Tag Archives: America

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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Mueller Time Reconsidered

A small further reflection on The Resistance, and what might be the most significant of my personal artifacts from the whole thing. It is not a sign or banner or anything physical. It’s a draft e-mail I prepared years ago to summon acquaintances in the event Trump fired Special Counsel Robert Mueller and nationwide protests followed.

The “springloaded” protests were organized by a vast coalition; I don’t know how many people eventually signed up to take part, although I believe it was a lot. I not only signed up, but drafted a personal e-mail to a few dozen people in hopes of reinforcing the potential participation just a bit more, doing my small part.

Looking back, the heavily organized non-event seems to encapsulate a lot of The Resistance.

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Holding our breath

As soon as we got a mostly complete outline of the Jan. 6 Republican putsch, that same day I wrote down several “things which ought to happen now,” followed by a question “how many will?” Right now, the answer looks to be “some,” but on the whole I would say that confronting the reality is coming in last as an option. Half-measures, buck-passing, quiet conversations, muddling ahead and “holding our breath” are collectively prevailing. Shelt Garner’s model of “an autocracy without an autocrat” seems more apt than ever, as Trump—having proved there’s really nothing in place to stop an organized autocrat from succeeding in America—appears to be deflating anticlimactically because he’s a vain undisciplined grifter.

I agree entirely with all the warnings that this is far from over, but as of this writing we’re in a strange interim place, again. So, some fragmentary thoughts for a fragmentary moment.

Televis-ocracy. COVID-19 has killed so many people, and had apparently trivial impact on American political power; the harm inflicted during the Jan. 6 putsch was relatively very minor but its political impact is, if not yet transformative, certainly larger. One can draw various conclusions, from this, but I think the importance of simple visuals on television is critical. Many have already observed that COVID is still not “real” for lots of people, in the absence of direct experience or visuals of what’s happening in hospitals. The putsch offers a striking contrast, and I think that’s a big part of why we’ve seen even the limited political movement so far.

Corporate America frowns upon the putsch. After days of headlines about corporate America’s alleged pulling of dollars away from Republicans’ “coup caucus,” it occurred to me today that this might be best understood as a PR play and a message to Republicans that the paymasters want clean, professional oligarchy.

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The US Capitol Besieged

Yesterday—January 6 2021—armed terrorists, inspired by the president, stormed the Capitol in a violent attempted coup. The terrorists had support from Capitol Police (in their actions) and Congressional Republicans (in their aim to reject the presidential election result).

As of now, Thursday morning, the terrorists are dispersed; a few have been arrested and more may follow. The terrorist-leader president is still in office although his administration is disintegrating through resignations. Both houses of Congress are adjourned after completing the mumbo-jumbo of election certification in the wee hours. The closest thing to an anti-Trump Republican in Congress, Sen. Mitt Romney, has actually said “I think we’ve got to hold our breath for the next 20 [sic] days.”

As concerned as I am about the next two weeks, I’m also minded to consider the long term and the big picture. Something big and terrible happened on Wednesday. Invaders raised a Confederate flag inside the Capitol, which many people pointed out never happened during all the years of the Civil War (even though DC was basically surrounded by rebel territory). Hostile forces have invaded the Capitol, before, but that was 200 years ago when the United States was a precarious upstart nation.

This morning my mind’s drawn back further, to the sack of Rome in 410, and how this appeared for some time afterward to be only an embarrassing brief event.

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Ungovernable

I pitch around terms like “failed state” and “ungovernable,” in referring to our crashing nation state, but I imagine that these are just words for nearly all who may chance by.

The dramatic difference between where we already are, though, and how much more functional our political systems were just within my lifetime might offer helpful context.

An approximate and abridged timeline of dysfunction:

  • c. 1980 amending the U.S. Constitution becomes impossible
  • c. 1990 multi-day government shutdowns enter the picture
  • c. 2005 steady growth in filibusters takes hockey-stick upward turn
  • c. 2010 significant reform via legislation becomes impossible
  • 2011 gerrymandering approaches perfection; debt ceiling brinkmanship
  • 2015 total blockade of cross-party judicial appointments
  • 2018 Violence Against Women Act cannot even get renewed
  • 2019 total blockade of cross-party legislation
  • 2020 broad Republican consent for schemes to reject a presidential election defeat

I don’t think this pattern points to “an epiphany” followed by a sudden return to cooperation and responsible good governance.

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