Post-democracy America

As I watch corrupt sham democracy eat each big new hole in the remaining shell of representative democracy, I always feel a tension any more between dismay at how fast it seems to be happening and the lessons of experience about how long zombie systems can shamble along anyway.

Aside from the lessons of America itself over the past couple of decades, I think again on re-reading Gibbon recently, and on how long the Roman Senate existed after the Roman republic ended. This notoriously pathetic zombie institution (the use of which by America’s framers as an explicit model for our government was really Asking For It from the very start) lingered on for centuries after it had surrendered all power to autocratic emperors. The Roman Senate outlasted the republic, its own purpose, and even the Roman religion, by centuries.

That’s a powerful corrective to any expectation of a near-term catharsis, of any kind.

So I’m stuck, usually, with the expectation that things will get worse and worse, but, while some kind of explosion(s) are probably somewhere ahead, even they may not really alter America’s zombie-shuffle very much.

At least not for another 1,299 days.

Really the past week has been appalling, as is admittedly only too usual.

  • The “Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal” is not a revival of a functioning democratic political system, it’s an attempt to put rouge and lipstick on the corpse, and clumsily puppeteer it through some acrobatic dancing.
  • Nature is in a multi-front revolt. We’re living through events which, had they been forecast exactly circa 2010, perhaps under a title like The Revenge of Gaia, serious experts would have said “well, most of those things are possible, but it’s unrealistic that they would all happen within one year a decade from now.”
  • An Exxon lobbyist named on video 11 US senators the company basically regards as assets, including multiple Democrats, among them the chairman of the Senate Energy Committee.
  • More than 20 million American adults said they didn’t have enough to eat in June.
  • Russian military intelligence hackers are on a rampage trying to break into U.S. military and government entities—”again.”
  • Republican bugaboos continue to set the agenda for national media and even compel the NSA to respond.
  • South Dakota is deploying National Guard troops to serve as extras in one of Republicans’ long-running bugaboos, “Border Crisis,” and doing so mostly because a billionaire paid the state to buy this service.
  • Republicans’ stolen Supreme Court majority has been on a rampage, also, and today not only knocked big new holes in voting rights and campaign finance laws, but made very obvious a predetermined intent to do the same with any replacement reforms which Democrats somehow might squeeze through senatorial constipation.

Meanwhile… I could go on, and on, but in summary the overlap between people with authority, good intent, and a real grasp of what’s going on seems almost nil.

I struggle to have much of a reaction beyond unhappy laughter at the hopeless absurdity. It is not that this is really funny—it’s terrible, it’s a disaster, it’s a nightmare—but a lot of my other emotional responses have been squeezed out of me. I remember three years and two days ago, I spent much of the day ugly crying, after Kennedy’s retirement to provide Trump another Supreme Court appointment. But eventually I have to face what’s happening and adjust my expectations. At this point it feels like I have been squeezed through the stages of grief like a wringer. While not completely emptied out, I will note that a couple of months ago when I felt intensely angry about something relatively trivial, I went ahead and made noise about it, in large part out of entirely conscious appreciation for any strong feeling instead of just despair and grim humor.

I don’t know how people keep doing the five-siren-emoji rapid-response action alerts, or prefacing entirely typical bad news with the word “STUNNING” in capital letters.

Someone wrote back in late 2016 that the coup had already taken place, earlier that year. I think that the nature of slow, incremental, distributed coups d’état like Republicans are engaged in defies firm statements about “it was over when…” But certainly it’s a major milestone when the rigged partisan majority on the US Supreme Court declares in advance, so obviously that the New York Times reports it in very explicit language, that Democrats will not be permitted to enact voting rights protections or campaign finance rules even if they somehow overcome all odds to send the president legislation.

America is not even close to a commensurate response to this kind of airtight rules-based capture of government. Yes, “remake the federal judiciary” is sort of a correct direct response in theory. (Even if it would still not help with the deeper problem.) But America’s delegation of elected office to just two parties has proved Roman-Senate durable; one of those parties is behind the capture, and the other is perpetually 10-15 years behind the state of the crisis; no one really has any idea for what the fuck else to do. California, a populous coastal state which is the world’s seventh-largest economy and is repeatedly the direct target of Republican judges’ radical activism, would seemingly be in a position to lead a cry of “enough is enough” at some point, but its governor is an airhead distracted by and bungling a recall election, and one of its US senators is in an advanced stage of dementia. Which feels like a perfect distillation of how decrepit are even this culture’s better parts.

So, really, what is there to do about this. The most bleakly hilarious part is that we can scarcely even go anywhere else as citizens of a pariah plague state. (Even as America is far more vaccinated than most of the world thanks to domestic production, foreign leaders know that this statistic is actually the average of two Americas, and that while Blue America leads the world in vaccination, Red America’s low vaccination rate resembles that of its sister nation Russia. So a lot of other countries are just going to keep the door closed for now, rather than e.g. ask for passport, vaccination record, and voter registration.)

This is part, a small part, of why I did something very uncharacteristic a few days ago and ordered a lightly used plug-in hybrid car which is by far the most expensive thing I have ever purchased or owned. 1) Here is something real, at least; a useful means of personal transportation over considerable distances which can be powered by gasoline or electricity, 2) YOLO right?

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