Tag Archives: Pessimism

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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Groundhog Day politics

I’m tired of the stupid, empty, ritualized war which has replaced national politics in this country.

America is a dysfunctional failed state, but the rotting zombie shambles along, nonetheless. The belief that some sort of shock will revive moribund neurons seems nonsense at this point. The entire Trump presidency with its New-York-phonebook of abuses and atrocities produced no more than tiny, marginal political movement in the big picture.

The coalitions have held; almost nothing seems to matter; to the extent that any things do matter they tend to be so arbitrary that they reinforce the rule of irrational, inescapable nightmare.

This is perhaps the truest definition of “a system-wide problem with system-wide problems”: when events seem so broadly meaningless that incentive to adapt actions or thinking evaporates, at the same time as resulting exhaustion intensifies the general tendency toward inertia.

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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 Beer Hall Putsch

On Sept. 13, I wrote this in my 2020 campaign/election/events diary:

Seems real likelihood that future is either

1. beerhall putsch

2. reichstag fire

My thinking was that Trump appeared to be on the way to rejection by voters, and would plainly attempt to sabotage democracy in some way; it might end up a failed farce(Beer Hall Putsch) like many Trump projects or it might deliver America wholly into authoritarianism (Reichstag fire).

I hesitated to give any public expression to this thought, owing to anxiety about which event was in the making. That hesitation continued after the election, even once it seemed pretty firm that Biden had met the conditions to “win.” The relevant institutional machinery is full of trapdoors, after all, and while Trump’s efforts to reject democracy have been a farce, pratfalls on an unsafe set can still be unsafe.

Eventually, I realized that oh, huh, then this is America’s Beer Hall Putsch, and would be even if somehow it were to “succeed.” The real story is that our situation is that far gone, it wouldn’t take much for even a halfassed-farce coup to succeed.

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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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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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Failed state, culture, civilization?

It feels like I am running out of genuinely new things to add about the corrosive storm engulfing us. Eric Sandy and I seem, largely independently, to be getting a stronger and stronger sense that “The brakes are cut, everybody. There is no exit ramp.”

At a guess, it seems to be staring us all in the face that the President of the United States already fully intends to pursue some kind of power play which might turn out like the beer hall putsch, or might turn out like the Reichstag fire, but is quite openly his intent.

But our systems don’t really seem to know how to handle that so mostly it’s all proceeding as it would anyway.

It’s better than nothing, certainly, that people like Greg Sargent and James Fallows have recently made clear, powerful statements that US journalism is still allowing Trump to exploit its failings as effectively as four years ago. But, realistically, the accuracy of the critique is, at this point, also a convincing argument against expecting that failure to change suddenly within the next couple of months.

I don’t think journalism is really unique in this regard, either. I’m reminded of Robert X. Cringely‘s proposal years ago that in a crisis, institutions do the same thing they do at other times, just more so.

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Adapting expectations

My experiences growing to adulthood in the late 20th century did not prepare me for coping with 21st century America. I strongly believe that the same goes for most adults.

The fact that so few people are even close to realizing how far off their baseline expectations are, let alone working through the process of adjustment, is part of the problem. But the major parts are other, much larger and much worse things.

In a post earlier this summer, I summed it up as “we don’t have functioning, even quasi-rational systems of decision-making” at a national level in America. That’s looking at it from one end; the fact that national governance in America has never been a functional system except when hugely exclusionary and injust is the same object viewed from the other end.

These failings function to prevent fixes to themselves, and go right on performing that function even as the consequences get more disastrous. This is the future before us. I have been writing about this for a while, but it’s only beginning to sink in how much I ought to adjust my expectations if I’m to go on.

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