Theory of the Case

Like a lot that I post here, certainly of a political nature, this is a visit to familiar territory. I have often mentioned Carl Sagan’s quote about being “captured by the bamboozle.” (In fact I am bemused to discover that currently, at least on Ecosia, one of my posts is the third result when searching the term.)

I have also touched on the idea that’s on my mind, today, but perhaps it deserves a feature of its own:

It seems entirely possible that things can become so bad, that existing systems can be so unworkable, that an accurate assessment will sound like defeatism. Keeping things hypothetical for a moment, imagine a situation like that, and people simply rejecting the reality of it, because describing it absolutely does sound like defeatism. That seems functionally indistinct from the situation Sagan described: “we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. … The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken.”

Now obviously, I don’t really think this is hypothetical. I concluded back in 2020 that hopes for a healed democratic America were already unrealistic.

But what is the theory of the case, for those who still reject that assessment?

I have spent years building theories of the case, of American democracy under assault and how we might get it out of danger, then re-engineering them as events demolished one component after another. Eventually I concluded that there’s no longer a way to build one without incorporating fantasy, but only after I had built theories of the case which stretched the concept of realism quite far. So I’m not above doing that.

But now, seriously: what theory of the case still works even by that elastic standard?

Presumably Democrats are first supposed to defy gravity multiple times over and somehow keep Congressional gavels out of Republican hands in the next Congress. I can’t prove this to be impossible, though it is more than unlikely enough that one should think now about what one will say if it doesn’t happen. It also would not really seem to halt the deterioration which is ongoing, now. Even if we introduce a fantasy scenario where Democrats hold their House majority and pick up two more Senate votes, do you really think that senators will cast aside the wretched filibuster and start enacting New Deal scale reforms? (Do you actually doubt that there are other corporate conservatives, in that obscene millionaire’s club, who are happy for the Bobbsey Twins from Hell to take the heat right now, but who would openly preserve Republican filibusters if they have to?) I don’t buy that. But, even if we get that far, do you think that this radical Supreme Court won’t overrule Democrats’ every move—or do you think that Democrats will pack the court? Even if they passed legislation to do so, do you think Biden would even sign it?

Or do you suppose that Democrats will just hang on to the presidency and Senate by their fingernails, over and over, until enough Republican judges expire from old age and a Democratic-majority Supreme Court makes our wishes come true? (This amounts to imagining that Democrats will thwart Republicans’ own strategy and turn it against them despite Republicans having about a 30-year lead in implementing it.)

All of that seems foolishly unrealistic, but whether we imagine that far or no, we still have the problems of a large, organized anti-democracy party, and a larger culture which has proved entirely unwilling to recognize what it is and respond. One more frustrating election for the GOP would not cure either of those ills. Do you really think that either “big reveals” or prosecution for crimes will take down Trump and the Republican Party which supports him? Really? For all that I recognize the weird ways in which reality “becomes real” for lots of people, I just don’t think that even “Trump is convicted and locked up” would either cure or destroy the toxic party which created Trump more than vice versa. (I also don’t think he’s going to be convicted and locked up.)

It really just doesn’t seem like a valid concept, at all, to speculate that something is going to “wake America up.” Like, what? The corruption and abuses of the Trump administration, most of which constantly seemed implausible until they happened? Or a disastrously mismanaged pandemic? Or a war in which the villain, loathed by most of America, is continually defended and even celebrated by Trump and other prominent Republicans? Or Republicans sporting Trump swag and flags while attempting a violent insurrection, within the US Capitol, on live TV?

“We’ll get power and then implement the popular policies that make people’s real lives better and then they will vote to keep us in power” has proved so far from practical that it’s “not even wrong.”

Most people just refuse to confront all of this, and instead insist that the only two possibilities are “keep on muddling” or defeatism. They demand “what is your alternative” but I ask “what is your theory of the case?” I think the possibilities are honesty or denial. “Old normal is gone! It’s not coming back.” That isn’t a scenario, it’s what has already happened. “Adjusting is painful, but doable.” Maybe. At any rate, we aren’t going to find workable answers by asking the wrong questions; we might find some by confronting that some questions are now answered definitively, and negatively.

Yet, I also have to recognize that among those answers is the capture, of most of the population and culture, by the bamboozle.

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  1. Pingback: This is America now | Matt Kuhns

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