Tag Archives: America

Failed state, culture, civilization?

It feels like I am running out of genuinely new things to add about the corrosive storm engulfing us. Eric Sandy and I seem, largely independently, to be getting a stronger and stronger sense that “The brakes are cut, everybody. There is no exit ramp.”

At a guess, it seems to be staring us all in the face that the President of the United States already fully intends to pursue some kind of power play which might turn out like the beer hall putsch, or might turn out like the Reichstag fire, but is quite openly his intent.

But our systems don’t really seem to know how to handle that so mostly it’s all proceeding as it would anyway.

It’s better than nothing, certainly, that people like Greg Sargent and James Fallows have recently made clear, powerful statements that US journalism is still allowing Trump to exploit its failings as effectively as four years ago. But, realistically, the accuracy of the critique is, at this point, also a convincing argument against expecting that failure to change suddenly within the next couple of months.

I don’t think journalism is really unique in this regard, either. I’m reminded of Robert X. Cringely‘s proposal years ago that in a crisis, institutions do the same thing they do at other times, just more so.

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The Fog of War 2020

“What if Trump simply refused to concede no matter what” is not a new question. Experts and organizers have been chewing on that one for a while. But lately, it feels like more people are starting to digest it, as something not just hypothetical but entirely real.

Local blogger and alt-weekly veteran Eric Sandy advised weeks ago that “this is not an election campaign.” Then in the past few days, The Atlantic and Slate both published similar arguments that America is already outside of recognizable “politics.” Dahlia Lithwick was direct: “We have reached the point at which there is no reason to frame the 2020 elections in terms of ‘politics.’”

Also, Full Frontal reported last week that from each realistic scenario the Transition Integrity Project looked at, the result was chaos. “What we gotta do is win big” just didn’t appear relevant, and I have to agree that it may not be.

Other warning lights are flashing a similar color. So, huh.

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Adapting expectations

My experiences growing to adulthood in the late 20th century did not prepare me for coping with 21st century America. I strongly believe that the same goes for most adults.

The fact that so few people are even close to realizing how far off their baseline expectations are, let alone working through the process of adjustment, is part of the problem. But the major parts are other, much larger and much worse things.

In a post earlier this summer, I summed it up as “we don’t have functioning, even quasi-rational systems of decision-making” at a national level in America. That’s looking at it from one end; the fact that national governance in America has never been a functional system except when hugely exclusionary and injust is the same object viewed from the other end.

These failings function to prevent fixes to themselves, and go right on performing that function even as the consequences get more disastrous. This is the future before us. I have been writing about this for a while, but it’s only beginning to sink in how much I ought to adjust my expectations if I’m to go on.

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The bamboozle captures itself

After thinking about it at length, I have concluded that in the really big picture, America’s deepest problem is that national governance has never “worked” as a pluralistic system. Over centuries, national politics in America has involved two choices: 1) purchase peace by accepting a brutal social hierarchy based on race and sex, or, face ceaseless warfare.

This feels like a more or less finished theory. Rapacious greed also has a major, almost inseparable role, going back to the very beginning. I think bigotry is still, for what it’s worth, the deeper story. History seems to show that the reactionary desire for social hierarchy based on race and sex is a bigger and more enduring force. It’s easily exploited by plutocrats for their own ends, for that very reason; I’m skeptical that a substantial number of bigots, however materially poor, are simply waiting for a sufficiently aggressive platform of redistribution to lure away their vote. The bigotry is a deeply held if horrible value system, remaining embedded in the culture generation after generation. New Deal Democrats won a decades long peace which was relatively redistributionist, but they did it by accommodating the values of bigotry.

It feels like I have already suggested “purchasing peace” is no longer even a practical option. This seems kind of like a minor point, anyway, because such a “peace” is abhorrent. The most obvious practical obstacle—that the Democratic coalition is now so inclusive of women and minorities that such a deal simply wouldn’t be viable—is a credit to the direction the Democratic Party has taken.

There’s also an entirely different obstacle within the opposing faction, however, which has been on my mind in recent days. Aside from the fact that America’s relatively liberal coalition is no longer likely to accept a political settlement with reactionary America, based on selling out women and minorities, a big portion of reactionary America seems to have sealed itself within conspiracy fantasies which compel unceasing warfare, anyway.

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Democracy vs Tribalism

Picking up from where my previous post left off, in the big picture it does not seem like American governance which is inclusive of a diverse population is going to work any time soon, because it does not seem like it has ever worked in America’s whole history.

America only recognized women’s right to vote 100 years ago. It was another couple of generations, after that, before substantial, practical assertion of equality for women and minorities. That coincided with a reactionary backlash which has continued up to the present day. Realistically, then, dominant culture in America was united against acceptance and inclusion of diversity until the 20th century, and the end of that internal unity was the beginning of a cold civil war of 50+ years which is still intensifying.

Instances of broad political unity in America have, repeatedly, resulted from relatively liberal whites betraying marginalized communities, to throw in with patriarchal, white supremacist oligarchy for a while. The abandonment of Reconstruction after the Civil War. The segregation-driven Reagan landslides. George W. Bush’s “coalition of the frightened” circa 2002. Even the New Deal coalition, which sponsored massive egalitarian reforms, actively preserved white privilege from disruption by those reforms, in exchange for the support of racist “Dixiecrats.” As soon as Lyndon Johnson signed basic civil rights protections into law, the racists began organizing the Republican Party into a white supremacy alternative:

When the Civil Rights Act passed, it did so with Republican votes, even as it was signed by a Democrat. The compromises of that era saved the country, but they ended that political system.

Ezra Klein at Vox

Johnson’s much quoted remark about “losing the South for a generation,” perhaps once a model of dour pessimism, now seems like riotously rose-colored optimism.

None of this is new analysis, but, I simply have to wonder what anyone is going to do about it in the foreseeable future.

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What if: President HRC’s America

Not that I need hypothetical demonstrations of how disastrously, deeply wrecked is America’s culture. There are real demonstrations all around us.

Yet over the past few years, I have asked myself numerous times whether these deep problems would be any less entrenched had Hillary Clinton won enough close-call states in the rust belt to carry the Electoral College in 2016. Not because I think Trump’s presidency has been any kind of “blessing in disguise,” as it has obviously in fact been a nightmare.

It just keeps feeling like a powerful way to check how much has really been ruined already, to ask “what if the entire Trump presidency had never been?” That seems like quite an incredible improvement compared with where we are now.

Yet, in terms of the deep and stubborn problems and what’s likely in store for us over the next decade, even this thought experiment doesn’t convincingly offer more hope.

Various examples I could find from other authors tend to reach similar conclusions as my own, in terms of “what if Hillary had become president.” Basically she would have become promptly mired in the same political cold war which has been ongoing constantly since at least 2009, with even worse prospects for reversing the losing trend.

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Critical thinking amid a nightmare

Really feeling Kipling’s “If,” as another week of this nightmare commences. “If you can keep your head when all about you / Are losing theirs…”

This is difficult.

Today the Bill Moyers site published someone’s hot-take about how it’s time to rise up and resist physically instead of just crouching at your computer, and someone shared it on Twitter, and I read the article because I was curious about the inclusion of the word “strategically” in the summary. Unfortunately the article didn’t really mention any kind of strategic thinking at all.

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Ohio, America, and corrupted culture

It feels like our situation is deteriorating rapidly, in America.

Many eyes are on Portland, OR, and the challenging reality that the president of the United States is very explicitly dispatching secret police to beat up political dissenters and “disappear” them. The U.S. Attorney General now characterizes federal agents disappearing people in unmarked vehicles as “standard anti-crime” and “classic crimefighting.” This is really happening and it’s very bad.

Understandable that even my reasonably well-informed mother, three states away, barely heard of what seemed like a Vesuvian eruption within Ohio politics this week. I have already tried summarizing the scandal around Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder, elsewhere, and perhaps the most relevant information in the big picture is that arbitrary and even ironic technicalities seem to have transformed massive corruption from business-as-usual into a scandalous crime.

The reality is that anyone paying honest attention knew, all along, that a big utility was using political spending to buy desired state government policy. The well-intentioned suggestions of reformers that “dark money” is the problem and that transparency is the solution miss the forest for the trees, I think. From what I can tell, transparency is in a real sense how Householder landed himself in legal jeopardy. Had he relied more on coded language and implication, he probably could have worked much the same scheme without meeting the absurd standard of a direct plain-language “quid pro quo.”

Reality is, purchasing public policy with money is business-as-usual in America and “transparency” is ineffective as a deterrent, because forces like shame and restraint are crumbling.

Householder has provided a second example of this, in the possibility that he may be able to shut down the Ohio House for an indefinite period. If it turns out that our rules and laws provide no resolution for a House Speaker whose arrest on public corruption charges prevents him from contact with many colleagues—and who refuses either to resign or schedule a House session during which legislators could remove him—the explanation will probably be that no one ever really imagined a politician would do something so grossly offensive.

Surprise, lots of politicians including very powerful ones are committing grossly offensive abuses of power, and it is unclear what can stop them.

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The Failed State of America

At some point here I would like to write about something besides the corrosive storm, rotting away the entire notion of a functioning United States of America.

But, what else would I write about.* This is a big thing, even if it’s ongoing. Meanwhile I’m not, e.g., traveling much beyond my daily hikes around western Lakewood.

On the other hand, it seems like there is little genuinely new to say about the corrosion and dysfunction of America, and even less which answers this fundamental summation: “Sometimes there is no tactical approach that will address the immediate problem—all you can do is focus on strategy and hope to survive long enough for your long-term strategic actions to bear fruit.”

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Preview: industrial civilization vs climate change

I can’t figure out now how I even found this thread. The thread itself made some more sense after I realized that it’s from an American Enterprise Institute hack, though I still don’t know how I encountered it unless Twitter coughed it up during one of its reversions of my timeline to “Top Tweets” before I shut that shit off like I always do.

That aside, I still think there’s significance in my initial reaction: the thread is a summary of industrial civilization’s response to climate change, past present and likely future.

The context of the Twitter thread is COVID-19 and America’s complete botch job of containing it. The corporate technocrat’s response is unhappy acknowledgment that current conditions are unacceptable, and that some kind of small shared sacrifice from everyone regardless of wealth would help, but the real solution is entirely a matter of waiting for technology to restore control over this disruptive natural phenomenon.

The entire thread also seems like a dismally accurate caricature of how the dominant culture reacts to climate change and is likely to continue doing.

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