The Enduring Faith in Secrets

People have a habit of responding to upsetting things, happening right out in the open, with a belief that there exists some secret information which, when revealed, will reaffirm their idea of a just universe. The belief is often fantasy.

This is on my mind, this week, as members of Congress stage the usual kabuki performance around a “January 6 Commission.” I think the fixation on digging up secrets behind the Capitol Insurrection is one very good example of this error. Probably there are secrets, but what real significance can they have beyond what happened right in the open for all to see?

The belief in secrets as a source of hope amid upsetting events is a pattern that has been coming into focus for me for a while. I wrote about it last summer without quite seeing a completely sharp picture. I began to recognize it years ago as the local battle over Lakewood Hospital dragged on, and multiple people became much more fixated on secret details than on the completely obvious. Looking back, I think there’s a common tendency toward this but that it’s mainly driven by a desire to restore faith in a just universe. It was unthinkable that public servants—local people, your own neighbors—were conspiring and lying and even breaking rules to liquidate a publicly owned charity hospital and getting away with it. Some secret somewhere had to exist which would unlock the doors of that nightmare and offer a way out.

That was not the case and I don’t think it’s the case with the larger nightmare of contemporary American politics.

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A Union of Consent

I read about British politics primarily as a hobby, but it’s also a source of useful perspective. One example of the latter is the recurring and explicit reference to the United Kingdom as “a union of consent,” in discussions of internal political fractures.

It’s a vague principle, but an important one: that political unions are not shackles for eternity, and societies which profess respect for fairness and self-determination need to allow some form of peaceful divorce.

I recently wrote my federal elected officials to advise that our own country (re)establish this principle in some explicit way, now, because I think that in future we will wish we had done so during relatively amicable and orderly times.

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Self-employed 15 years

Fifteen years ago tomorrow, I was fired from what remains my last “real job.” I have now been without a full-time employer for nearly three times my whole salaried career—and while part of the time since included extended temporary/contracting roles, it has been most of a decade since I last commuted to the office for anyone.

I have no real regrets about this. I like this arrangement, and while I suppose that some alternate career path might have been better, I don’t feel that I lost out on “climbing the corporate ladder.” It is also extra interesting to reflect on this as America picks at established assumptions about how much autonomy, dignity, etc., is reasonable to trade off in return for “a job.”

Beyond this, it is difficult to know what I should think or feel. Celebration of what I have, and realism about the modest achievement it represents, pose something of a dilemma.

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Policy vs. Tribalization

The past week has brought out a language of real alarm from a variety of elite voices, on the subject of Republicans’ rejection of democracy. Yesterday, retired general McCaffrey wrote this, which might have been cribbed from any number of my own posts:

Wild as this is to witness, a few things make me skeptical about its possible import. First, I cannot assume that this alarm will have any impact at all on either the larger population or the people with power to choose national policy. Second, perhaps a minor point, but it is such a demonstration of elite decadence that the demotion of far-right Republican Liz Cheney seems to be the main prompt for this alarm. Good grief.

Third, I’m forced to question the potential at this point for any policies or rules to contain what is a kind of cultural folk migration.

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The Republican Party delenda est

This is basically a separate post to emphasize, explicitly, a conclusion which I would think that I have expressed already at length and which ought to be obvious generally.

But, to make it real simple: America needs to dissolve the dangerous, anti-democracy sabotage movement called “The Republican Party.”

We face a very stark choice between representative democracy, and the Republican Party, and without actively choosing the former over the latter, the former will be destroyed by the latter, as is occurring right now right in front of us.

Unfortunately, American culture long ago sealed itself into a conceptual framework which assumes that national governance is essentially a power-sharing agreement in which Democrats and Republicans are always necessary participants. Most of the culture is still sealed inside this framework, except the Republican Party which is setting up a sham democracy which looks like the old “bipartisan” system on the surface, but in which real national power is reserved exclusively for Republicans. (Although a faction within the Republican Party is so convinced, by the right’s endless projection, that the system is hopelessly rigged against them that they have already carried out one violent insurrection and may go further, since the first one has not been punished in any meaningful way.)

My sense is that our culture is too senescent to recognize and respond to this danger, in time, but for what it’s worth my advice to anyone who asked would be to challenge, actively, the obsolete “normalcy” which assumes a permanent functional democracy that includes the Republican Party as an essential part of that system, participating in good faith.

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Late-stage Pandemic

It’s the last week of April, 2021.

It’s five weeks since my first COVID-19 vaccine shot, and one week since my second.

It’s daylight hours in a Groundhog Day limbo, in which time no longer seems to have any meaning beyond the wheel of dawn to noon to dusk to night, a repetitive loop which it’s impossible to define as having any ending or beginning.

That last one might be a dramatic exaggeration, but the feeling is certainly not just me; on Monday ProPublica began an official e-mail with the words “In an era in which time has grown increasingly hazy…”

Yesterday, the CDC made a confusing announcement blessing a few limited unmasked activities for fully vaccinated people, all of which activities people have been doing without masks or vaccination.

Everywhere it seems like this has all just outlived our capacity to sustain it, at least in the sense of an acute crisis during which we sort of hold our collective breath. There are many many caveats here, the most important being that I’m not an expert in virology or public health and you should seek one out if you want expert guidance on the COVID-19 pandemic. For the personal reflections of one 42-year-old mostly vaccinated Very Online American, read on.

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Seeing politics literally vs seriously

I recall some debate about whether to take Trump literally or seriously, particularly early in his presidency. I think this concept got kicked around enough that it was even the subject of mockery on Twitter at one point.

Lately I feel like my evolving attitude toward politics, generally, might be described as taking it seriously but not literally.

The terminology isn’t ideally precise. By “seriously” I mean that I’m certain that policy matters, and so therefore does political activity which influences it. By “literally,” I mean taking politics at face value, or on its own terms, of which I have recently become much more skeptical.

I think most people are in practice generally the opposite: they take politics literally but not seriously. The average person pays little heed to politics, but when they do, I think they readily swallow most of the concepts offered to them with minimal questioning. The average activist usually pays attention, but still takes a lot of “how things are done” for granted.

I pay attention, but doing so has of late made it harder and harder to take politicians and political narratives entirely on their own terms. I still think that policy matters, and that politics influences policy, but that process only loosely resembles official narratives about what the rituals mean. There’s a lot of pushing on a rope. There’s a lot of noise.

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What Capitol Insurrection?

This morning, Marcy Wheeler shared a blog post featuring an entirely ordinary image from the January 6, 2021 Capitol Insurrection, and it hit me.

A horde of Republicans decked out in the defeated Republican president’s flags and banners invaded the US Capitol to break shit and attempt a violent insurrection.

Months later, it’s like that never happened. Politics is carrying on exactly as it would had there been no Capitol Insurrection.

This seems like it’s as simple as this can get. America is a zombie failed state, just shambling along braindead waiting for the next chainsaw, as demonstrated in a few simple lines without resort to any of my charts, timelines, or arm-waving jeremiads.

Since the latter items are the primary fare here, however, a few notes on potential rebuttals or excuses and why they are nonsense:

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Reality and self amid the maelstrom

Thinking lately about what’s real and what’s important—neither of which overlaps completely with the other—and how to hold onto them amid all the dysfunction, real dangers and misleading indicators.

I have been writing plenty about the false and misleading, this year. Every day seems to be a downpour of dishonesty, delusion, wrong directions and la la land pretending. I can see this, and while it’s a struggle to go against the grain when hardly anyone else seems like they’re going to, I think I can make it that far.

But where am I going to, and where can I go to; what revised expectations of real and important should replace the old?

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The Senate, parties, and misidentification

The moment the dust settled enough, from the November 2020 election, to see that Democrats’ best hope in the Senate was a 50-member pseudomajority, I knew that it would be an awful mess. I was right.

The perpetuation of a bipartisan-majority “filibuster” caucus, in combination with the guaranteed perpetuation of total obstruction of everything by Republicans, cripples Democrats’ ability to govern and pretty much confirms that America’s political crisis is terminal. That’s very bad.

What’s almost more frustrating, though is that no one seems to have any idea how to talk about this nightmare or even a readiness to try talking about it honestly. I grant that it’s very complicated for a culture which wants everything simplified and preferably familiar, too.

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