Tag Archives: Politics

The Hurricane Warning

The extent, and the momentum, of corrosion in our society seems increasingly beyond rational problem solving.

I extend the recent string of deep pessimism, here, without enthusiasm. It would be nice to concentrate for a while on something else, again.

But I try, try to keep up with major events of the day, and lately this has been both very high-volume, and increasingly horrifying as they seem to gather into something like a destructive force of nature.

I’m not sure how much detail to go into, here. I’m not sure whether or not I can persuasively explain the impression of recording the reports of society going off the rails, daily for two and a half years, to someone who has not gone through the same experience.

Suffice to say that, with this experience as background, I am lately losing the ability to see relevant solutions to scale with the problems, which can credibly be accomplished by any kind of rational planned response.

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A republic worth keeping

The American right strives to subvert representative democracy, with a curated electorate that will protect the privileges of a white, patriarchal ownership class, regardless of popular will.

This has been a dedicated project for at least 50 years, and is poised to shift America further toward that end, perhaps very soon.

Contemplating that possibility today, it occurred to me that this is actually much like the reality of America’s republic at its very outset.

Morton Halperin ends a new Slate article with a familiar story about Ben Franklin, and a familiar message:

When the Constitution was being drafted behind closed doors, many feared that the Framers would create a monarchy. As Benjamin Franklin left the hall as the meeting was ending, they shouted at him: “What is it?” Franklin replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.” Our ability to do so is being tested now. We must seize the moment to reestablish the republic that we were given.

We were given a republic which functioned to subvert representative democracy, with a curated electorate to protect the privileges of a white, patriarchal ownership class. We have not kept that republic, exactly, but I think the contemporary Republican Party is reestablishing it to a significant extent, and that this is the real threat, for all of Trump’s attraction to kingship.

We should not reestablish that original republic. We should, instead, reckon honestly with what it was, and with the long and far from finished efforts which went into creating a system of government worth defending.

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Playing from way behind

It is strange living in this moment, watching the capture and corruption of the most powerful institutions in our society, at the same time as day to day life mostly continues as though completely unconnected.

That’s an illusion. A few weeks ago a friend, who knows better, casually said something about how “well, life goes on, anyway.” I could have made a lot of responses. One which I didn’t make, but might have, is a comparison with The Lord of the Rings films. For all that “The Scouring of the Shire” is an important part of the novel, its absence from the films combined with Meriadoc’s warning about the possibility of such an outcome is haunting on its own. He was absolutely right that the safety of the Shire was in danger, and significantly, it was in danger from something that most of its people would never even notice until it was absolutely too late.

Had Sauron secured the One Ring, it would have meant the end of the Shire. Unstoppable armies would have burned it to the ground within months, or at most a year or two, inevitably. But that fate was being decided, with finality, while most of the persons at issue were carrying on normal life in total ignorance of the peril.

In a sense, Americans have had comparatively ample warning, yet most don’t really notice it, and “normal life” carries on. Even though what’s happening right now is locking in severe negative consequences.

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How Republicans divide & denigrate using identity

Today, Ohio state Representative Kyle Koehler decided to share a nonsubstantive meme mocking US Rep. Ocasio-Cortez. The thread which followed illustrates two very important lessons.

  • Over and over in his replies, Koehler refers to the “silly ideas” of Ocasio-Cortez. Yet he argued at length without citing a single one. Even after being explicitly called out on that. The word “ideas,” here, is just a fig leaf intended to disguise an ad hominem attack as a policy critique.
  • After pointing out that his nonsubstantive swipe targets a female person of color, rather than any of the other people who share her ideas—and that this is part of a pattern from the GOP—he protests that “you’re the one bringing up race and gender.”
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Human progress as economic bubble

During recent attempts at some deep thinking about politics, civilization and history, I have pondered the long term and how present dysfunction might be little more than “reversion to the mean.”

An expectation of general progress, or of a fair society which lasts, seems hard to square with the long arc of history. My own impression is that after developing basic civilization thousands of years ago, humanity did not really “advance” much until the past 300 or 400 years.

The advances since then have included some spectacular transformations, at least for lots of people. Long lifespans, food to eat, medicine which works, flourishing science and arts.

Yet the systems powering industrial civilization are ecologically unsustainable—that’s just a plain fact—and while its product is an anomaly within human history, to date, resource burnout is not. Jared Diamond’s book Collapse explored a pattern of civilizations building prosperity upon unsustainable foundations.

What if all industrial civilization—powered by toxic fossil fuel combustion and internally resistant to alternatives despite many decades’ notice of the need—is just one more unsustainable bubble?

Yesterday, Slate reported on some similar speculation by David Wallace-Wells, author of The Uninhabitable Earth.

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Authoritarianism for dummies

So this week, the president of the United States formally declared a “national emergency” on an indisputably bullshit basis, with no real pretense that it is anything except an attempt to do an end-run around Congress’s very clear refusal to pay for a ridiculous campaign prop (which the president has continually insisted will be paid for by Mexico).

To the extent that constitutionality is an objective standard, this seems to be unconstitutional. The fact that the president did so anyway has at last brought a plain statement from one authority that “this is a constitutional crisis.”

This is certainly serious. Among other things, I feel like if ever national political drama demands notice even in this occasional personal chronicle, it’s this week. I have of course already called members of congress. (Have been doing so for some weeks, in fact, as this fake “emergency” has been toyed with openly since last year.)

This is also absurdly stupid.

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Capital is just a lot of the problem

In the month since I posted this big-picture political assessment—pointing to Republicans’ intentional exploitation of nonrepresentative features of our constitution—I have mused on some kind of deeper dive.

Can I identify even further explanations for our peril, more fundamental than a 50-year-long project by capital to (struggling for a better word) trump a system of democratic governance rejected as an unacceptable constraint on the accumulation of private fortunes?

I’m still working on that. But it is difficult to feel like the fundamental conflict at hand is meaningfully unlike that explanation.

The above is not really a story of the Trump administration. It’s the story of a value system that prioritizes private wealth with no real, firm limit or point of satiety. A value system for which there is no “enough,” no point at which consideration for others outweighs the desire for increased private status and privilege.

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The Political Crisis, January 2019 update

We’re about two years into the nightmare reality of Donald Trump’s presidency. An opposition party is about to take charge of the US House, breaking up the unified Republican control of Congress which has buttressed said nightmare reality. This seems like an appropriate time to take stock of the larger situation.

For better or for worse, though, I find that I have already written a lot of what I might say at this point. Overall I think my long-read assessment from late 2016 remains valid, particularly the emphasis on Trump as a symptom of the crisis more than its cause. My first thoughts on the midterms seem like they cover their significance fairly well: while they offer a measure of relief, it seems like mostly relief of symptoms. They don’t even solve the crisis—I think everyone anticipating that Trump is going away soon will be disappointed—let alone constitute solutions to the deeper long-term problems.

In terms of deeper solutions, the best evidence that I can see is the progress in overcoming gerrymandering. In the same year that Democrats miraculously won a House majority considered impossible under the 2011 maps, reformers made substantial progress toward a 2021 redistricting that is more fair rather than less. That’s meaningful, and positive.

Unfortunately this update also includes a number of cautions against optimism on that basis. As in the larger picture, it feels like progress to date has forestalled catastrophe in redistricting, but has not won the struggle. Detailing this could really be a separate post, so for the time being I will emphasize the serious threat of recent gains being reversed by the worsening situation in the federal judiciary.

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Stages of political activism

Throughout “#TheResistance” I have perceived many similarities between it and my own initiation into political activism at a local level, commenced about two years before a nationwide counterpart.

It seems worth examining the possibility of some broad patterns.

A Crisis moment probably launches many political activist careers, unfortunately. Most people, from what I can tell, seem in fact to spend their entire lives largely disconnected from politics and government, not perceiving any compelling reason to get involved. But sometimes, something happens to alarm some minority of a community with the realization that “this can not be right!” An activist is conceived.

The reliance on crisis to spur political activism is depressing, given how much it tends to mean that one only begins playing after falling way behind. One may pick up on it immediately, or only a bit later, but eventually one realizes that during one’s years of political somnolence, bad people consolidated a lot of formal power and laid plans which are probably quite advanced by the time one tries to stop them.

I suppose that the birth of an activist is when some of these people find one another and begin to organize for some form of political activity.

Protest is usually the first stop for organized opposition. In the short term there is little else for most people to do in the kind of crisis situation described above. So: signs, banners, public demonstrations, chants; voicing objections at public meetings, as well as on every other open channel; trying to engage more of the public with leaflets, letters to the editor, social media, etc. Petitions of one sort or another often circulate in this stage, often to little effect.

As a whole, vigorous protest does seem to worry people in power, at least when it’s new. Some times an idea is even withdrawn, more or less completely, in response to protest. More often protest just slows things down, at most.

Meanwhile, organizing usually proceeds along familiar lines. Activists  formalize their pop-up association to some extent, with a name, meetings, leadership, some sort of record-keeping, e-mails and other communication.

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Feral Government

Occasionally the founder of Lakewood’s local newspaper makes reference to “feral” government, usually though not always in a local context.

It’s an informal concept, but I think the phrase says enough to be meaningful. Feral government is indifferent to… anything, really, except the desires of the individuals with power. Feral government does whatever it can get away with, which often turns out to be a distressing amount.

The rules and systems which we might like to think prevent governments from going feral depend a lot on voluntary forbearance, on a willingness to respect “norms” and to play fair. The legal system and other formal systems of oversight and enforcement are generally reactionary and slow, at best.

Feral government is related to “Constitutional hardball,” i.e. going to extremes on what can be done within the letter of the law (as interpreted by the most favorable judges one can find and confirm). Feral governments practice such hardball, but may also dispense with rules entirely.

Republicans in Washington have basically been a feral government for the past two years. (Not just the Trump administration, but the McConnell-run Senate as well.) In recent days, Republicans in multiple state governments have gone alarmingly feral, with state legislators ramrodding through bills to e.g. kneecap incoming Democratic governors. Some have even admitted that their actions are nothing more than a refusal to accept election results which don’t leave all power in their party’s hands.

Right now the Republican Party is the major contributor to America’s feral government problem. Overall, there’s no party equivalence there.

But, responsible legitimate government is fundamentally a matter of principle. When a government goes feral it must be resisted and held accountable. I try to uphold that principle, even if the party involved is mine.

Three years ago today was a low point in a period of feral government, here in Lakewood; I opposed it at the time, I have opposed it since, and even as I become more active within the same party as many who were involved, I will continue to call it for what it was.

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