Monday, March 12, 2018

America's Greatest Challenge Since... The Civil War


Does anyone doubt the news reports that Putin is about to "win" a landslide reelection? Of course not; he counts the votes and sets the rules. And Trump must be seething with jealousy. Last week, Annie Linskey, writing for the Boston Globe, reported that Señor Trumpanzee "would be able to dispatch Secret Service agents to polling places nationwide during a federal election, a vast expansion of executive authority, if a provision in a Homeland Security reauthorization bill remains intact. The rider has prompted outrage from more than a dozen top elections officials around the country, including Secretary of State William F. Galvin of Massachusetts, a Democrat, who says he is worried that it could be used to intimidate voters and said there is 'no basis' for providing Trump with this new authority. 'This is worthy of a Third World country,' said Galvin in an interview. 'I’m not going to tolerate people showing up to our polling places. I would not want to have federal agents showing up in largely Hispanic areas.'"

Trump is, in fact, as David Remnick wrote in the new issue of the New Yorker The Stress Test Of Liberal Democracy. Referencing a Regime obsessed with diversion and diversion from diversion, Remnick wrote that "Minute by minute the wheels are coming off the clown car that is the Trump Administration. The circus animals are deserting, wriggling through every available window and door. Last week, it was the chief economic adviser, Gary Cohn, who had countenanced the President’s falsehoods and flights of bigotry but who finally took a stand on the question of steel and aluminum tariffs. Still others-- the Secretary of State, the national-security adviser, the chief of staff, the Chief Daughter, and the Feckless Son-in-Law-- are surely imagining either their own retirement from government service or multi-part indictments. Meanwhile, Robert Mueller’s investigation grows increasingly ominous for the President. Also, porn stars.
But the spectacle on Pennsylvania Avenue diverts attention from an arguably more consequential matter; namely, who now speaks for the values and the institutions of a liberal democratic country? Donald Trump did not ignite but merely joined a miserable, destabilizing trend of illiberalism that has been under way for years in Russia, Turkey, China, India, Southeast Asia, and Western, Eastern, and Central Europe. In France, Germany, Italy, Greece, the Netherlands, Sweden, and the United Kingdom, far-right parties and factions have not yet taken power, but they are contenders to do so, and they influence the debate on everything from immigration to foreign policy.

Trump is not the most extreme case. He may denounce his own Justice Department as disloyal and skeptics in the media as “enemies of the people.” But, at least for now, he operates within a constitutional order-- a still-standing system of laws, a separation of powers, and a civil society-- that has so far proved resilient. Yet the threat of Trumpism is unique in its scale and its influence. It is one thing for Viktor Orbán to shrink the nascent liberties of post-Communist Hungary, a nation of fewer than ten million people; it is another for Trump to assume the title of “leader of the free world,” when he has such casual disregard for democratic freedoms and assumes control of an unimaginably powerful arsenal with no sign of recognizing the gravity of his responsibility. As President, Trump is the putative guardian of a set of political values, and, no matter how often those values have been undermined, threatened, or betrayed in the course of American history, they have served for countless millions abroad as a democratic standard, an ideal.

Trump’s illiberalism-- his cockeyed expressions of admiration for such leaders as Vladimir Putin, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and Rodrigo Duterte, and his heedless detachment from American norms-- betrays that faith. It has also inspired a stream of books with titles like How Democracies Die, Can It Happen Here?, The Road to Unfreedom, Why Liberalism Failed, and It’s Even Worse Than You Think. Yascha Mounk, the author of the most recent addition to this library of anxiety, The People vs. Democracy: Why Our Freedom Is in Danger & How to Save It, offers a trenchant survey from 1989, with its democratic euphoria, to the current map of autocratic striving, “from Athens to Ankara.”

Mounk, who teaches government at Harvard, points out that one reason for the increasing indifference to democratic rule and the rising enthusiasm for authoritarian alternatives, particularly among young people, is the widening historical distance from any direct experience of the horrors of German Fascism or Soviet Communism. “Over two-thirds of older Americans believe that it is extremely important to live in a democracy; among millennials, less than one-third do,” Mounk writes. In 1995, “only one in sixteen believed that army rule is a good system of government; today, one in six do.” It’s easy to forget that we live in alarming times when you can just switch the channel to Vanderpump Rules.

Mounk emphasizes that history laughs at complacency and illusions of permanence. Athenian democracy lasted two centuries, the Republic of Venice a millennium, but both eventually faced decline and dissipation. The Trump era represents a test of sturdy-seeming American values, and the stakes are global. Just as a prosperous and self-confident American government helped rebuild Western Europe and Japan after the Second World War, and then helped protect them for decades-- through the establishment of various security, diplomatic, and economic alliances-- the Trump Administration’s disdain for that legacy has left our allies feeling exposed and vulnerable. European leaders routinely tell reporters and former American officials that the U.S. government is barely recognizable to them, in rhetoric or in action. The reductions in the diplomatic corps have often left them with no one to talk to; the Administration’s transactional relationships with authoritarian regimes give them the sense that the President is uninterested in any moral dimension in his foreign policy.

The next significant chapter in this stress test for liberal values will be the midterm elections of November, 2018. If the Democratic Party fails to win a majority in either the House of Representatives or the Senate, Trump will be further emboldened. His capacity for recklessness will multiply and go unrestrained. The Republican leadership, which has already proved shocking in its cowardice, will be even less inclined to challenge him.

Popular resistance to Trumpism began on the Mall the day after his Inauguration. The youthful uprising against the National Rifle Association in south Florida is the newest source of inspiration. But, for Trump and Trumpism to be rendered an unnerving but short-lived episode, history will require more than cogent critique. It will require that millions of men and women who do not ordinarily exercise their franchise-- some sixty per cent in off-year elections-- recognize the imperatives of citizenship. For those who aspire to office, it will require not merely renunciation of a President but an affirmation-- critical and thorough-- of the values and the institutions that the President has scorned and threatened. It will require an honest, complex, open-minded debate on immigration, income disparity, distrust of government, guns, race, gender, speech, social media, and the environment.

Such a debate will mean grappling with the many ways in which American values have yet to be fully realized. In the 2016 election, this territory was too often left to Trump’s demagoguery and his promise of simple solutions. But, whether or not the clown car is finally pulled over by the rule of law, the restoration and the renewal of America’s democratic traditions will be achieved only by democratic means.
Last night Alan Grayson, bemused, said, "I understand why people see parallels between Putin and Trump, but in Putin’s case it comes as no surprise that Head Spy would become Ruthless Dictator. In contrast, here there is a disconnect (or maybe a negative feedback) between campaigns and governance, and Donald Trump was elected on the theory that having no record of accomplishment in public life whatsoever was somehow a good thing. Would you choose your brain surgeon that way? (Leaving aside Ben Carson, of course.)" I got this quote (below) by Octavia Butler from Joy Reid's twitter account. Everyone in America should read it and read it again before they decide if they're going to the polls in November... and again in 2020. Trump-- and his enablers-- really are the biggest threat to this country since the same kind of people started the Civil War over a century ago.

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At 6:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

perfect parable. I'm sure its message is lost on at least 66% of Americans -- the really stupid ones -- the third who love trump plus the third who vote for Ds.

“Over two-thirds of older Americans believe that it is extremely important to live in a democracy; among millennials, less than one-third do,”

The millenials have noticed that the democracy the older ones left them is illusory and not even very much that any more. It's a fiction.

cheney/bush and trump prove that republicans care nothing for democratic institutions, especially voting. Clinton/clinton and obamanation proved that the democraps care only about winning so THEY can collect the corporate and billionaire money while in power. They did NOT bolster the institutions nor did they advance other democratic memes. They only collected money.

This isn't the civil war. It's metastatic cancers. And americans are too fucking stupid to see a doctor nor to follow his advice.

At 8:27 AM, Anonymous Hone said...

How about a shred of optimism, Anonymous? We have seen horrors before (remember slavery?) and we have survived and progressed. No harm in some optimism, is there? Perhaps Mueller will expose the gigantic nature of Trump's criminality with so many facts and have such a great case that no one could question what we are dealing with: President Orangeman is as corrupt as hell and guilty of innumerable crimes against the USA he supposedly leads.

I would not give up so fast on the younger generations either. They know very well that the present order of things is screwing them big time. They would love free college and a decent health plan.

Although I do have to say, Anonymous, that if Trump is not held accountable for his crimes, we are done for for sure.

The question is: will we last until Mueller comes across? What harm will Trump do in the meantime? The potential is YUGE.

Why isn't Congress stopping this madman? Surely this makes them rather guilty, too, and they should pay for their crimes as well. It is hard to believe they are doing absolutely nothing to stop his insanity.

At 9:47 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Democracy and capitalism cannot successfully coexist. Capitalism always demands more and more control in its efforts for enhancing profit. Any time a profit stream becomes stagnant, new revenue streams or reductions in expenses are sought. Now that capitalism owns our government, such changes are demanded. Where is the enforcement of anti-trust laws already on the books? Reagan stifled that and no president since has reinitialized it. Consumer protections are eliminated daily. Civil rights are weakened if not eliminated via hostile court rulings. Corporations thumb their collective nose at the government when it tries to actually enforce a law against them.

Yet We the People have the American version of the secret police taking us down, cracking heads and violating our rights to ensure that no populist movement to make corrections can form.

With the growth of the global population, people are seen as surplus and thus unnecessary in most corporate boardrooms. It's only a matter of time before corporate entities push their owned governments to reduce this burden upon their realization of profit.

At 11:29 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hone, optimism absent any factual basis is delusion. I do hope you realize this.

The last thing I read wrt Mueller is that he's going to delay further action pending, among many possible things, whether our fat man and their little boy meet and to what end that entails. Justice, it seems, is negotiable.

9:47, you are partly correct. True democracy is anathema to unfettered capitalism and vice versa. But unfettered capitalism entails its own demise as well.

You cannot have eternal growth (consumption, profits...) in a bounded environment. Your statement about global population does not stand up to interrogation. They need an ever-growing consumer base to generate ever-growing consumption in order to guarantee ever-increasing profit. The Henry Ford conundrum -- needing to pay his workers enough to be able to buy his cars in order to sell lots of cars...

This is a case where our operative religion, capitalism, is worshipped over all truths and other beliefs. We are blind to its infinities and willfully ignorant of its inherent effects on ourselves as it runs its logical and natural course, even as we see and feel it in action. One could and should say the same about our deistic religions. After all, nearly all human conflicts and mass death events have been based on or justified by some religious theme.

Wrt democracy, well, it would seem that we don't much care about that. We've allowed capitalism and religion to distort it and **WE** regularly fail to insist on its fidelity.

Indeed, we are as willfully ignorant of the benefits of democracy as we are of the inherent evils and logical inconsistencies of unfettered capitalism and religions.

Is humankind flawed such that we cannot help ourselves? Or are americans just that colossally stupid?

I think both are true. Given these, I'm truly astonished we lasted long enough that our effect on climate will kill us. I would have bet on nuclear war or even intra/intertribal annihilation 200,000 years ago.

At 8:50 PM, Anonymous The moderately hopeful Anonymous said...

The above pessimistic Anonymous, who, frankly, appears myopic about the downsides of a democratic republic, also appears afraid to consider or take into account anything except the real and potential negatives while completely conveniently ignoring the past and ongoing positives. Anonymous' complete collapse into political fear and faithlessness may seem a realistic and inevitable conclusion to the apparently 'omniscient' Anonymous, but I see it more as a political cowardice. Afraid of the hard political work ahead and terrified of anything less than 100% success.

At 6:05 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

MHA, well disguised shade. nicely done.

I've been around a while now. I've seen and pondered politics since JFK. I've seen the start of viet nam, JFK's assassination and everything since.

What has happened since 1980 (1968 really) has been a downward staircase from a barely functioning republic (downsides noted, but what else is better? Benevolent despot?) to our current bifurcated moron electorate and our retarded demagogue with a minority elected despotic R congress and a majority elected corrupt, feckless D minority. The minority elected despots embrace naziism. The majority elected feckless refuse to act when they could.

Hard work? Perhaps you can enlighten me as to how, absent the afore-mentioned benevolent despot, an electorate can be made instantly smarter; How 520 of the 535 "elected" to congress can be replaced; how the NRA can be shot dead; how corporations can be throttled and broken into pieces; how education can be made to actually educate; how laws can be enforced; how judges can be removed; how the economy can be redirected to benefit the commons...

And then tell me how it is possible in this shithole for all of these things to happen before florida disappears under the atlantic.

Ongoing positives? name it/them.

political fear or cowardice? no. faithlessness? absolutely. How could it be otherwise?


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