This piece is going to say something that most of you with strong feelings about the Dakota Access Pipeline protests won’t want to hear.
The Malheur raiders and Dakota Access Pipeline protesters have fundamentally the same aim. That aim is opposition to the big government, big business, industrial-bureaucratic complex that is the New Deal state. The Malheur raiders approached it from a libertarian-populist and Jacksonian “religion,” while the pipeline protesters approached it from an ecotopian-localist and New Left “religion.” But politically, their aim is the same: Limit the scope of the industrial-bureaucratic complex that includes such leviathan organizations as the Department of the Interior and Bureau of Land Management, the corporate oil industry and the construction industry. However, each exhibits faulty methods of obstructionism shifting away from the focus. They oppose that jumble of institutions on principle, because it impedes the practice of — or at least, provides an insult to — the “religions” each group follows.
And what are these “religions” in either case?
The protesters’ faith is what we might call “ecotopian localism,” or the notion that smaller is better in all institutions and that mankind ought to live in total cyclic harmony with nature rather than exploiting it. And this green religion, of course, is fundamentally hostile to big oil on two counts: first, that it’s big, corporate and profit-oriented, and second, that it’s based on a carbon-emitting dirty fuel that powers modern capitalism and changes the temperature of the atmosphere.
Does this match the actual Sioux religion? It’s doubtful. (Note that a good portion of the protesters come from around the country and overseas and are presumably not Sioux.) But wouldn’t it be convenient and self-gratifying to portray this incident as though a group of ethically superior Native Americans are out there in the field conforming to our enlightened cosmopolitan views on climate change and corporate greed? Give us a break, Bill McKibben.
As anti-government white populists, the Bundy clan and their followers practice something you could loosely call “Jacksonian constitutionalism.” They worship and adore the United States Constitution, or at least its Second Amendment (because that’s the important part, right?) and, if they’ve read a bit more, they view Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson as the progressive infiltrators who subverted the constitutional system and put America on the “road to serfdom.” (But they’ve read Friedrich Hayek’s book as often as they’ve read our founding document — that is, perhaps a quote from the internet or two, if at all.)
Their main interest and religion, subconsciously held, is a golden dream of a small-government, laissez-faire, largely white America that never existed. But they believe it existed and commit acts of violence and even treason to make a point. They think “the government” never did any good; they don’t realize that “the government” was what turned the West from a quiet frontier to one of the country’s most vibrant and vital regions.
The pipeline protesters have been lionized in the mainstream press, a press that is still unknowingly thinking about Native Americans as the stars of Avatar. The Bundys and other Malheur raiders have justly been demonized, though far-right sites continue to justify their actions and occasionally endorse them.
Thus, the basic currents of American public discourse no longer emphasize and promote the centralized big-government, big-business collaboration that built America and made us great. On the left, hatred of the profit motive and a disdain for the very idea of American greatness crowd out otherwise-rational big-government economics. On the right, cuckoo, voodoo economics and a paranoia about anything smacking of “big government” rejects the New Deal heritage. As a result, there are few people left to stand up for the basic pillars of our prosperity and our security.
The basic model of the New Deal was a form of big-government corporatism — “how can each relevant stakeholder get what they need and have their voice be heard, in such a way that the broader public interests unites the private interests of all relevant stakeholders?”
Under such a system, modernized, the Bundys’ shrill cries for “limited government” would be merely one voice at a table of other voices, each seeking particular policy goals for their factions. The pipeline protesters’ sheer obstructionism would give way to negotiation between various interested groups, including environmentalists, land management agencies, oil industries, construction unions and others.
Of course, the pipeline protesters and Bundys would be invited to the table, provided they exhibited good behavior rather than the protest tactics both have been employing. They would deserve to have a hand in the process.
But no interest group deserves a final say over any matter. Politics in a free republic is a game of give-and-take, the art of the compromise and obstructionists who demand the submission of all other factions to their goals, however pure, are not fit to participate in democratic politics.