Tag Archives: Politics

OH11 and Truthiness

This is mostly a post for myself, simply to record the reality which is already being widely replaced by a “truthiness” alternative.

The Democratic primary fight for a special election to represent Ohio’s 11th Congressional District for a little over a year was a cluster-fucking fiasco for which all of the major participants share responsibility.

I write this mainly because so much of the left seems to be circling the wagons in defense of a Nina Turner campaign which not only lost the primary but—contrary to the exculpatory myth emerging—presided over the immolation and waste of enormous resources in doing so.

Before I dig further into that, though, a review of the wasteful shambles found everywhere you look in this shit show:

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Bipartisanship Deal Infrastructure

Friday morning I began writing a blog post about the absurdities in and around the “bipartisan infrastructure deal” announced the day before. Then I stepped away from keyboard for a while, and before I resumed writing, parts of the Jenga tower had already begun caving in.

There’s a small life satisfaction, there, although people are scurrying around trying to patch up this dumb thing, and I don’t presume the effort is at and end.

I do believe that the most important point is the same, regardless. Republicans’ shiny-object obsession with bugaboos, conspiracies, and other made-up bullshit, has a counterpart among too many Democrats as well as the culture at large. This center-left obsession is with, perhaps fittingly, obsolete conceptual infrastructure.

Customs, norms, rhetorical clichés, mental clichés, bipartisanship, filibuster, reconciliation; it’s an obsession with the score of a game which no longer serves any purpose at all, in large part because only one of the participating teams is trying to play said game. Despite which, this ridiculous scrum continues of spectators and one team ferociously debating tactics and points, while the other team (and an increasing number of referees who have joined their team) simply play Calvinball.

From this starting point, it seems like a pattern of over-complicated and inherently dishonest “deals”—Obama’s 2016 attempt to waltz the Trans-Pacific Partnernship through Congress, Republicans’ 2017 game of hot-potato over healthcare repeal, and now the “two track” infrastructure scheme—is not a coincidence but basically inevitable.

The old is dying. The new cannot yet be born until more people pull their heads out and confront reality. Here, meanwhile, are some of the morbid symptoms.

The Illusion of Change

During my active years in comic book fandom, somewhere or other I absorbed the concept of “no change, only the illusion of change.” I’m not sure that there’s any firm, verified single origin for it, and in any event its significance is in the clarity of its understanding of America’s biggest long-running superhero properties. From year to year, things seem to happen, but decade to decade, not so much, and over the longer term even less so.

I was reminded of this after spending some time thinking about American politics and governing, at the national level, and what major change has actually happened compared with 10 and 20 years ago.

That probably gives away much of my conclusion, which is that at this time scale so much of the screaming and scrambling and struggling seems to even out. Most of it is equivalent to the illusion of change. Above and beyond that, slow geologic trends seem to be the main story, and it is not really a good one.

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Seeing politics literally vs seriously

I recall some debate about whether to take Trump literally or seriously, particularly early in his presidency. I think this concept got kicked around enough that it was even the subject of mockery on Twitter at one point.

Lately I feel like my evolving attitude toward politics, generally, might be described as taking it seriously but not literally.

The terminology isn’t ideally precise. By “seriously” I mean that I’m certain that policy matters, and so therefore does political activity which influences it. By “literally,” I mean taking politics at face value, or on its own terms, of which I have recently become much more skeptical.

I think most people are in practice generally the opposite: they take politics literally but not seriously. The average person pays little heed to politics, but when they do, I think they readily swallow most of the concepts offered to them with minimal questioning. The average activist usually pays attention, but still takes a lot of “how things are done” for granted.

I pay attention, but doing so has of late made it harder and harder to take politicians and political narratives entirely on their own terms. I still think that policy matters, and that politics influences policy, but that process only loosely resembles official narratives about what the rituals mean. There’s a lot of pushing on a rope. There’s a lot of noise.

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The Senate, parties, and misidentification

The moment the dust settled enough, from the November 2020 election, to see that Democrats’ best hope in the Senate was a 50-member pseudomajority, I knew that it would be an awful mess. I was right.

The perpetuation of a bipartisan-majority “filibuster” caucus, in combination with the guaranteed perpetuation of total obstruction of everything by Republicans, cripples Democrats’ ability to govern and pretty much confirms that America’s political crisis is terminal. That’s very bad.

What’s almost more frustrating, though is that no one seems to have any idea how to talk about this nightmare or even a readiness to try talking about it honestly. I grant that it’s very complicated for a culture which wants everything simplified and preferably familiar, too.

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La la land

I already established the theme of this post a month ago, the short version of which is “the fundamental reality surrounding us is a disaster, and for individuals the additional choice to confront that is made even more unappealing by the huge number of people engaged in some form or another of escapist play-pretend.”

The past week has served up more and more of this on basically every front. I have adopted the term “la la land” as shorthand for the many forms of reality-denying nonsense, especially the energetic promotion of one after another new reform bills which are all pure fantasy absent a revolution within the US Senate.

I mockingly asked last week if people believe that the Senate is a dam, which simply must burst if a large enough flood of legislation builds up behind it. Honestly I would like to believe that some theory resembling this really is circulating among Democratic reformers. If there’s any hope for Senate Democrats’ pseudo-majority to overcome the Republican obstruction and the small but critical number of Democrats enabling it, it seems like it will involve every interest within the Democratic coalition insisting on it. Introducing legislation which coalition members really want, e.g. the PRO Act, would plausibly encourage such an uprising. I don’t assume that this would work, but it would at least be a “theory of the case.”

I suspect not, though. Also last week, I literally called the office of my representative to the US House and asked if there is any theory of the case, or if the party is just giving up and introducing message bills now; the staff’s response was basically a that’s-how-things-are shrug.

More significantly, it just seems like nearly everyone is adrift in la la land, all the time.

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This unraveling reality

Several months ago I wrote about “a point where it seems like the madness is enveloping us, and the question of whether or not to embrace it seems increasingly academic.”

It does not feel like America has distanced itself from that point.

The toxic Republican Party has been prying and pulling America away from reality, actively, for decades, ever since a critical mass of Republican elites wrote off any possibility of having an inclusive democracy, being honest about the consequences of their policy goals, and still advancing those policy goals. Instead they began the ongoing buildout of “the rightwing cinematic universe,” with think tanks and partisan media and conspiracy theories gradually building an immersive false reality in which their toxic party of sabotage and snarling gets to play heroes.

But as fundamental as that is to America’s problems, there just aren’t so many Republicans that they can be blamed exclusively. They can’t even be blamed exclusively for the problem of the toxic Republican Party, because its continued vast sabotage is only possible with many enablers. Bad rules factor in, too, but the bad rules also endure only because too many people choose to put up with them.

While Republican reality-denying is disproportionate in most measures, there is reality-denying all over, and it is also too much.

Observations from just the past few days:

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Bipartisanship Deconstructed

Our political culture of reverence for “bipartisanship” has become like a cargo cult. Few have really caught on to the reality that the rituals aren’t working, let alone questioned their origins. Many simply carry on apparently convinced that going through the motions and chanting the magic phrases—”find common ground,” “reach across the aisle,” “bipartisan“—must eventually revive the politics of decades ago.

If one can manage even basic pattern recognition, it’s easy enough to dismiss this. Fake radios don’t work, the Ghost Dance didn’t work, repeating clichés with no relevance to contemporary politics won’t work. But ignorant superstition is not a convincing complete explanation, here, and it’s worth examining how America became so attached to this concept in the first place.

Much reference to “bipartisanship” seems like a shorthand. It’s an overused gesture toward cooperation and reasonableness, employed out of habit. Or it’s an all-purpose endorsement of policy, in place of details which few will follow.

But a deeper reflection on bipartisanship reveals an important part of governing and America’s social contract itself, for well over a century.

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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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