Tag Archives: America

A narrative void begets a void narrative

We continue watching, each day, to see how the magic duel is going between the narrative of elected government, and the narrative of Republican conspiracy theories. So far, Trump’s wizards are doing very badly on points, but if the bizarre spells they’re casting don’t win this duel for them, they are still poisoning the opposing narrative permanently.

In this regard, we already know the outcome, conclusively: “You’ve already lost,” America.

A growing number of people seem to realize that there is no putting Humpty Dumpty back together again. It’s still a relatively tiny minority which understands this. Interestingly this minority includes participants at Marcy Wheeler’s mostly deep-in-the-legal-weeds blog. Marcy herself has asserted that “We need a new story about America.”

I also believe that, whatever more stable configuration may eventually replace the ungovernable present United States, it will involve some new narrative magic which binds society together in a way that the old narratives just don’t.

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Nihilism as politics

It is difficult to attempt a 2020 post-election post because there is no clear point where we will be “post-election.” Which feels nonetheless very compatible with repeating my reflection from two years ago that the increasingly frenetic rituals which America calls electoral politics seem divorced from any genuine point.

There won’t be any clear moment when the 2020 election ended and the results were settled. Team Trump’s campaign to reject his definitive defeat does not seem like it will prevent Joe Biden taking office, but it does seem like it will succeed in persuading millions that a “real” 2020 election result has been unfairly forestalled, intensifying already-toxic revanchism. Partisan control of the US Senate won’t be formally settled until after a nationwide tug-of-war for Georgia runoff elections, which won’t even take place this year.

Meanwhile none of this will really, actually, resolve anything. I don’t believe that the processes at work even can.

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When democracy was set back more than a century

Many Democrats would probably agree that George W. Bush’s capture of the presidency, 20 years ago, was a big injury for democracy.

It was, but the biggest injury was inflicted by default, by Al Gore and other leading Democrats, well before Florida’s “hanging chads” and the Supreme Court entered the picture.

At the start of 2000 it was not at all destiny that “the Electoral College decides, not the voters” would become a 21st century rule. What we think of as “how the Electoral College works” is an extra-constitutional custom which emerged after its intended operation jammed hopelessly in the 1796 election. As of 2000, this mechanism was in practice little more than a footnote, as the winner of the most votes had always become president for more than a century.

Realistically the Electoral College had never overturned a majority vote of the people prior to 2000, because in previous splits with “the popular vote” there was no real popular vote. In the 1888 election, the vote was still denied to women, to most nonwhites, and to all adults under 21. More than a century later, there was no precedent for the Electoral College to overturn a free and fair election with universal adult suffrage. Nor was it inevitable that such would be the case. Republicans fully intended to delegitimize the Electoral College if it disfavored them, as many believed it might that year:

NY Daily News: So what if Gore wins such crucial battleground states as Florida, Michigan and Pennsylvania and thus captures the magic 270 electoral votes while Bush wins the overall nationwide popular vote?

“The one thing we don’t do is roll over,” says a Bush aide. “We fight.”

How? The core of the Bush strategy assumed a popular uprising, stoked by the Bushies themselves, of course. In league with the campaign – which prepared talking points about the Electoral College’s essential unfairness – a massive talk-radio operation would be encouraged.

“We’d have ads, too,” said a Bush aide, “and I think you can count on the media to fuel the thing big-time. Even papers that supported Gore might turn against him because the will of the people will have been thwarted.

Republicans got to enjoy the benefit of planning to raise hell, if the Electoral College turned out to disfavor them, then having their opponents defer to it as proper and fair when it turned out the other way.

This was a huge, hugely costly mistake.

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America’s government isn’t fighting in its own defense

The Republican Party is at this point very literally a cabal hostile to the American state, and actively warring against representative democratic government. Yet rigid cultural taboos prevent the state from acting in its own defense, and suppress even discussion or recognition of this ongoing assault.

None of that is an exaggeration.

Republicans have been quite openly talking about the American state as their enemy for four decades, and I suppose people initially interpreted this as mere campaign rhetoric, then learned to tune it out entirely because Republicans’ practical activity diverged from the rhetoric for a while. Into the early years of this century, Republicans still made some attempt at maintaining a functioning state at the national level.

We are now a dozen years into a sustained campaign of sabotage, and only sabotage, however.

This is not just Trump. This is not just Trump and McConnell. Republicans spent the entire Obama presidency engaged in reckless, toxic sabotage. Government shutdowns; taking America’s credit rating hostage; actively and openly attempting a parallel foreign policy to undercut a sitting president halfway through his term. There has been no controversy among Republicans about any of this.

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The Consortium Calls It

Friday evening a friend wondered “Are they gonna call the election in a Friday news dump?” I laughed, and had been musing on the same question earlier in the day. Though the notion amuses, the alternative carried out today by “they” is much richer.

Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020 concludes a week which is a microcosm of contemporary America:

  1. Political debate has conceptually been devoured by a sectarian/race war
  2. Bad rules thwart the majority from doing anything effective about the above, or about the bad rules, or about much of anything
  3. In this dysfunction, power defaults more and more to corporate capital
  4. For ordinary people, conditions get worse, intensified by a dangerous natural phenomenon which could easily be controlled by a functional modern civilization, but which in this case is largely allowed to burn as it will because that’s the option most suited to short-term corporate profits
  5. Meanwhile few people even give much notice to any of this, because our information and conceptual infrastructure is hopelessly misaligned with what’s really going on, owing to a combination of senescence and sabotage
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Tenuous contact with reason

The list of “deserves more attention, shouldn’t get lost, etc.” things is always too long any more. If I were to propose one more item, it would be the alarming reports of delayed ballot delivery in multiple swing states. Or at at any rate, reports which seem like they should be setting off alarms, though so far they seem not to be.

Meanwhile, I’m struggling to maintain some distinction between what makes sense and what doesn’t, something which feels like it’s getting more needed and more difficult in the final stages of this quadrennial mass insanity we call a presidential election.

I don’t mean bullshit, in this case; that’s overwhelming as always, but selfish Republican senators like Susan Collins and John Cornyn e.g. are just lying and that’s terrible but also a constant.

On the other hand, I presume that Senator Chris Murphy meant well when he suggested that “because a statewide election in Texas is so expensive, the marginal value of every dollar donated is higher.” But I believe that is completely backward. Slightly less trivial, perhaps, Democrats as well as small-business advocates are now charging Republicans with doing harm by focusing on a Supreme Court appointment at the expense of relief legislation. That’s much the same argument that Republicans made in 2019—that Democrats were doing harm by focusing on impeachment instead of other “real” issues—and both instances seem dumb.

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Mid-October 2020

Mostly just assorted stray thoughts about the present phase of America’s long emergency.

At mid-October, we’re largely past the point where a lot of big narrative-shifting ratfuckery occurred in 2016. Russia’s hacked-email airlift to rescue Trump from his Access Hollywood vulgarity occurred Oct. 11. Jim Comey’s Clinton memo, which may have turned a teensy edge for Clinton into a teensy edge for Trump, was just days before the election. But that wasn’t a Republican hit job per se. That was to all appearances Comey trying to shore up some sort of independence brand image ahead of an inevitable Clinton presidency.

I trust nothing, at this point, but it seems at least possible that if Republicans had cards up their sleeves they would have played them by now. Particularly with massive early voting now into, what, its third week in some places?

Certainly Republicans have been trying, already. But multiple attempts to weaponize investigations-of-the-investigation into some sort of Biden-smearing narrative have proved unable to get around the complete absence of a there, there. The project to manufacture a Biden scandal has deteriorated into absolutely mental Rudy Giuliani haplessly trying to shop hacked emails about Hunter Biden, and succeeding in little more than making Joe Biden look like a caring parent.

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The long shadow of 1964

I have spent close to four years not only recording the major contemporary events of America’s political collapse, but fitting pieces into a backstory.

Major structural vulnerabilities were there since the ink dried on the Constitution, but the present collapse was really set in motion in the early 1960s.

If I had to choose three events for a summary, I would choose these:

Democratic president Lyndon Johnson signing the Civil Rights Act in 1964, setting off an enormous generation-long exodus of racists from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party.

The same year, according to Kevin Kruse, “NY Gov. Nelson Rockefeller tried to win the party back from ‘extremists’ but was heckled and harassed” at the national convention where moderate and liberal Republicans sought to “make a stand.” It proved to be a last stand.

In 1979, “evangelical leaders, at the behest of conservative activist Paul Weyrich, seized on abortion not for moral reasons, but as a rallying-cry to deny President Jimmy Carter a second term.”

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Living atop a powder keg

“The weather was indeed fine, but thinking men and women were aware that Europe lived on a powder keg, and had for years.” James Stokesbury wrote this about summer 1914, in the opening paragraphs of A Short History of World War I, which I have read over and over.

I think about this lately, as well as a few words about the eve of another even larger convulsion: commenting about their respective countries in The Wind Rises, Castorp speaks very plainly to Jiro: “Japan is going to blow up. Germany will also blow up.”

For all that I go on about this theme, it feels like one thing to perceive such a course and quite another to process it and adapt one’s thinking accordingly. I may be making some progress. It seems more immediately real that America is living on a powder keg, which we should expect to blow up.

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Conceptual infrastructure failures

It’s possible for situation to be both terrible and ridiculous at once. This has indeed been the case almost constantly for America, for at least four years.

My awareness of this phenomenon, confronting us from almost every direction, has become overwhelming.

On one hand, things are absolutely abhorrent. Where to begin? The western U.S. is literally on fire, a pandemic has killed 200,000 Americans and climbing, and the president is an authoritarian raving monster who spends his time flying around the country for organized COVID-19 superspreader events, and encouraging Republicans’ frenzied effort to “get rid of the ballots” that might oblige them to cede power in any kind of functioning democracy; they’re clearly willing to destroy what remains of ours, and are preparing to install another radical partisan operative on the nation’s highest court.

Meanwhile everyone is screaming and e-mailing and deploying every cliché in the book—red alert, all hands on deck, etc.—and it feels equivalent to yelling “pull up, pull up!” when the plane’s engines have exploded and it’s in a tailspin trailing smoke and fire.

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