A flicker of awareness

There’s just a hint that some more elites began to recognize the reality of the Republican cabal, since witnessing this past week’s straightforward effort to overturn a presidential election.

Not just a Slate article. Not just Marc Elias, although he had quite a platform at this point and has seen his intervention against the coup lawsuits succeed again and again and again; the fact that he is saying the opposite of “the system works” is notable.

No less than U.S. Senator Chris Murphy has also realized that the problem goes way beyond Trump, and articulated this quite well both on the Senate floor and in a frank interview with the Washington Post.

Murphy describes how the penny dropped for him:

For much of the last four years, we thought the problem was that Republicans knew what the right thing was, but they just didn’t do it because Trump was so scary. I think this moment is showing us that there are a whole lot of Republicans who believe this nonsense.

This isn’t just a party that’s trying to stay on the good side of an enemy of democracy. This is a party that has a whole bunch of enemies of democracy inside its top ranks. That’s bone-chilling.

There’s a big element of “duh” to this. I mean, allowing that I’m an isolated nobody, I’m not the only one who has been for years pointing out the obvious reality that Republicans have ceased to be a valid political party and are now a dangerous campaign of sabotage. Indeed, the privilege necessary to be this deep in denial for this long is disgusting.

But the U.S. Senate Democratic Caucus is mostly a world of out-of-touch insider career politicians who learned long ago “how Washington works” and seem likely to be among the last people who will ever realize that their knowledge from privileged experience is obsolete bullshit. The fact that Murphy acknowledges having believed until very recently that Congressional Republicans still want to “do the right thing,” but have just been too “scared of Trump,” suggests that we are not dealing with quicksilver daring here.

So, good for him finally realizing his error, acknowledging it, and saying very directly that more Democrats need to speak up right now and “we do need more people looking at this as a hair-on-fire moment.” Uh, yeah.

The good and bad thing about his Washington Post interview is that Murphy also seems to understand many of the tremendous obstacles to doing anything about this problem. Good because we don’t need more horseshit about “working across the aisle on a bipartisan bill” etc. Bad because we’re, you know, completely fucked.

In addition to how late in the day this realization is, I have to wonder at this point if it will even last.

This seems like another instance of how oddly arbitrary events prompt political shifts. I still think the turn against Bush in 2006, and House Democrats’ move to impeach Trump over l’affaire Ukrainienne, seem baffling in their arbitrariness given how obvious those presidents’ awfulness had been for years. I also wonder, more and more, how much even those shifts mattered.

Yes, America got sick of Bush after years of his toxic presidency, and hammered the entire Republican Party for a couple of cycles… then the 2010 electorate handed immense power to Republicans, and now even thinking adults who lived through the Bush administration remember its horrors as some fantasy of national unity in the face of adversity.

House Democrats finally impeached Trump about a year after they won a majority, but the Senate left him in office, of course, and while Trump lost his reelection bid it has not really altered America’s long-term crash trajectory.

If more elites are now recognizing that fact, that’s good, certainly. I called Murphy’s office to thank and encourage him, in addition to telling my Democratic members of Congress to pay attention.

But there are no easy solutions. President-elect Biden is looking once more like “the man who will never give up on the system because the system never gave up on him.” The pace of events will throw endless distractions in the way of even the most alarmed and committed champions of democracy.

Above all, as Eric Sandy observed earlier this year, “we’re decades into the collapse.” I’m just not sure that any deliberate strategy of communication and organizing can actually divert broad historical forces of this scale.

In perhaps his most forthright comment, Murphy warns that “If this becomes at all normalized more broadly than it already is, they will steal an election two years from now or four years from now.”

Do our zombie institutions and culture have the capacity to do anything besides normalize what continues for longer than a brief instant? “If abnormality continues long enough, it becomes normal…”

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