Tag Archives: Politics

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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Brexit via exhaustion

My interest in “Brexit,” at this point, is mainly entertainment. I suppose it always has been. The points of comparison between British and American politics are interesting—sometimes downright eerie—but mostly I look at Brexit news for a diversion from our domestic dysfunction. A friend and I refer to it as The Daily (Shit) Show.

This week, at last it’s more or less official. Years after the referendum the UK is leaving the European Union, with a replacement trade agreement being rolled through a political system which seems mostly to be reacting with sheer exhausted resignation.

Far more informed people have already analyzed this from countless angles and will go on doing so for years. My primary “take,” as such, is the same one I arrived at two or three years ago: the key word for interpreting all the thrashing and contortions of Brexit is “plus.”

In an earlier season of the show, the word “plus” was an indispensable suffix. What practical model for relations with the EU should follow the egregiously vague 2016 referendum verdict? The answer was always something-plus. Canada-plus. Norway-plus. Etc.

The repeated insistence on some model different and better than any which existed seemed, and seems, to encapsulate the denial which produced years of fumbling to little apparent purpose, which turned the English left inside-out, and which may disunite the UK.

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Improv pandemi-coup-cession

Political processes and ordered society itself are fundamentally a form of theater which most people agree to take more or less seriously. When that goes it all goes.

This observation, which I made a couple of weeks ago about the significance of even performative cosplay coup attempts, is about as close as I can get to any kind of theme at the moment.

What’s the use, after all? I have been addressing this for a while in various ways; you don’t “organize to fight” faced with a hurricane; if you’re pushing on a rope then “try, try again” is not a virtue. In recent years I have dreamed up increasingly unlikely scenarios for how America might be repaired and renewed from within existing systems, while recognizing the trend away from plausibility with each new corruption of the system.

At this point I think the motion away from plausible repair scenarios has reached escape velocity. What does one do, say, or think amid this? Even believing that intervention still matters, a big picture ongoing cluster-crisis is kind of distracting. So I will try to collect some scattered thoughts in an assortment package, since developing all or even most of them as complete essays may never happen.

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Nihilism as politics

It is difficult to attempt a 2020 post-election post because there is no clear point where we will be “post-election.” Which feels nonetheless very compatible with repeating my reflection from two years ago that the increasingly frenetic rituals which America calls electoral politics seem divorced from any genuine point.

There won’t be any clear moment when the 2020 election ended and the results were settled. Team Trump’s campaign to reject his definitive defeat does not seem like it will prevent Joe Biden taking office, but it does seem like it will succeed in persuading millions that a “real” 2020 election result has been unfairly forestalled, intensifying already-toxic revanchism. Partisan control of the US Senate won’t be formally settled until after a nationwide tug-of-war for Georgia runoff elections, which won’t even take place this year.

Meanwhile none of this will really, actually, resolve anything. I don’t believe that the processes at work even can.

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Mid-October 2020

Mostly just assorted stray thoughts about the present phase of America’s long emergency.

At mid-October, we’re largely past the point where a lot of big narrative-shifting ratfuckery occurred in 2016. Russia’s hacked-email airlift to rescue Trump from his Access Hollywood vulgarity occurred Oct. 11. Jim Comey’s Clinton memo, which may have turned a teensy edge for Clinton into a teensy edge for Trump, was just days before the election. But that wasn’t a Republican hit job per se. That was to all appearances Comey trying to shore up some sort of independence brand image ahead of an inevitable Clinton presidency.

I trust nothing, at this point, but it seems at least possible that if Republicans had cards up their sleeves they would have played them by now. Particularly with massive early voting now into, what, its third week in some places?

Certainly Republicans have been trying, already. But multiple attempts to weaponize investigations-of-the-investigation into some sort of Biden-smearing narrative have proved unable to get around the complete absence of a there, there. The project to manufacture a Biden scandal has deteriorated into absolutely mental Rudy Giuliani haplessly trying to shop hacked emails about Hunter Biden, and succeeding in little more than making Joe Biden look like a caring parent.

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The Fog of War 2020

“What if Trump simply refused to concede no matter what” is not a new question. Experts and organizers have been chewing on that one for a while. But lately, it feels like more people are starting to digest it, as something not just hypothetical but entirely real.

Local blogger and alt-weekly veteran Eric Sandy advised weeks ago that “this is not an election campaign.” Then in the past few days, The Atlantic and Slate both published similar arguments that America is already outside of recognizable “politics.” Dahlia Lithwick was direct: “We have reached the point at which there is no reason to frame the 2020 elections in terms of ‘politics.’”

Also, Full Frontal reported last week that from each realistic scenario the Transition Integrity Project looked at, the result was chaos. “What we gotta do is win big” just didn’t appear relevant, and I have to agree that it may not be.

Other warning lights are flashing a similar color. So, huh.

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Law, like politics, is stories

Here’s some very broad political advice: don’t confuse proving misconduct with pursuing victory in electoral politics. Though they may overlap, they are distinct things, and the distinction is very important.

I write from personal experience, here. Five years ago, my life transformed forever as the result of joining a frantic, grassroots attempt to prevent the liquidation of my city’s publicly owned charity hospital. We failed, utterly, and while there are many reasons, the most generally applicable is probably the lesson that “but that’s against the rules!!!” should not be assumed a cause’s strongest argument. Even when it’s against the law. Even when you can prove it with facts. Even when they admitted it.

An example: in 2015, Lakewood City Council met in one closed-door session after another. Public deliberation on the city’s hospital, by city council. was almost nonexistent. They got away with it anyway. Despite state open-meeting laws. Despite being sued. Despite their legal counsel—the city’s own law director—admitting during the court proceedings “that a violation has occurred.”

Plentiful other rule-breaking and evidence of rule-breaking characterized our feral local government’s fight to liquidate the public’s hospital. In terms of formal enforcement of rules, they got away with all of it, too, aside from one court ruling which obliged the city to cough up some redacted documents long after the votes had taken place and the hospital was a shuttered hulk.

That outcome, I’m entirely certain, could have been prevented politically. It wasn’t a hard sell. But the grassroots campaign did many many things wrong, including becoming near-obsessed with rule-breaking at the expense of campaigning for political support.

Ultimately, try though we may to make it work otherwise, law and enforcement thereof are a product of politics. Influence can run in both directions, but politics is always present; rules and laws are only enforced when and if political incentive to do so is sufficient.

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The bamboozle captures itself

After thinking about it at length, I have concluded that in the really big picture, America’s deepest problem is that national governance has never “worked” as a pluralistic system. Over centuries, national politics in America has involved two choices: 1) purchase peace by accepting a brutal social hierarchy based on race and sex, or, face ceaseless warfare.

This feels like a more or less finished theory. Rapacious greed also has a major, almost inseparable role, going back to the very beginning. I think bigotry is still, for what it’s worth, the deeper story. History seems to show that the reactionary desire for social hierarchy based on race and sex is a bigger and more enduring force. It’s easily exploited by plutocrats for their own ends, for that very reason; I’m skeptical that a substantial number of bigots, however materially poor, are simply waiting for a sufficiently aggressive platform of redistribution to lure away their vote. The bigotry is a deeply held if horrible value system, remaining embedded in the culture generation after generation. New Deal Democrats won a decades long peace which was relatively redistributionist, but they did it by accommodating the values of bigotry.

It feels like I have already suggested “purchasing peace” is no longer even a practical option. This seems kind of like a minor point, anyway, because such a “peace” is abhorrent. The most obvious practical obstacle—that the Democratic coalition is now so inclusive of women and minorities that such a deal simply wouldn’t be viable—is a credit to the direction the Democratic Party has taken.

There’s also an entirely different obstacle within the opposing faction, however, which has been on my mind in recent days. Aside from the fact that America’s relatively liberal coalition is no longer likely to accept a political settlement with reactionary America, based on selling out women and minorities, a big portion of reactionary America seems to have sealed itself within conspiracy fantasies which compel unceasing warfare, anyway.

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The Failed State of America

At some point here I would like to write about something besides the corrosive storm, rotting away the entire notion of a functioning United States of America.

But, what else would I write about.* This is a big thing, even if it’s ongoing. Meanwhile I’m not, e.g., traveling much beyond my daily hikes around western Lakewood.

On the other hand, it seems like there is little genuinely new to say about the corrosion and dysfunction of America, and even less which answers this fundamental summation: “Sometimes there is no tactical approach that will address the immediate problem—all you can do is focus on strategy and hope to survive long enough for your long-term strategic actions to bear fruit.”

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Social change and chaos

It’s definitely good that a lot of people seem to have, just about, woken up one day in late May 2020 and decided that racism, racists, and racial disparities—particularly in violent injury by police—are not okay and that these things need kicked to the curb promptly.

That is certainly good and an improvement.

We clearly have systems which suppress demands for change (issuing from below), however, and suppress it, and when eventually something gives, our systems are a disordered mess.

That’s a modest price to get real, material gains in justice and inclusion.

I just have to believe that some better way is possible. Someday. It’s true that few if any complaints, demands or proposals now enjoying new energy are entirely new. It would be good if we had a process—e.g. a functioning political process—where merit and effort could make headway without having to wait until the system resistance breaks up, then try to grab what gains are possible during a melee which could end as seemingly arbitrarily as it began.

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