Tag Archives: America

America goes bonkers, contd.

Recently I wrote up a post about Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton and the Overton window, but I have since decided to throw it all out. In a way, further reflection has convinced me that the whole Overton window concept may not even be useful any longer, as my earlier post was in fact implying, even if I hadn’t realized it. At this point I think a single “window” of what’s possible in American politics, at the national level, is not even accurate as a simplified model. It feels like a relevant update would now involve something out of a nightmarish video game, with multiple holes opening, closing, changing size, etc., simultaneously without any reference to one another.

Obviously Republican America has ceased giving any heed to any universal idea of what’s practical, or of anything else. I mean, what is there to say? The latest word from those pundits still attempting to make meaningful observations is that the GOP establishment is, now, preparing to embrace Donald Trump for president because they find him less offensively deranged than his leading rival. I’m not even sure what part of that sentence it would make sense to emphasize; it’s all surreal.

In the meantime, some kind of much more modest but still dumbfounding suspension of reason seems to be creeping through Democratic America. I’m certainly not unbiased, but here’s what I’m seeing. A growing number of putative liberal voices are

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Guns, bombs and social distrust

I don’t generally have much to say about the “mass shootings” which perhaps half of America regards as an ongoing First Order National Disaster while the other half has hardened its hearts and minds to the phenomenon completely. My view of it remains rather like my view of those other violent episodes, which (unlike domestic mass shootings) everyone agrees to call “terrorism.” They are lamentable, and a civilized society ought to do something about them, but neither one ranks nearly so high on a list of dangers to life and limb that the obsession which our culture chooses to experience is reasonable. As I pointed out a while ago, the “reality” that a handful of people killed by bullets is a tragedy while tens of thousands of people killed by errant automobiles is a statistic is a choice.

Still, I’m not indifferent to either of these phenomena, if separate phenomena they are. It simply frustrates me that we seem to do too much about one, and (in practical terms) not enough about the other. For a while, I have been toying with the notion that America’s embrace of organized armed violence (i.e. the military) as not only the universal answer to terrorism but as the premier guarantor of “our freedom” represents a kind of deeply lazy passivity. The ubiquity of this vague conviction that heavily armed men and women in uniform are “protecting our freedom,” in a society where most people frequently decline to exercise any part in self-government, suggests a kind of self-indulgent outsourcing. We claim to love freedom so much, yet apparently don’t believe that we have any direct personal responsibility for its maintenance, finding it much more satisfying to believe that someone else putting on a special uniform and blowing up some “bad guys” somewhere takes care of the job adequately.

This is tempting. But yesterday, it occurred to me that maybe abdication of personal effort isn’t really the key concept. There’s that strange dichotomy, after all, in America’s broad-based freak-out over terrorism and the determined resistance of maybe half the country to any significant policy response to mass shootings. It occurs to me that in the latter instance, abdication of personal effort is arguably the exact opposite of what’s at work, given that resistance to disarmament seems largely motivated by the idea (however unrealistic) that personal safety is best ensured by an individual wielding firearms in his or her own self-defense. Thinking about this, it further occurred to me that perhaps the key concept uniting these otherwise irreconcilable attitudes is deep societal distrust.

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The Tribalization of American Conservatism

Ezra Klein’s recent Vox post, “Obama Derangement Syndrome,” seems as good an occasion as any to post the following comments on a related proposition from late 2013. I submit that neither Mark Mardell, to whom I wrote the following, nor Mr. Klein is correct. Contemporary American conservatives’ inexhaustible hostility mostly is not the product of “old-school racism;” it is not the product of policy differences either. While the former is by no means extinct, we have a new tribalism in America.

Mr. Mardell,

I frequently encounter journalists like yourself (both foreign correspondents and Americans) struggling to frame the “Tea Party.” Let me help you out.

You are absolutely spot-on that “old-school racism” has little to do with contemporary Republican ire. I submit that you, like many others, go astray when you conclude that “opposition to big government and high taxation” are the answer, instead. You may be right, of course; I don’t think we can really be sure until such time as a Republican again occupies the White House, and the tea-party-within-a-party quietly evaporates, or does not.

I suspect that the former is more or less what will happen, however, because I believe the energy in modern American conservatism has less to do with small government or any other policy argument than it has to do with an updated “us” vs “them” tribalism. Quite simply, the Tea Party is the product of 20+ years of American conservatives creating their own narrative in which Democrat influence in government is inherently illegitimate.

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