Tag Archives: Liberalism

Megatron, as Futurist

A Mastodon thread considering the origin of the Transformers’ civil war, and comparing it with contemporary Anglo-American division, has been all kinds of fascinating fun.

My first response was that “the origin of the Cybertronian wars” presents a complicated premise for comment, because writers have told many different stories of that origin, over the decades. I can think of at least a handful, without even counting a 2010 novel apparently published as “the official history.” Given this, I thought it worth going back to the beginning, i.e. Issue One of Marvel’s comic book, probably the first published account of the war’s origin.

I haven’t actually read this issue many times, and probably not in years, so a close read of the opening pages was actually quite interesting in this context. In the original account of how Transformers’ civil war began, Megatron and the Decepticons seem motivated by something quite a lot like Futurism.

Contrary to many later accounts, the Decepticons did not have anything like legitimate grievances from a liberal perspective. But they weren’t quite one-dimensional bad guys greedy for power, either.

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What if: Ukraine in a Trump Second Term

I think that I was relatively realistic about the outlines of how bad America’s possibilities were even before the 2020 election, whatever its outcome. Experiencing it still feels awful, but I can’t claim that I really expected far better. What did I write, among other things, how about “I only know that in any and every realistic scenario I can imagine, America will blow up.” I wrote that the election still mattered because a Biden presidency could prevent various atrocities; I probably meant in the sense of preventing them for a while, which seems like the most generous thing which can now be said of how it’s working out.

I certainly can not claim that I was thinking about the fate of Ukraine, ahead of the 2020 election. It is nonetheless arguable that the fate of Ukraine, and maybe partially Europe, has turned on the 2020 US election result. Jonathan Chait argued a month ago that “If Trump Was Still President, Ukraine Would Be So Screwed Right Now,” and it does not seem unthinkable.

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Asymmetric belief in authority

Most people on the mainstream center-to-left spectrum have been successfully trained, to respond to the paralysis of this Congress, by parroting the names “Manchin and Sinema.” Supposedly Democrats are soundly for change—even in the US Senate 96% of them want to do something!—and all the responsibility for obstruction lies with the Evil Bobbsey Twins plus all the Republicans.

There are multiple reasons why this excuse is unsatisfactory, and I will note some others below. But first, I want to revisit something I have posted about here, before.

If you take them at their word (and in this regard I believe that we should) then Democratic elites genuinely believe that Mike Pence, alone, could via some sleight of hand with note cards have literally made Donald Trump the president for 2021-24. They may also profess that this act would have violated the rules, yet the degree of alarm in references to that prospect, combined with other patterns, convinces me: they really believe that one (lame duck) authority figure could have declared that down is up, and obliged the rest of society to stand on its head.

Yet these same Democrats profess that Senate President Harris and Senate Majority Leader Schumer are essentially powerless observers. Their hands are tied.

Say what you like, but this is an extremely asymmetric belief in authority.

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What if Ukraine submitted

I think there’s important value in thinking about an alternate scenario in which Ukraine simply conceded everything which Putin’s Russia demands.

In a sense this is farfetched. Ukraine has proved very united in fighting for its independence.

But I think the question is still important as a hypothetical. We didn’t know, beforehand, that would be the case. Many other governments were counting on Ukraine folding, in fact, maybe not willingly but folding nonetheless; had that happened, it’s fair to say that most would have accepted it as fait accompli without concern over Ukraine’s opinion. Plenty of governments still, even now, advocate Ukraine simply conceding (and their ranks may grow further).

More generally, why should it seem farfetched for Ukrainians to submit to an autocrat’s demands that they accept life without democracy, independence, rights, etc.—when so many people do so?

As far as I can tell, the main thing which makes voluntary submission by Ukraine seem unreasonable, to most center-left political opinion, is its separation from Russia by an international border. That border’s current streak of existence is just over 30 years; Russia (backed up by many other governments) now deny that said border is valid; ultimately, these are abstract things which we make up.

Is that the traditional liberal order’s only “firm” determiner for whether your claim to rights is valid, or whether you are obliged to submit when an authority figure says so? I have a strong, very uncomfortable feeling that it is.

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Unions, liberalism, and a tragic age

Last week, labor organizers finally won a vote to unionize an Amazon warehouse. Amazon, of course, spent multiple fortunes attempting to bust the union before it began (and is still trying to get the election result thrown out).

Organizers are, justifiably, very proud of their effort. They have fought and fought, losing again and again, with the unionbusting abuses by Amazon growing more and more outrageous. It is quite understandable they should feel like this is their achievement.

Yet as people celebrate victories like this, I keep feeling like something is getting left out. Even as working Americans are becoming eagerly pro-union, in relative terms, the whole foundations beneath organized labor are under an assault which has little standing in its way.

Our political system, including too much of the Democratic Party, has either dismantled collective bargaining protections or permitted their dismantling for decades. It is, again, very understandable that a lot of people fighting for these unions feel like they’re doing it on their own, without help from government, without allies among politicians. The fight is unreasonably hard, the elections are absurdly unfair, corporate employers violate rules basically with impunity.

But the very existence of rules at all, of elections which can be won, of the specific prize for which they judge the fight to be worth it—all of this is policy infrastructure which was created by politics and which politics is taking away.

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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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Extermination

March 23, 2022, stands out somewhat from the standard of this ongoing nightmare, for various reasons which I will go through in a moment. There have been worse single days, and really, when the standard is as bad as it has become, it feels somewhat meaningless to measure one day against another. But an important theme connects a number of notes from Wednesday.

The theme is organized extremism with absolutely fanatical intolerance for anything independent of it even existing—and a larger community which just remains unable to process such fanaticism.

One of my first reads, Wednesday morning, was a fascinating letter to the editor, in which a retired British defense attaché denounces the flabbiness and corruption which led his country to ignore and even enable the monster of Putin’s government for so long. While this has broader applicability than just Britain, the inclusion of a quote from Sherlock Holmes naturally caught my eye as well. From “His Last Bow,” it’s just about the last thing, chronologically, which Holmes says in the entire canon, spoken just before the start of the carnage and devastation of World War I.

Overnight, Politico Europe published an essay on “The failed world order” which makes a very effective bookend, essentially surveying more broadly the failings of the “Western” alliance and its institutions, which resulted in them ignoring and even enabling the monster of Putin’s government for so long. Mentioned within the essay, Sergiy Kyslytsya, Ukraine’s ambassador to the U.N., likened Russia to a poisonous mold, spreading rot through the structures of the international body.

In between, the day delivered now essentially standard news and analysis from Ukraine, where there seems less and less to be any credible purpose to Russian attacks besides injuring and, to the greatest extent possible, simply destroying Ukraine. The day also delivered multiple demonstrations of the similar fanaticism within the United States, and the failure and flab within America’s own liberal order.

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How many refuseniks can a liberal democracy handle?

There’s a saying that goes “if someone owes you $500, that’s their problem; if someone owes you $500 million, that’s your problem.”

Lately I’ve been thinking that if one citizen of a liberal democracy rejects its philosophy, one person has a problem; if one million citizens of a liberal democracy reject its philosophy, society has a problem.

Mostly, this is just me putting a familiar theme into a new bottle, so I won’t dwell on it all that long here.

But it continues to seem like something which we need to confront, and I’m not sure that I have seen anyone doing so:

Even in an impossible scenario of sweeping new political rules to take away all of Republicans’ (currently generous) options for exercising tyranny of the minority, what does liberalism propose to offer them other than the steamrolling of what they value, forever?

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Facing the Present

Thinking more on ROM’s final testament, in Dead Memory: “if you could only learn to read the present, your memory might be of some use to you.”

I dread the future, I live every day in anxiety. Lately I’m thinking that America likely approaches a point when the whole idea of elections with specific, factual outcomes just disintegrates. It looks very likely that in future national elections, hundreds if not thousands of county and precinct election officials will reject as fraudulent any outcome other than a big vote for Republicans. No one is prepared for that and I’m not sure that there even exists a meaningful way to be prepared for it. That scenario isn’t a bug or a hack of systems of authority, it’s the disintegration of authority through mass opting-out.

Of course, I don’t know that will happen, let alone when. If Democrats’ coalition feels no compelling stake in the 2022 elections, Republicans will likely declare the results very legitimate.

Yet the most important reality here, as with my larger dread, is not with what could happen but with what has already happened.

Consider some of what happened following the 2020 election:

  • Texas electors voted 34-4 to call on Legislatures in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Michigan and Wisconsin to appoint their own electors to overturn the election
  • Armed protestors threatened Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson
  • Republican election officials belatedly, and very reluctantly, certified the reality of Wayne County MI vote totals, and almost instantly afterward declared that to have been the wrong decision
  • Ronna McDaniel privately told “multiple confidants that she doubted there was any scalable voter fraud in Michigan.” But she said she had to parrot Trump’s narrative to prove she was willing to “fight.”
  • It was treated as “Breaking News” that “Michigan lawmakers said they would honor the outcome of the state’s election process,” that’s how bad things got

The above is just a small survey of news from one state. In the year since, Republicans have embraced the Big Lie mythology, and moved nonstop to replace the improvised flailing of late 2020 with trained and drilled operatives. Hundreds of them, thousands.

Meanwhile in the much bigger picture, a huge flaw in efforts to save American democracy is that at their core, there is no solid explanation of what they are intended to save and why. That isn’t the only flaw, of course; the machinery is very far gone and that matters too. But even in theory, even the proposed remedies just aren’t really a coherent vision.

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Garbage Time

I have thought a time or two, recently, of the “first they ignore you…” bit, and how failing systems of authority may experience it in reverse. First people respect and feel part of the system, then people bump up against unworkable features of the system, then people laugh at its continued pretense of authority, then people just ignore it.

This is as close as I can get to a theme for what’s going on now.

Steady rot, maddening slowness of even attempts at constructive response, and more opting out.

Of the steady rot, well, good grief. This post’s featured image is of a protester in February 2017, and I suspect her sign could actually be more true now, not less. I wrote this post almost 29 months ago, and could just about repeat every word of it today. The big picture is dismal, and while one may find bright spots in the darkness here and there, from a perch next to Cleveland, Ohio, it’s just awful.

Yet leaders and institutions mostly seem, perhaps inevitably, deeply attached to accepting the system’s limits no matter how ridiculous they become. Pick an example. Congress is almost too obvious, yet it’s perhaps worth pointing out that it should be obviously unthinkable that about 50% of a legislature with vast responsibilities is permanently committed to blockade any and everything, even policies which are genuinely very good as well as wildly popular with the public. Yet this is just normalized. Working around the bad sectors and “out-organizing” them, accepting that impossibly bad rules and what they are, aw just try harder, is broadly accepted by leaders and institutions.

Liberal democracy, certainly in America, just seems to have no idea whatsoever what to do about an organized enemy which is inter-weaved with a traditional political party. It is just not done, apparently, for liberalism to actually fight to shut down a political party no matter how toxic it becomes. Instead liberal leaders and institutions just endlessly monitor the bad behavior and point at it, waiting for some other authority to take responsibility. The courts, which are too slow at best, or the voters, who pour votes into systems which just throw them out because those systems are already corrupted. Liberalism is forever determined to win the argument; even if it conclusively wins the argument and systems don’t respond, the answer is always to try winning it even more.

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