owner, the trainer, the qualities and condition of the horse, etc. When elections become horse races, and when parties become factions pitting fans against each other, control of the political situation has already passed out of the hands of the voters. This must be especially and emphatically true in a world where the information on which voting takes place is mostly derived from the “virtual” experience of voters, accessed through a digital medium they employ by means of rituals programmed by means utterly remote from their immediate experience and understanding.

What results from this metamorphosis are elections in which people vote for candidates who are essentially fictional characters, fabrications made up of attributes and qualities most voters can only verify by “virtual” means, in the course of experiences that may themselves be little more than fictions. But every time I use the word “fiction” I cannot help but hear the echo of another word, “deceit.” It’s more than ironic that in an age that purports to respect no knowledge unconfirmed by directly observed experience, Americans are allowing their chief function as citizens to proceed on a basis that virtually banishes direct experience from the electoral process.

It’s ironic to think that, if we actually constructed a political process true to the electoral college provisions of the U.S. Constitution, we would mitigate the opportunities for systemic deceit that now threaten to eliminate any and all opportunities for real choice from our political life. Tragically ironic.