The Wikipedia tells me that Kabuki “is a classical Japanese dance-drama” that is “known for the stylization of its drama and for the elaborate make-up worn by some of its performers.” The three kanji characters the spell out Kabuki in the Japanese language are literally “sing,” “dance,” and “skill.” Or, loosely translated, “the art of singing and dancing.”
Kabuki also refers to the process of engaging in a highly stylized form of decision making in order to provide the appearance of legitimately coming to a judgment by fair and objective means, when the desired outcome was already known in advance.
Here in the States, we have undoubtedly seen this played out many times in recent history. The vote-counting fiasco that resulted in the Supreme Court selecting George Bush for president back in 2000 was certainly Kabuki. The run-up to the war in Iraq was Kabuki of the highest order. The government’s response to the Great Recession: Kabuki. The debate over the Keystone XL pipeline – indeed, energy policy in general – Kabuki. And, most recently, the Syrian debate in Congress. Kabuki.
The problem with Kabuki on the political stage, of course, is that when exposed as such, it results in a certain loss of faith in the processes and procedures by which a government is run. Particularly with regards to the two-party system of organized tribalism that passes for representative democracy in the United States, the people must have a certain level of faith in the righteousness of their team in order to provide validity to the system of control imposed from above. For when that faith is broken, and the people begin to actively question the means by which their elected representatives are selected for them by their aristocracy-in-all-but-name, they will experience firsthand just how loose that contract called the American Constitution really is.
Indeed, the concept that most scares our ruling class is that, when allowed to work unimpeded, the means by which our democracy works is actually quite efficient at selecting representatives that are at least somewhat aligned with the will of the people. For it is not the system, per se, that is broken, but the undue influence of organized money and centralized power that one might call “machine” politics. How else to explain the continued existence of a governing body for which the people hold a lower opinion than cockroaches, traffic jams, used car salesmen, brussel sprouts, colonoscopies, and even lice. Clearly, a representative democracy in which the lower house has only a 9% approval rating, and where the upper house is almost exclusively white, male, and wealthy is representative to only a very small slice of the voting public.
How much longer this can endure is anyone’s guess. The United States government has suffered through more than one crisis of confidence in its relatively long democratic history, each of which were ultimately resolved through the ability of the people, when pressed, to exercise their right to somewhat bloodlessly change their rulers. But, in no time since the birth of this country have the cards been so stacked against the smooth flow of the democratic process. The ultimate Kabuki theater may be the one in which the American people rudely awake to discover just how much power they have conceded while they were sleeping.