1,317 Days

It is difficult for most people genuinely to believe and adapt to a belief that the system doesn’t work, and not surprisingly, elites are generally more prone to this than average people. For this reason as much as any, I just can’t believe that American renewal is close.

It feels as though we are a society simply marking time, now. I made a counter of the days until Inauguration Day 2025, currently 1,317 days out. This date seems important because, until then, various limited but significant abuses of power will probably be on pause. That seems like nearly the only major reassurance available for American governance right now. Manifesting efforts aside, it seems very unlikely that Republicans can seize back the presidency’s terrible powers before then. This matters, given that their last presidency delivered not just vast corruption but e.g. concentration camps (even if they denied this term), an Attorney General publicly supporting a program to disappear dissidents off the street into unmarked vans, and Lafayette Square.

It’s a symptom of how complete the rot is that no one seems likely to be penalized for any of these things; on the last item, indeed, Biden’s Attorney General is defending Trump against a related lawsuit and media has recently picked up an attempt to gaslight the events’ reality out of history entirely.

If you read recent news this didn’t actually happen, what a great discovery, huh?

Meanwhile, of course, reforms to the nightmarishly dysfunctional system from within it are basically hopeless. In three months since Biden signed the American Rescue Plan, Congress has accomplished nothing, and a majority of senators have now committed themselves to opposing any rule changes which the party of sabotage does not want. There’s no evidence that public pressure is going to surge and make a difference to this.

The Biden presidency won’t intensify the dysfunction, but it can’t even attempt fixing it without a willing Congress, and it won’t punish anyone because “that would look like retribution” or something.

The Justice Department has been removed from Trump’s control and turned over to a theoretically responsible Attorney General appointed by the putative political opposition, yet the Justice Department is still actively defending Trump and his criminal associates, and even the optimists are back to hoping that “state charges may be Trump’s undoing.” Okay sure whatever.

Personally, I have told people that I don’t believe Trump will ever spend a day behind bars. Even if he is charged, and convicted, it seems likely that he would do anything rather than check into the graybar hotel. It’s easy to imagine him resisting state-level prosecution by simply taking refuge in a very red state with a governor who would delight in denying extradition*, legitimately or not. Other options include casting aside all coded speech and simply exhorting his followers, openly and explicitly, to violent insurrection.

Meanwhile the flabbiness against which he and the party of sabotage are ranged seems unlikely to change, and that’s a broader problem. America’s immune systems have proved basically ineffective against the virus of antidemocratic attitudes taking over a major political party; science probably can’t rescue us with a vaccine against this one, so there we are.

Even if Biden’s “mellow out, man” politics proves enough of a match to this decadent moment that Republicans can’t wrest away the presidency in 2024 despite limitless willingness to abuse power, that doesn’t offer us a real solution. Republicans have proved that their cynical, toxic combination of constantly feeding racist anger with one hand—overcoming the natural bias toward faith in systems and replacing it with faith in tribal identity only—while corrupting the system’s capacity to self-repair with the other hand is very sustainable in the medium-term.

This is guaranteed dysfunction, and I think the rest of the population has been responding to it for some time, whatever people’s conscious beliefs. I’m reading the third volume of Gibbon, again, and at the point where the rot is just so extensive that it’s very hard for people to avoid complicity. The Roman Empire was not just corrupt but so increasingly, obviously, weak by the mid-fifth century that the venal as well as pockets of integrity subverted its authority. I can only wonder where an Azimuntium may emerge within the decay of American empire, but even if one does, it will be a demonstration of the lose-lose nature of things right now. Pretending that the system is sound is complicity in its corrosion; being really honest about the extent of that corrosion seems likely to have no effect, honestly, but any limited effect is more likely to encourage more subversion than to encourage renewal.

But since things seem to be lose-lose, in this regard, I try to choose honesty. It still isn’t easy to know what that means, and I try to advocate what I think are the better of available bad choices and make small positive differences where I can. But I’m also allowing myself to think about myself and choices which make sense when there isn’t much reassurance to be had aside from the probable, limited refuge available for at least the next 1,317 days.

* Obviously I’m not a legal expert, but interestingly I am aware of precedent for this because the subject of my first book’s final chapter did this for years.

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