|On Our Fraying National Identity
||[Jan. 31st, 2017|09:32 pm]
It isn’t that Donald Trump is our president now, that makes the breakup of America more likely than it has been in our lifetimes. Nor is it the unilateral Republican control of the federal government. Nor, astonishingly, is it the revolting right-wing policy agenda, the result of a generation of intellectual inbreeding and ethical insolvency, an agenda which—make no mistake—is horrifying to look at even in the abstract, let alone in its real-world costs, and transgresses humanity’s fitful but noble journey toward justice and self-determination.|
Any of those storms, even combined, a people of such pedigree as us could easily weather.
No, the existential danger facing our country, the omen of its demise, is found instead in the context of those storms:
It is that Donald Trump was elected president at all, by us, despite full and sweeping disclosure to the American public during the campaign that he is a despicable and incompetent human being: a narcissist and egomaniac incapable of fulfilling the duties of the president, an inflamer of bigotry and nationalism, and an apologist for sex crimes, business crimes, and hate crimes of every color, a mate who does not deserve to occupy what was once the noblest, and is still the most powerful, office in the world.
It is that the unilateral Republican control of the federal government only exists because conservatives rigged the system to make it so: They denied President Obama his constitutional right to appoint hundreds of federal judges and other officials, including to the Supreme Court. They exploited their power in the federal government and their control of state legislatures nationwide to gerrymander the House of Representatives vastly in their favor, and likewise many state legislatures beneath them, all of whom in turn serve the Republican Party’s partisan interests. They abused their power to infringe people’s right to vote—poor people, black people, people whose voting patterns correlate with a lack of Republican support—by passing state laws nationwide that limited people’s access to the franchise. And for six years under President Obama they allowed no significant policy accomplishments whatsoever, and for two years before that they refused to cooperate at all with the Democratic majority on anything, always despite a willingness to cooperate and a desire for bipartisanship on the part of the Administration and the Democrats in Congress. This general dysfunction of the federal government is the most damning of all, because in those eight years—and in particular the last six—our nation faced many crises that sorely deserved national action.
It is that the right-wing agenda calls for the systematic oppression of virtually the entire American people, by allowing corporate interests and financial rackets to plunder the poor, the working class, and the middle class, and by systematically preventing or abrogating the civil liberties of females, nonwhites, queerfolk, non-Christians, immigrants, the elderly, the young, religious minorities and nonbelievers, natives, and many other groups of people.
It is that there is no longer any effective threat of public censure; conservatives no longer care about the opprobrium of anyone who isn’t another conservative. Shame, one of history’s most powerful tools of conformity enforcement, has been completely eliminated from the equation.
It is that the conservative movement, through its Republican Party, instills its followers with a delusional ideology using pervasive religious and news propaganda so virulent that the very process of maintaining it causes collateral damage to the entire scientific community, to the healthcare system, to civil discourse itself, to our global power and international alliances, and to the Earth as a whole and the countless beings who live here.
I see treason against the United States. No foreign country could have done as much damage, as we did to ourselves by the actions of right-wing extremism and conservatism’s unwitting followers and enablers. Both in method and intent, conservatives and their Republican Party are taking us away from liberal democracy and toward an authoritarian state whose government is completely unresponsive to the will and the needs of the general public and exists solely to advantage a lucky few.
Nor is there any apparent avenue to redress these gaping rips in our national fabric. Conservatives hate their perceived enemies with all their being, because that is what their propaganda has taught them to do: Anyone who challenges them can be made to fit into one of their tribal labels of “liberal,” “feminist,” “terrorist,” “hoodlum,” and so on. Once the tribal division is applied, conservatives simply close their minds to such people, outright.
To make matters worse, we liberals have not done enough to deserve a respectful hearing in the first place. Though we wear the mantle of justice, we act like spoiled children, bickering amongst ourselves, picking petty battles haphazardly and without strategic thought, diluting our energy by allowing ourselves to be distracted by countless irrelevancies, making little effort at supplying visionary leadership to the broader public, and failing in our fundamental obligations to unionism and tolerance.
And the Democratic Party, which for decades has been our political vessel, has failed us entirely, and even now whispers about cooperating with the Republicans in their campaign to destroy the nation.
On top of everything, we are all aware of the single most harmful side effect of the otherwise beautiful and vast and exhilarating new world of modern media and online connectivity: In times past, many of our associations were, by circumstance, geographical or professional. But today we can associate by ideology and like-mindedness. That is not a bad thing! But it is an easily corruptible power, and we can see (with effortful awareness) the hallmarks of that corruption in the fact that most people’s political perceptions are limited to the echo chambers of their own choosing, and no can seem to agree what the reality is.
Look at our sorry state. Look at what has come of majestic America. We’re like a rotting piece of fruit; we can still see and smell our richness and beauty, but only amid the spoilage. Were it not for my impulse toward decency and humanism I would say we even deserve such a fate, given that it is we who permitted this demon to possess us.
So what is going to happen?
In the immediate sense, our federal government is about to become a lot more corrosive, belligerent, repressive, and internationally bypassed. As I have said from the moment of the election, we are going to lose all kinds of government programs and protections that previously seemed invulnerable. Because there is no way of stopping this, short of terrorism or insurrection, as the Republicans have shown they possess neither the instinct of shame nor of compassion, I have little interest in “the resistance” per se and have instead been fairly acquiescent on the point of simply accepting the inevitable cavalcade of defeats facing us in favor of directing our limited energy at retaking swaths of the government in 2017 and 2018.
(Let me take a moment to expound on that with some frank advice: If you’re signing a petition, don’t. If you’re calling a Republican elected official, don’t. Those two things are a waste of your time and a net loss of our limited energy. If you’re calling a Democratic elected official, make sure every single communication you have with them is qualified with “Do not cooperate with the Republicans on anything or I will never vote for you again.” And don’t say it as a threat: Say it as a fact. More on that another time.)
On a grander scheme, we may be witnessing the beginning of the end of the modern liberal democratic era, though that discussion is best left for another day. What can be said here and now is that, in the United States, I think we are hanging on to our national identity by fewer threads than it seems, and I think we should not count on either unionist precedent (including the Civil War) or the relative lack of proto-secessionist violence and disobedience to tell us that everything is fine.
In the United Kingdom, Scotland almost voted for independence despite no conventional precursor tremors of mass cultural intolerance, widespread civil disobedience, or epidemics of political violence. The same is true, if with somewhat less purity, of Quebec in Canada. Spain offers another example, albeit more complex. And if the UK as a whole completes its exit from the European Union, it will have been done virtually entirely in the arena of ideas, with hardly a drop of blood spilled or bullet fired anywhere. Therefore, in fully developed countries with modern economics and liberal democratic systems of governance, it may be the case that dissolution can happen with a measure of peace and stability—which only increases, initially, the likelihood of further dissolutions elsewhere.
If everything were fine in America, our government would function with some amount of bipartisan consensus, and the prevailing agenda of the land, if not necessarily progressive, would not actively seek to indenture the poor and punish virtually every minority. Our media would not be so decadent in its lack of rigor, nor would it be dismissed with such open derision by the conservative base. And there would be tolerance, if not universal and harmonious then at least pragmatic and communicative.
I am not saying that the nation will dissolve, but I certainly argue that it could, and my personal feeling now is that this dissolution is more likely to happen than not, especially if we allow for a timescale of decades. I can see the present-day United States still existing as such in the year 2100, but I do not think that is the road we are on today.