Tag Archives: Trust

Pessimism and Pushback

Hardly anyone seems very happy, right now, and across most of the center-left, attitudes range from frustration and anger to fear and despair. Probably inevitably, Democrats/democrats are also turning frustration upon one another, as we recognize to one degree or another that we’re stuck in a a corner and paralyzed by divided agendas.

Among what we might call the officers’ ranks, there is an emerging pattern of concern, as well as exasperated pushback. I think the concern is well-placed. The past week, alone, was one of intense misery and nothing stands in the way of more.

The pushback disputes or simply denies the latter. For that reason I think it’s mostly just plain wrong, as well as unhelpful.

There’s a subset of the pushback which does, I think, make a valid and important point. Marcy Wheeler has deployed various rebuttals to the people screaming that Attorney General Garland is failing in his duty to charge and convict the enemies of democracy. But she also agrees with me that, ultimately, the Department of Justice cannot solve the assault on democracy anyway, so outrage from people who perceive the DOJ “letting it happen” is just a fundamentally wrong premise.

Otherwise, the pushback seems mostly out of touch, and a confirmation of how screwed we are rather than any real counter-argument. A Lawyers for Good Government email very literally just listed, at length, major awful circumstances continuing or emerging despite our years of work, then said “that’s why we have to fight and win” without addressing in any way what effective “fight” we are supposed to wage. Indivisible, today, tried out an idea that mocking the weariness and despair—as an easy, alluring indulgence of desire to be lazy, watch tv, etc.—would pep people up. I don’t feel like it works very well. Teri Kanefield makes some of the same points as Wheeler, but mostly just yells at people for somehow manifesting defeat by letting the theft of our rights and democracy make us killjoys.

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Hell is the impossibility of reason

Counterarguments to my theme seem to be losing their force, gradually but steadily.

My theme is all too well established, here. I have written repeatedly about an irreparably poisoned political system, about an ungovernable America, about the seeming pointlessness of the political rituals, about the deeper hollowness of the culture, and about the nightmarish reality that the processes don’t work or make sense yet people keep going through the motions and about how the repetition is maddening.

I would like a practical way out of this doom-loop to demonstrate that I’m wrong. But that really isn’t happening. To the contrary.

What seems missing from all the popular reactions to the narrow but high “red wave” at work in yesterday’s Virginia and New Jersey elections is the possibility that it has next to nothing to do with events, policies, or issues.

I have written some version of this before, too, but it’s worth being more direct: America has now gone about 20 years in which the large minority of not-totally-committed voters votes to destroy the sitting president’s party at midterm elections, and it really strains credibility to insist that this pattern simply happens to be the result of a politics which is still meaningfully about events, policies, issues.

Again and again since the mid-00s, voters have on-net voted to annihilate the president’s party in non-presidential elections. Is it really the likeliest explanation that the recurrence is just a coincidence, and that each of those elections was about its own story, issues, etc.?

I don’t think that it is.

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Garbage Time

I have thought a time or two, recently, of the “first they ignore you…” bit, and how failing systems of authority may experience it in reverse. First people respect and feel part of the system, then people bump up against unworkable features of the system, then people laugh at its continued pretense of authority, then people just ignore it.

This is as close as I can get to a theme for what’s going on now.

Steady rot, maddening slowness of even attempts at constructive response, and more opting out.

Of the steady rot, well, good grief. This post’s featured image is of a protester in February 2017, and I suspect her sign could actually be more true now, not less. I wrote this post almost 29 months ago, and could just about repeat every word of it today. The big picture is dismal, and while one may find bright spots in the darkness here and there, from a perch next to Cleveland, Ohio, it’s just awful.

Yet leaders and institutions mostly seem, perhaps inevitably, deeply attached to accepting the system’s limits no matter how ridiculous they become. Pick an example. Congress is almost too obvious, yet it’s perhaps worth pointing out that it should be obviously unthinkable that about 50% of a legislature with vast responsibilities is permanently committed to blockade any and everything, even policies which are genuinely very good as well as wildly popular with the public. Yet this is just normalized. Working around the bad sectors and “out-organizing” them, accepting that impossibly bad rules and what they are, aw just try harder, is broadly accepted by leaders and institutions.

Liberal democracy, certainly in America, just seems to have no idea whatsoever what to do about an organized enemy which is inter-weaved with a traditional political party. It is just not done, apparently, for liberalism to actually fight to shut down a political party no matter how toxic it becomes. Instead liberal leaders and institutions just endlessly monitor the bad behavior and point at it, waiting for some other authority to take responsibility. The courts, which are too slow at best, or the voters, who pour votes into systems which just throw them out because those systems are already corrupted. Liberalism is forever determined to win the argument; even if it conclusively wins the argument and systems don’t respond, the answer is always to try winning it even more.

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Going off the grid

I struggle to process the emergence from the left of messages like: “Government doesn’t work. Abolish coercive enforcement by the state. Rely only on yourself and local, privately organized charitable systems.”

Of course, there are a lot of things I didn’t specifically anticipate, such as people freezing to death in Texas, yet here we are.

More generally, all of this is entirely in line with the dismal trends I have seen and bemoaned for so long. The trail of news stories and reports documenting the decay of America’s physical infrastructure goes back many years. I have written ad nauseam about the corresponding decay of political infrastructure, especially the corrupt sham Republican Party which in Texas “seceded” from the rest of the country’s electricity grids, and is now busy lying about the consequences. The “horseshoe theory” convergence of some left-originating rhetoric with rightwing libertarianism is strange in detail, but the broad collapse in social trust has been more and more on my mind.

Somewhere around here I have a scrap of paper on which I scrawled something like “the collapse is going to accelerate,” a few months ago. So, uh, yeah.

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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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