Tag Archives: America

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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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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The Police

Police, crime and gun violence have been much on my mind the past few days, and it all feels like a key example of how our sociocultural infrastructure is misaligned and wrecking itself and defies fixing and is probably going to blow up.

Executive summary:

Police officers just keep on shooting and killing unarmed Black people, largely without consequence, and my own Twitter feed reflects all day long the outraged responses of “all cops are bastards,” “abolition now,” “you can’t reform evil,” etc.

At the very same time a few violent crimes close together, here in Lakewood, have people screaming “where are the fucking cops” and lashing out, calling for the mayor’s head, forming (armchair) vigilante groups on Facebook, etc.

To the extent that there exists “an answer” to this, I think it lies at least as much in other directions e.g. the gun-crazy political-industrial complex, as it does “somewhere in the middle.”

But this is America, the many reinforcing features of our toxic culture include constant and powerful infantilizing systems, and all things must be either 100% bad or 100% good and any kind of other suggestion is widely offensive, and basically, like I was saying the other day.

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Genuine Border Problems

I have been thinking about this topic, lately, but a line from this Guardian editorial offered a very valuable perspective: “There are few states in Europe today with the same boundaries that they had a century ago.” To be honest the editorial’s intent is a little unclear; it seems to imply that static borders for centuries are a rarity, but then argues that this necessitates extra effort to preserve the century-old UK borders.

From my own perspective, it seems like a much more useful premise to recognize that static borders for centuries are a rarity, and that this has a lot of relevance for America, which has had basically unchanged borders for 150 years.

Yes, you can pepper that statement with asterisks, but a map of the United States has mostly looked the same since the end of the Civil War. That’s a long time, quite a bit has changed, and yet we have made negligible changes to the mostly arbitrary lines which are increasingly unhelpful.

It’s partly but not entirely an ironic coincidence that much noise within US politics concerns “borders,” but mostly avoids conversation about maps.

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Honesty about disaster

Several years ago, I wrote in Cotton’s Library about the political breakdown which flummoxed the Jacobean antiquarian and courtier, Sir Robert Cotton:

In evaluating his political career, Cotton comes across as a Jacobean Cicero. Like the influential senator at the end of Rome’s republic, Cotton stood in the very middle of a constitutional system buckling and splintering under strain, yet never saw any possible solution but voluntary moderation of the competing forces. The relatively respectful and effective interplay between Elizabeth and her parliaments during Cotton’s early life always remained his model of how English government worked. As political relations deteriorated under the Stuarts he did not see a failure of the system; the system was perfect, and the need for change lay not with it, but with the people within it.

I have since concluded that, in a sense, Cotton’s attitude was both wrong and right, about a political paradox which may be universal. I feel confident that some political systems are so flawed as to be unworkable, but I have begun to suspect that there may not be any set of rules and institutions so perfect that they remain effective when too many people simply stop believing in them.

That’s now happening right in front of us, in America.

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The unmentionable Republican problem

Fraud on the political right is a massive, crisis-proportion problem in America but cultural taboos and other habits prohibit any mainstream recognition of this.

Republicans’ 2020 convention produced a platform which was literally just unconditional support for bigoted conman Donald J. Trump. No policies, no values, nothing. State parties are, if possible, even more radically cultish.

This is not new, either, and there is no “bipartisan” symmetry. A dozen years ago, Democrats’ fractious coalition managed for the sake of compromise and governing to coalesce in support of the Republican healthcare reform option, and in response Republicans coalesced around total opposition to it. The subsequent we-have-always-been-at-war-with-Eastasia narrative was the main message of Republicans for a decade. They have, of course, never proposed any sincere alternative in all this time; “Trumpcare” was not only terrible policy but even within the Republican caucus was never even real policy, just a game of hot-potato and plain old lying.

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La la land

I already established the theme of this post a month ago, the short version of which is “the fundamental reality surrounding us is a disaster, and for individuals the additional choice to confront that is made even more unappealing by the huge number of people engaged in some form or another of escapist play-pretend.”

The past week has served up more and more of this on basically every front. I have adopted the term “la la land” as shorthand for the many forms of reality-denying nonsense, especially the energetic promotion of one after another new reform bills which are all pure fantasy absent a revolution within the US Senate.

I mockingly asked last week if people believe that the Senate is a dam, which simply must burst if a large enough flood of legislation builds up behind it. Honestly I would like to believe that some theory resembling this really is circulating among Democratic reformers. If there’s any hope for Senate Democrats’ pseudo-majority to overcome the Republican obstruction and the small but critical number of Democrats enabling it, it seems like it will involve every interest within the Democratic coalition insisting on it. Introducing legislation which coalition members really want, e.g. the PRO Act, would plausibly encourage such an uprising. I don’t assume that this would work, but it would at least be a “theory of the case.”

I suspect not, though. Also last week, I literally called the office of my representative to the US House and asked if there is any theory of the case, or if the party is just giving up and introducing message bills now; the staff’s response was basically a that’s-how-things-are shrug.

More significantly, it just seems like nearly everyone is adrift in la la land, all the time.

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America’s Politics Not Fit for Purpose

The American political system does not solve problems, or even resolve disputes, at a national level.

This feels like a big-picture understanding of failed-state reality, above the day to day or even year to year blowups.

A good political system ought to solve broad problems of society, and create better and fairer conditions over time. But for a political system to qualify as functional at all, it ought to resolve some disputes. Even if one credits a political system of endless unresolved disputes with being at least preferable, compared with those fights playing out through violence, this does not seem stable beyond a short term. If arguments just fester, while infrastructure decays, explosions seem inevitable.

As America draws near a decade since the optimistic forecast “that the fever may break” soon, I believe we may say that our political system is just not fit for purpose at a national level. I know I say this kind of thing, a lot, but this fundamental futility seems important.

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This unraveling reality

Several months ago I wrote about “a point where it seems like the madness is enveloping us, and the question of whether or not to embrace it seems increasingly academic.”

It does not feel like America has distanced itself from that point.

The toxic Republican Party has been prying and pulling America away from reality, actively, for decades, ever since a critical mass of Republican elites wrote off any possibility of having an inclusive democracy, being honest about the consequences of their policy goals, and still advancing those policy goals. Instead they began the ongoing buildout of “the rightwing cinematic universe,” with think tanks and partisan media and conspiracy theories gradually building an immersive false reality in which their toxic party of sabotage and snarling gets to play heroes.

But as fundamental as that is to America’s problems, there just aren’t so many Republicans that they can be blamed exclusively. They can’t even be blamed exclusively for the problem of the toxic Republican Party, because its continued vast sabotage is only possible with many enablers. Bad rules factor in, too, but the bad rules also endure only because too many people choose to put up with them.

While Republican reality-denying is disproportionate in most measures, there is reality-denying all over, and it is also too much.

Observations from just the past few days:

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Going off the grid

I struggle to process the emergence from the left of messages like: “Government doesn’t work. Abolish coercive enforcement by the state. Rely only on yourself and local, privately organized charitable systems.”

Of course, there are a lot of things I didn’t specifically anticipate, such as people freezing to death in Texas, yet here we are.

More generally, all of this is entirely in line with the dismal trends I have seen and bemoaned for so long. The trail of news stories and reports documenting the decay of America’s physical infrastructure goes back many years. I have written ad nauseam about the corresponding decay of political infrastructure, especially the corrupt sham Republican Party which in Texas “seceded” from the rest of the country’s electricity grids, and is now busy lying about the consequences. The “horseshoe theory” convergence of some left-originating rhetoric with rightwing libertarianism is strange in detail, but the broad collapse in social trust has been more and more on my mind.

Somewhere around here I have a scrap of paper on which I scrawled something like “the collapse is going to accelerate,” a few months ago. So, uh, yeah.

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