Tag Archives: Democracy

Europe, America, problems, and scale

Yesterday was local elections day in the United Kingdom, and today was analyze-the-results day.

First of all, I find it charming how the coverage I’ve looked at—admittedly national coverage, mostly from The Guardian—disregards actual local conditions and individual candidates and approaches the results entirely as a proxy referendum on the national parties/leaders.

Naturally I perceive eerie echoes of American politics, as I usually do with British politics. Before and since Thursday’s UK local elections, they felt particularly like America’s 2018 midterms. On Wednesday, one person forecast that voters would thump Britain’s party of the right but only about as much as the head of government’s party usually experiences—rather than any extra punishment for Boris Johnson’s shameless lying, scheming, and abuses of power. Oh, much like (I realized a few years later) US voters did in 2018?

Today’s coverage and analysis has featured a wide range of interpretations, from “disaster for the Conservatives” to “entirely inadequate results for Labour.” Like here in 2018, though, the picture improved for the center-left party as more result came in. There is of course the fact that these local elections don’t actually impact the UK’s national government, but the truth is that America’s 2018 “blue wave”* didn’t really do so either. (Republicans kept control of the Senate, ignored the Democratic House, and basically carried right on as before.)

Despite the similarities, however, in combination with the recent French presidential election I feel like a sense of scale is really important and often missing when comparing America’s political travails to “peer countries.”

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Theory of the Case

Like a lot that I post here, certainly of a political nature, this is a visit to familiar territory. I have often mentioned Carl Sagan’s quote about being “captured by the bamboozle.” (In fact I am bemused to discover that currently, at least on Ecosia, one of my posts is the third result when searching the term.)

I have also touched on the idea that’s on my mind, today, but perhaps it deserves a feature of its own:

It seems entirely possible that things can become so bad, that existing systems can be so unworkable, that an accurate assessment will sound like defeatism. Keeping things hypothetical for a moment, imagine a situation like that, and people simply rejecting the reality of it, because describing it absolutely does sound like defeatism. That seems functionally indistinct from the situation Sagan described: “we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. … The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken.”

Now obviously, I don’t really think this is hypothetical. I concluded back in 2020 that hopes for a healed democratic America were already unrealistic.

But what is the theory of the case, for those who still reject that assessment?

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How our fight is and isn’t like Ukraine’s

I definitely think there are connections between Ukraine’s fight against Russian attacks, and liberal democracy’s fight against Republican attacks. I have written as much, a number of times.

There are direct links, for one thing; long before Trump began flaunting Putin as his own modern day ring-giver, the American right has had partnership with Russian oligarchs. The NRA is just one example among countless.

There are also the conceptual similarities which motivate that partnership. Not only are the politics of Putin and of Republicans oppressive, predatory and definitely antidemocratic, they point toward complete intolerance of anything which exists independent of their faction. (Putin is definitively there, but there’s no reason to think Republicans won’t catch up.) Not just me saying that, either.

But there are differences which are at least as important.

Looking at the surprisingly effective resistance by Ukraine and seeing an example for Democrats anxious about midterm elections really, badly, misunderstands a lot.

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Magical thinking around democracy

I have this album, from an obscure band, which includes a lot of sampled speech from movies etc., most of which I don’t recognize. I have no idea where they got the bit which begins “nobody in the music industry knows anything about the industry.” But it has been on my mind for some time as a useful insight into American politics.

Hardly anyone in politics seems really to know much about politics, beyond shallow ideas and practices adopted from those already in it. I’m not sure much of anyone within American democracy really thinks very deeply about the concept at all.

That seems harsh and probably conceited, and yet. There is so much evidence of even elites who purport to be very concerned with and active in the realm of democracy, all the time, yet demonstrate childishly shallow and nonsensical thinking about it.

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Failure of imagination

It seems like our society is somehow drowning in nonsense, while at the same time ailing badly from a drought of imagination.

The nonsense is simply endemic, as are the variants of dishonesty and disinformation. These themes are familiar here on this blog, and recorded almost every single day in my chronicle of news and events any more.

It seems more and more, though, like the fixation on relatively familiar nonsense is connected with a dismal failure of real imagination.

Most people, I am forced to conclude, may be very eager consumers of conspiracies and myths and fantasy stories of all kinds, but are never much good at really envisioning the world familiar to them becoming significantly better or worse. Doing that is really a specialist role.

I suppose we might say that illiberal specialists are meeting the challenge to seize popular imagination relatively well, while liberalism’s imagination seems largely seized-up.

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Nemesis, brain worms & other stories

Yesterday I completed a very, very rough draft of another book, or of something. I don’t know if it’s drivel, or catharsis, or just a couple hundred pages of crying?

The planned main title is Nemesis. In my own mind, at least, it also has a couple of alternate titles; one is The World of Yesterday, because in many ways it was obsolete before I began writing, and the other is The Giant Rat of Sumatra, because paradoxically I suspect this is at the same time “a tale for which the world is not yet ready.”

I am ridiculous and I know that, yet, dear heaven I absolutely can not quite be at the depth of absurdity which prevails so widely.

I don’t mean to keep picking on The Morning, although today’s was another clunker, but in entirely mainstream ways. It is by no means just two or three NYT knobs with this fixation on “overturning a presidential election” as such a dire possibility that every other concern about democracy—voting rights, fair districts, campaign finance of course, you name it—must be jettisoned to prioritize a sacred bipartisan updated Electoral Count Act.

This is partly elite myopia, and partly just mad.

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When is democracy out of danger?

I want to return one more time to The Morning email from January 6, and one particular idea: that democrats and especially Democrats should make enormous sacrifice for now, with relief to come “Once the authoritarian threat has receded.”

A lot of people maintain some form of this premise, and for my part I have touched upon this question before. But I feel like it’s worth addressing specifically in these terms.

Setting aside the practicality of still stopping the authoritarian threat to America, at this late hour, what is the “after” condition when America moves our democracy off the endangered list? What does that look like?

This seems like a very important and obvious question, because a lot of us would have said that we entered the “after” condition a year ago, yet here we are.

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Elites for Oligarchy

I wrote a reply to the “Republicans for democracy” feature in today’s The Morning email newsletter. Partly I was just reacting to the ongoing stupidity of this elite fantasy about a “grand coalition” in which democracy is saved by teaming up with anti-Trump Republicans. This is fan fiction, and bad fan fiction at that. But, I think my efforts to compose a relatively tight response helped clarify some concepts which are important. So here’s my email.

I appreciate The Morning emails. They are frequently informative and often thoughtful.

“Republicans for democracy” is really not good analysis.

One, your premise of a crucial division between the Republicans of Trump and the Republicans of Cheney is entirely arbitrary. Trump aspired to use procedural mumbo jumbo to overturn democracy; Bush and Cheney actually did so (as did Trump 16 years later), it’s called The Electoral College.

“But The Electoral College is a legitimate institution,” except it’s an antidemocratic and [as employed since the 18th century] extra-Constitutional institution, which the Cheney Republicans were and undoubtedly remain ready to delegitimize the instant that it might disfavor them instead of Democrats.

20 years before Trump did so, the Bush-Cheney team ginned up a mob to storm and disrupt official post-election processes. You pooh-pooh this precedent as mere “hardball,” and insist that the greater violence of Trump’s mob makes it “not consistent with American democratic traditions.” Yet in the very sentence before you insist that violence and supportive lies are firmly out of bounds, you insist that lying the nation into an entire war is firmly in bounds. Please.

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Jan. 6, 2022: the cupboard is bare

There is not a lot I can add, a year after the January 6, 2021 Capitol putsch, aside from perhaps the sense that everyone who does not want fascism to win seems at a loss for what to do.

As I posted on Twitter a few days ago, I give points to the investigators in the US House and the Department of Justice for surpassing that dismal average. Despite all the people screaming at them, they’re doing their part and doing better than I expected against the thicket of lying, stalling and obstruction.

That, by itself, is not going to preserve democracy, though. I repeat this phrase again and again, but on January 6, 2021, 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. What’s more, one year on, the Republican Party is even more allied to the insurrectionists than it was then. For all that Republicans scurry and squirm to keep details of January 6, 2021 secret, there is logically no hidden link or smoking gun more damning than what has been right in front of us for a year.

Politics is not entirely logical, granted. But no matter what the investigators come up with, I don’t think they can transform all of American politics by themselves, and to all appearances they’re on their own.

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Pessimism and Pushback

Hardly anyone seems very happy, right now, and across most of the center-left, attitudes range from frustration and anger to fear and despair. Probably inevitably, Democrats/democrats are also turning frustration upon one another, as we recognize to one degree or another that we’re stuck in a a corner and paralyzed by divided agendas.

Among what we might call the officers’ ranks, there is an emerging pattern of concern, as well as exasperated pushback. I think the concern is well-placed. The past week, alone, was one of intense misery and nothing stands in the way of more.

The pushback disputes or simply denies the latter. For that reason I think it’s mostly just plain wrong, as well as unhelpful.

There’s a subset of the pushback which does, I think, make a valid and important point. Marcy Wheeler has deployed various rebuttals to the people screaming that Attorney General Garland is failing in his duty to charge and convict the enemies of democracy. But she also agrees with me that, ultimately, the Department of Justice cannot solve the assault on democracy anyway, so outrage from people who perceive the DOJ “letting it happen” is just a fundamentally wrong premise.

Otherwise, the pushback seems mostly out of touch, and a confirmation of how screwed we are rather than any real counter-argument. A Lawyers for Good Government email very literally just listed, at length, major awful circumstances continuing or emerging despite our years of work, then said “that’s why we have to fight and win” without addressing in any way what effective “fight” we are supposed to wage. Indivisible, today, tried out an idea that mocking the weariness and despair—as an easy, alluring indulgence of desire to be lazy, watch tv, etc.—would pep people up. I don’t feel like it works very well. Teri Kanefield makes some of the same points as Wheeler, but mostly just yells at people for somehow manifesting defeat by letting the theft of our rights and democracy make us killjoys.

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