Tag Archives: Supreme Court

Three-line program

It just becomes more and more and more difficult to take American political debate and processes seriously. As I have written, real changes are occurring, mostly dire, and I take those very seriously. But these are so detached from most of the rhetoric and rituals which just carry on.

I am reminded of this xkcd:

Read More →

What if Ukraine submitted

I think there’s important value in thinking about an alternate scenario in which Ukraine simply conceded everything which Putin’s Russia demands.

In a sense this is farfetched. Ukraine has proved very united in fighting for its independence.

But I think the question is still important as a hypothetical. We didn’t know, beforehand, that would be the case. Many other governments were counting on Ukraine folding, in fact, maybe not willingly but folding nonetheless; had that happened, it’s fair to say that most would have accepted it as fait accompli without concern over Ukraine’s opinion. Plenty of governments still, even now, advocate Ukraine simply conceding (and their ranks may grow further).

More generally, why should it seem farfetched for Ukrainians to submit to an autocrat’s demands that they accept life without democracy, independence, rights, etc.—when so many people do so?

As far as I can tell, the main thing which makes voluntary submission by Ukraine seem unreasonable, to most center-left political opinion, is its separation from Russia by an international border. That border’s current streak of existence is just over 30 years; Russia (backed up by many other governments) now deny that said border is valid; ultimately, these are abstract things which we make up.

Is that the traditional liberal order’s only “firm” determiner for whether your claim to rights is valid, or whether you are obliged to submit when an authority figure says so? I have a strong, very uncomfortable feeling that it is.

Read More →

Extermination

March 23, 2022, stands out somewhat from the standard of this ongoing nightmare, for various reasons which I will go through in a moment. There have been worse single days, and really, when the standard is as bad as it has become, it feels somewhat meaningless to measure one day against another. But an important theme connects a number of notes from Wednesday.

The theme is organized extremism with absolutely fanatical intolerance for anything independent of it even existing—and a larger community which just remains unable to process such fanaticism.

One of my first reads, Wednesday morning, was a fascinating letter to the editor, in which a retired British defense attaché denounces the flabbiness and corruption which led his country to ignore and even enable the monster of Putin’s government for so long. While this has broader applicability than just Britain, the inclusion of a quote from Sherlock Holmes naturally caught my eye as well. From “His Last Bow,” it’s just about the last thing, chronologically, which Holmes says in the entire canon, spoken just before the start of the carnage and devastation of World War I.

Overnight, Politico Europe published an essay on “The failed world order” which makes a very effective bookend, essentially surveying more broadly the failings of the “Western” alliance and its institutions, which resulted in them ignoring and even enabling the monster of Putin’s government for so long. Mentioned within the essay, Sergiy Kyslytsya, Ukraine’s ambassador to the U.N., likened Russia to a poisonous mold, spreading rot through the structures of the international body.

In between, the day delivered now essentially standard news and analysis from Ukraine, where there seems less and less to be any credible purpose to Russian attacks besides injuring and, to the greatest extent possible, simply destroying Ukraine. The day also delivered multiple demonstrations of the similar fanaticism within the United States, and the failure and flab within America’s own liberal order.

Read More →

The Crisis of Confidence

When the rigged high court, this week, ignored the precedent of Roe v. Wade, I realized that a blog post I wrote exactly two months earlier seemed word-perfect. Post-Democracy America is taking shape right in front of us.

As with a lot of events, now, I’m still making some attempt to analyze and process, yet I also keep finding that a lot of what happens is compatible with conclusions I reached and wrote about previously, some times years ago. It was right around three years ago that I went through intense anguish at the corrupt, evil takeover of America’s high court. Watching it play out, now, is sad and bad, but can I say that I really expected anything else?

I have been writing explicitly for some time that I think America is beyond repair, certainly in terms of a representative democracy. The proposition that the system can be repaired within the system is beyond farfetched, at this point.

Yet I still expect that zombie systems and concepts will shamble along, because that’s human behavior.

I am again re-reading Stokesbury’s Short History of World War I, and again the book and current events provide fascinating perspective on one another. Particularly how absolutely unprepared European leaders were for what war of that era was going to be like, even though there were warnings. The Russo-Japanese War was a warning, but they ignored it. “…early in 1915, Allied intelligence heard rumors that the Germans might conceivably be going to use gas. Not knowing exactly what to do about it, the Allied commanders decided to do nothing.” By later on in 1915, the war had ground up lives for an entire year, and still the nations of Europe continued to feed more lives into the same meat-grinder battles for multiple additional years before some new ideas managed to force themselves into use, often through some degree of accident.

America has had warnings, plenty of warnings, and we have even been living through plenty of nightmarish consequences of our culture becoming badly unsuited to new challenges. But most of those in authority (who are not actively part of the destruction) don’t know exactly what to do about it, and are instead doing nothing, at least nothing besides the same ineffective things which they have been doing.

I think this might be thought of as a Crisis of Confidence, partly at least a disastrous surplus of confidence as was very much the case in World War I.

Read More →

Post-democracy America

As I watch corrupt sham democracy eat each big new hole in the remaining shell of representative democracy, I always feel a tension any more between dismay at how fast it seems to be happening and the lessons of experience about how long zombie systems can shamble along anyway.

Aside from the lessons of America itself over the past couple of decades, I think again on re-reading Gibbon recently, and on how long the Roman Senate existed after the Roman republic ended. This notoriously pathetic zombie institution (the use of which by America’s framers as an explicit model for our government was really Asking For It from the very start) lingered on for centuries after it had surrendered all power to autocratic emperors. The Roman Senate outlasted the republic, its own purpose, and even the Roman religion, by centuries.

That’s a powerful corrective to any expectation of a near-term catharsis, of any kind.

So I’m stuck, usually, with the expectation that things will get worse and worse, but, while some kind of explosion(s) are probably somewhere ahead, even they may not really alter America’s zombie-shuffle very much.

Read More →

Tenuous contact with reason

The list of “deserves more attention, shouldn’t get lost, etc.” things is always too long any more. If I were to propose one more item, it would be the alarming reports of delayed ballot delivery in multiple swing states. Or at at any rate, reports which seem like they should be setting off alarms, though so far they seem not to be.

Meanwhile, I’m struggling to maintain some distinction between what makes sense and what doesn’t, something which feels like it’s getting more needed and more difficult in the final stages of this quadrennial mass insanity we call a presidential election.

I don’t mean bullshit, in this case; that’s overwhelming as always, but selfish Republican senators like Susan Collins and John Cornyn e.g. are just lying and that’s terrible but also a constant.

On the other hand, I presume that Senator Chris Murphy meant well when he suggested that “because a statewide election in Texas is so expensive, the marginal value of every dollar donated is higher.” But I believe that is completely backward. Slightly less trivial, perhaps, Democrats as well as small-business advocates are now charging Republicans with doing harm by focusing on a Supreme Court appointment at the expense of relief legislation. That’s much the same argument that Republicans made in 2019—that Democrats were doing harm by focusing on impeachment instead of other “real” issues—and both instances seem dumb.

Read More →

Living atop a powder keg

“The weather was indeed fine, but thinking men and women were aware that Europe lived on a powder keg, and had for years.” James Stokesbury wrote this about summer 1914, in the opening paragraphs of A Short History of World War I, which I have read over and over.

I think about this lately, as well as a few words about the eve of another even larger convulsion: commenting about their respective countries in The Wind Rises, Castorp speaks very plainly to Jiro: “Japan is going to blow up. Germany will also blow up.”

For all that I go on about this theme, it feels like one thing to perceive such a course and quite another to process it and adapt one’s thinking accordingly. I may be making some progress. It seems more immediately real that America is living on a powder keg, which we should expect to blow up.

Read More →

Conceptual infrastructure failures

It’s possible for situation to be both terrible and ridiculous at once. This has indeed been the case almost constantly for America, for at least four years.

My awareness of this phenomenon, confronting us from almost every direction, has become overwhelming.

On one hand, things are absolutely abhorrent. Where to begin? The western U.S. is literally on fire, a pandemic has killed 200,000 Americans and climbing, and the president is an authoritarian raving monster who spends his time flying around the country for organized COVID-19 superspreader events, and encouraging Republicans’ frenzied effort to “get rid of the ballots” that might oblige them to cede power in any kind of functioning democracy; they’re clearly willing to destroy what remains of ours, and are preparing to install another radical partisan operative on the nation’s highest court.

Meanwhile everyone is screaming and e-mailing and deploying every cliché in the book—red alert, all hands on deck, etc.—and it feels equivalent to yelling “pull up, pull up!” when the plane’s engines have exploded and it’s in a tailspin trailing smoke and fire.

Read More →

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.

Read More →

The US Supreme Court in the 21st Century

The phrase “Save SCOTUS” began appearing in my inbox and Twitter feed fairly regularly within a few days of Justice Kennedy’s retirement.

I realize that it’s just a hashtag, probably grasped at in the same embarrassing, unplanned haste that has characterized most liberal response to a circumstance for which concerned parties should have had plans ready long before now.

Yet I believe that the phrase does, if only by accident, frame the related events much more aptly than most of its promoters have even considered.

We are in fact confronting the end of the US Supreme Court as it has existed for as long as I can recall. For those who wish that kind of institution to persist, the very last opportunity to save it is indeed quickly expiring.

Spoiler alert: I’m pretty sure the Supreme Court of the late 20th century is beyond saving, no matter who replaces Kennedy. Although that institution’s fundamental conservatism has resisted the changes around it for nearly two decades, a different Supreme Court is emerging in the 21st century, like it or not.

Read More →