Tag Archives: Pessimism

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.

Read More →

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.

Read More →

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.

Read More →

Studying the news

For about five years I have been “studying the news,” you might say.

After the 2016 election, many of us myself included were grasping at ideas for what we should do in response. I joined organizations, attended protests, got a VPN, started calling Congressional offices… I also took the advice to “keep track of what’s changing around you,” a warning to us that the unthinkable can become “normal” without us even noticing, absent an effort in that direction.

I didn’t actually start until early January, 2017 the file which eventually surpassed half-a-million words of news and events, but over time I entered many earlier occurrences and now is probably as good a time as any to reflect on the experience.

I guess that to start with, I don’t think that there is really any substitute for doing something like this. Plenty of people don’t really pay attention to news, politics, government, etc., but I think even for those who do, the default is essentially passive consumption. I have used the phrase “studying the news,” here, because I think that it’s fundamentally different to spend time taking notes, organizing them, and living with this day after day after day for years.

Read More →

Hell is the impossibility of reason

Counterarguments to my theme seem to be losing their force, gradually but steadily.

My theme is all too well established, here. I have written repeatedly about an irreparably poisoned political system, about an ungovernable America, about the seeming pointlessness of the political rituals, about the deeper hollowness of the culture, and about the nightmarish reality that the processes don’t work or make sense yet people keep going through the motions and about how the repetition is maddening.

I would like a practical way out of this doom-loop to demonstrate that I’m wrong. But that really isn’t happening. To the contrary.

What seems missing from all the popular reactions to the narrow but high “red wave” at work in yesterday’s Virginia and New Jersey elections is the possibility that it has next to nothing to do with events, policies, or issues.

I have written some version of this before, too, but it’s worth being more direct: America has now gone about 20 years in which the large minority of not-totally-committed voters votes to destroy the sitting president’s party at midterm elections, and it really strains credibility to insist that this pattern simply happens to be the result of a politics which is still meaningfully about events, policies, issues.

Again and again since the mid-00s, voters have on-net voted to annihilate the president’s party in non-presidential elections. Is it really the likeliest explanation that the recurrence is just a coincidence, and that each of those elections was about its own story, issues, etc.?

I don’t think that it is.

Read More →

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.

Read More →

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.

Read More →

Redistricting Minority Reports

I had an idea this week, which I’m sketching out just for whatever. Please note, this is not a recommendation, just a thought-experiment. The best approach for redistricting, short of reconsidering the whole concept of geography-based democracy, is probably still very independent commissions kept as far away from politicians as possible.

But, what if the backstop for legislative district maps supported by only the party in power was a kind of “official minority report” along these lines:

In Ohio, for example, current redistricting rules call for maps to be supported by at least half of the second-largest party in government (i.e. Democrats), but allow the party in power (i.e. Republicans) to enact four-year maps on a party-line basis, subject to antigerrymandering rules. In practice, Ohio Republicans are just ramming more gerrymandering right through the rules, and it seems to me like any real solution must involve taking the map-drawing pen away from the gerrymanderers at some point.

So how about, instead, if (when) Ohio Republicans ram through gerrymandered districts on a party-line vote, Ohio Democrats get to re-draw part of the map, say 40%.

Read More →

Getting a grip when nothing works

I was mentally drafting a post this morning about how nothing seems to work, then this afternoon the irrepressibly optimistic Amy Hanauer shared this Prospect article with a different perspective. Robert Kuttner makes enough good points, therein, that for now I feel like examining them instead.

In general, I consider “Get a Grip: There Will Be a Budget Resolution” a very sound response to two, related, current problems:

  1. I have refused to pay attention to regular updates from the budget standoff in Congress. I think the whole thing is not only a fiasco which was practically manufactured by Democratic leadership—as I wrote months ago, dumb schemes like the “two-track approach” always do the opposite of defusing brinkmanship—it’s also a perfect example of how I just can’t take all this shit literally. Kuttner writes a good explanation of why there’s no reason to make an exception here.
  2. Although I still go through the motions of sending messages to Congress and the White House, what do I even say? So many things are crisis-level all at once and I do not want to get swept up in “this is what’s heating up this week so direct your comments there.” Kuttner writes a shortlist which I think addresses the biggest big-picture issues with as few items as possible.

I’m not really convinced of various details, though, or of the conclusion that we have the enemies of democracy and justice on the ropes, so “Enough defeatism! We can do this.”

Read More →

Ups, downs, hypernormalization

Within little more than 36 hours I was wrenched between highs and lows, this week.

Tuesday morning, I got up, grabbed a campaign sign, and walked up the street to the neighborhood polling place to fly the flag for City Councilperson Tristan Rader‘s reelection. I was already anxious, and as the day wore on, I began sinking toward downright despondence. Mostly because I have just been traumatized by too many crushing election results over the past several years. I know that this pessimism is a bias on my part, but I also know that it isn’t so much of a bias that I can just dismiss it.

So, it was a great relief when the Board of Elections posted early-vote totals with Tristan leading all others in an eight-candidate primary. Even better, election-day numbers later boosted my neighbor Laura Rodriguez-Carbone to third place. The top six candidates will all appear on November’s ballot, but the top three in that election will be elected to city council at-large; astonishingly the exact three candidates I voted for are now presumptive favorites.

That was exciting. Not every Tuesday result was great, but a number of interest to me were positive. I was e.g. rather relieved that the “knife-edge” warnings were completely off and California’s recall election came nowhere near deposing the state’s Democratic governor, even if he is personally mediocre at best.

By Wednesday evening, however, I was back to dread, and I unplugged rather than follow the showdown on Ohio’s Redistricting Commission from which poor results seemed likely and which I would be entirely unable to influence at that point. In this case, I was correct.

Read More →