Tag Archives: Republicans

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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The Enduring Faith in Secrets

People have a habit of responding to upsetting things, happening right out in the open, with a belief that there exists some secret information which, when revealed, will reaffirm their idea of a just universe. The belief is often fantasy.

This is on my mind, this week, as members of Congress stage the usual kabuki performance around a “January 6 Commission.” I think the fixation on digging up secrets behind the Capitol Insurrection is one very good example of this error. Probably there are secrets, but what real significance can they have beyond what happened right in the open for all to see?

The belief in secrets as a source of hope amid upsetting events is a pattern that has been coming into focus for me for a while. I wrote about it last summer without quite seeing a completely sharp picture. I began to recognize it years ago as the local battle over Lakewood Hospital dragged on, and multiple people became much more fixated on secret details than on the completely obvious. Looking back, I think there’s a common tendency toward this but that it’s mainly driven by a desire to restore faith in a just universe. It was unthinkable that public servants—local people, your own neighbors—were conspiring and lying and even breaking rules to liquidate a publicly owned charity hospital and getting away with it. Some secret somewhere had to exist which would unlock the doors of that nightmare and offer a way out.

That was not the case and I don’t think it’s the case with the larger nightmare of contemporary American politics.

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Policy vs. Tribalization

The past week has brought out a language of real alarm from a variety of elite voices, on the subject of Republicans’ rejection of democracy. Yesterday, retired general McCaffrey wrote this, which might have been cribbed from any number of my own posts:

Wild as this is to witness, a few things make me skeptical about its possible import. First, I cannot assume that this alarm will have any impact at all on either the larger population or the people with power to choose national policy. Second, perhaps a minor point, but it is such a demonstration of elite decadence that the demotion of far-right Republican Liz Cheney seems to be the main prompt for this alarm. Good grief.

Third, I’m forced to question the potential at this point for any policies or rules to contain what is a kind of cultural folk migration.

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The Republican Party delenda est

This is basically a separate post to emphasize, explicitly, a conclusion which I would think that I have expressed already at length and which ought to be obvious generally.

But, to make it real simple: America needs to dissolve the dangerous, anti-democracy sabotage movement called “The Republican Party.”

We face a very stark choice between representative democracy, and the Republican Party, and without actively choosing the former over the latter, the former will be destroyed by the latter, as is occurring right now right in front of us.

Unfortunately, American culture long ago sealed itself into a conceptual framework which assumes that national governance is essentially a power-sharing agreement in which Democrats and Republicans are always necessary participants. Most of the culture is still sealed inside this framework, except the Republican Party which is setting up a sham democracy which looks like the old “bipartisan” system on the surface, but in which real national power is reserved exclusively for Republicans. (Although a faction within the Republican Party is so convinced, by the right’s endless projection, that the system is hopelessly rigged against them that they have already carried out one violent insurrection and may go further, since the first one has not been punished in any meaningful way.)

My sense is that our culture is too senescent to recognize and respond to this danger, in time, but for what it’s worth my advice to anyone who asked would be to challenge, actively, the obsolete “normalcy” which assumes a permanent functional democracy that includes the Republican Party as an essential part of that system, participating in good faith.

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What Capitol Insurrection?

This morning, Marcy Wheeler shared a blog post featuring an entirely ordinary image from the January 6, 2021 Capitol Insurrection, and it hit me.

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.

Months later, it’s like that never happened. Politics is carrying on exactly as it would had there been no Capitol Insurrection.

This seems like it’s as simple as this can get. America is a zombie failed state, just shambling along braindead waiting for the next chainsaw, as demonstrated in a few simple lines without resort to any of my charts, timelines, or arm-waving jeremiads.

Since the latter items are the primary fare here, however, a few notes on potential rebuttals or excuses and why they are nonsense:

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Reality and self amid the maelstrom

Thinking lately about what’s real and what’s important—neither of which overlaps completely with the other—and how to hold onto them amid all the dysfunction, real dangers and misleading indicators.

I have been writing plenty about the false and misleading, this year. Every day seems to be a downpour of dishonesty, delusion, wrong directions and la la land pretending. I can see this, and while it’s a struggle to go against the grain when hardly anyone else seems like they’re going to, I think I can make it that far.

But where am I going to, and where can I go to; what revised expectations of real and important should replace the old?

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The unmentionable Republican problem

Fraud on the political right is a massive, crisis-proportion problem in America but cultural taboos and other habits prohibit any mainstream recognition of this.

Republicans’ 2020 convention produced a platform which was literally just unconditional support for bigoted conman Donald J. Trump. No policies, no values, nothing. State parties are, if possible, even more radically cultish.

This is not new, either, and there is no “bipartisan” symmetry. A dozen years ago, Democrats’ fractious coalition managed for the sake of compromise and governing to coalesce in support of the Republican healthcare reform option, and in response Republicans coalesced around total opposition to it. The subsequent we-have-always-been-at-war-with-Eastasia narrative was the main message of Republicans for a decade. They have, of course, never proposed any sincere alternative in all this time; “Trumpcare” was not only terrible policy but even within the Republican caucus was never even real policy, just a game of hot-potato and plain old lying.

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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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Nullification 2021

America’s factions of privilege have a long history with “nullification” in various forms, so it isn’t exactly surprising to see Republicans playing with the concept again. It’s at least a little strange to watch them open a door to judicial decisions carrying no authority unless one agrees with them right after they spent several years packing the federal courts with partisan Republican operatives, but that’s where we are.

Republicans don’t seem to have worked out any cohesive strategy for dealing with the January 6 putsch. To some extent this is a concentration of their overall problem dealing with Trump, but January 6 seems to have actually flummoxed them. The initial direction from leadership was basically “disperse, lie low, hold your breath” and the party seems like it hasn’t ever quite filled that vacuum.

First the Senate went into recess through the end of Trump’s term, effectively a refusal to look at any impeachment articles while Trump was in office. Then Republicans introduced the objection that “we can’t act on impeachment now because Trump is out of office.” This classic chutzpah is entirely typical of them, and they might have pulled it off if they still had the votes to control Senate business completely, despite the fact that the objection is not only hypocritical but totally false. Never mind obscure precedents; the Constitution itself says “The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments.”

Republicans’ willingness to ignore that and claim that an impeachment trial is “unconstitutional” should shock people. If language that clear is “open to interpretation” then the Constitution might as well be oracle bones with no meaning except what judges say it has. But in a sense this is exactly what Republicans want: to transfer authority to an unelected, rigged judicial priesthood.

That strategy depends on judicial decisions having unquestionable authority, though, and now Republicans are actively flirting with a nullification doctrine. If Republican senators end up trying to evade reckoning with January 6 by saying “based on the evidence I would vote to convict Trump if the Senate had that power, but it does not so I have to oppose conviction” they will be declaring judicial decisions optional along with the language of the Constitution.

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Ungovernable

I pitch around terms like “failed state” and “ungovernable,” in referring to our crashing nation state, but I imagine that these are just words for nearly all who may chance by.

The dramatic difference between where we already are, though, and how much more functional our political systems were just within my lifetime might offer helpful context.

An approximate and abridged timeline of dysfunction:

  • c. 1980 amending the U.S. Constitution becomes impossible
  • c. 1990 multi-day government shutdowns enter the picture
  • c. 2005 steady growth in filibusters takes hockey-stick upward turn
  • c. 2010 significant reform via legislation becomes impossible
  • 2011 gerrymandering approaches perfection; debt ceiling brinkmanship
  • 2015 total blockade of cross-party judicial appointments
  • 2018 Violence Against Women Act cannot even get renewed
  • 2019 total blockade of cross-party legislation
  • 2020 broad Republican consent for schemes to reject a presidential election defeat

I don’t think this pattern points to “an epiphany” followed by a sudden return to cooperation and responsible good governance.

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