Is American Politics a Lost Cause?

There’s good news and bad news about the 2022 midterms. The good news is that the outcomes were not nearly as catastrophic as nearly everyone predicted. The bad news is that they were still bad enough. And far too many of the races were agonizingly close. The fascist takeover of America was set back a bit, but it continues to creep forward. And there is no excuse for allowing it, after all the warning signs Americans have had, over a period of not just years, but decades.

There was the exaltation of sheer demagoguery and utter vacuity in the persona of Ronald Reagan.

There was the rise of the right-wing media cartel. homogenizing and polarizing a large swath of the public, and selling them on an alternate reality.

There was the nepotistic installment of George W. Bush in the White House.

There was the formation of the Tea Party and the concurrent resurgence of the KKK and neo-Nazis.

There was the hijacking of the Supreme Court, transforming a vaunted judicial body into another right-wing activist contingent composed of extremist hacks.

There was the ascension to the throne of a megalomaniac perennial fraudster with the mentality and intellect of a toddler.

There was Jan. 6.

There was the Dobbs ruling.

And after each of these, a sizeable chunk of the public expressed outrage and vowed that this was the last straw.

But it wasn’t. In due course, the outrage in each case was smothered by right-wing gaslighting. And then it was back to business as usual.

After Dobbs the polls for the 2022 midterms swung markedly in favor of the Democrats, and things were looking up. But within a couple of months, Republicans had reclaimed the momentum by assiduously punching bullshit narratives about the economy, crime, immigration, “grooming”, gas prices and “freedom”.

Every day during the final 40 days of the campaign season, Michael Moore would publish what he called his “Tsunami of Truth” to counter the prevailing forecasts of a red wave. He was confidently predicting that the blue would be triumphant. I really hoped that he knew what he was talking about. After all, he was one of the few people on the planet who correctly predicted that Former Guy would win (the Electoral College) in 2016.

But while his prognostications turned out to be more on target than those of the pollsters and pundits, it soon became apparent that his “tsunami” was merely a gush of wishful thinking. He was writing about all the reasons that Democrats should win rather than the reasons they would win. And we all know all too well how far “shoulds” get us. You can’t blame him for trafficking in optimism in an effort to spur voters to get to the polls. But his success, if any, was limited.

Though votes are still being counted as of this writing, it’s clear that this is definitely a half-glass situation. On the one hand, Democrats stifled the “red wave”, and produced the most successful (i.e,, least disastrous) first-term midterms by the party of a sitting president in 4 decades. The Democrats apparently not only maintained their slim hold on the Senate, but actually may have increased their lead by a seat or two. And while it appears they’re going to lose the House (there’s still a slim chance they won’t), the Republican edge will be toilet tissue-thin. Young voters overwhelmingly voted blue. It also appears that Arizona gubernatorial candidate Katie Hobbs is going to defeat election-denying arrogant MAGA nut Kari Lake, who’d almost certainly block the certification of any Democratic presidential winner in this crucial swing state.

On the other hand, it appears that the GOPers did indeed win the House. So you can expect media saturation of their attacks on Hunter Biden and Dr. Fauci for at least the next 2 years, as well as one silly impeachment attempt after another, and endless hearings about how conservatives are supposedly being “censored”. And in deep-blue New York, the Republicans flipped several House seats — enough to make the difference in control of the chamber. Nationally, more Republicans voted than Democrats — which isn’t nearly as significant in terms of state and local elections as it is in a presidential election, but still cause for concern. And the rising star of fascism, Ron DeSantis, won reelection by a staggering margin. Oh, and two insurrectionists involved with the mob that broke into the Capitol in an attack on the U.S. government will now be able to enter the Capitol legally as part of the U.S. government.

This should not be a half-glass moment. It should be a moment of celebrating an overflowing cauldron of success. But here we are, after yet another refusal of the public, or at least a big enough segment of it, to read the writing on the wall about the last gasps of democracy, even though that writing is in huge letters blaring in neon. So the time has come when we seriously have to ask: is politics in America simply a lost cause?

I’ve always said that politics is not the best way to promote progress, and that it really solves few problems. But it can be and is used to create problems, to make matters worse; and, conversely, it can be used to prevent certain people from making matters worse. After these midterms, however, one can’t help fearing that the days of the American political process are numbered, even as a mere means to stop the bleeding.

There are four main reasons for this.

1. The red states are holding the nation hostage.

The majority of Americans are quite reasonable, and hold progressive values. But the nation operates under a lopsided system of minority rule. This is possible because the tyrannical minority is spread out over a greater number of states; and in part because the American system of governance includes some very myopic features like the Electoral College, gerrymandering, and lifetime court appointments. Above all, the minoritarians are hellbent on exploiting any mechanism they can to extend and solidify their power over the rest of us.

2. The middle is mush.

The GOPers would not be able to get away with what they do, and win as much as they do, were it not for the support they get from a varying portion of the middle. And while those in the middle may regard themselves as independents, a great many of them are all too easily swayed to jump on the bandwagon of absurd narratives, aiding and abetting the wrong side of history. As unfortunate as it may be, there is simply no respectable alternative at this point to supporting Democrats. The Democratic Party may not be the answer to our prayers, but we don’t have a prayer without them. And to attempt remaining neutral is to assent to authoritarianism.

3. The public would rather react than think.

Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to be manipulated. Unfortunately, the public’s memory span is about 24 hours, and getting shorter. If we touch a hot stove, we immediately react by pulling our hand away. And maybe swearing. And most of us will be more cautious in the future about doing such a thing again. But when it comes to political matters, Americans just keep touching the same stoves over and over, without stopping to think that there might be some connection between the heat and their scars.

4. Propaganda has become a death star.

With the public guided by reaction rather than reason, it has become ripe for the plucking by manipulators. And the right-wing media has been dictating public perceptions and public policy for many years now. Never before in the history of our planet has there been such a widespread, deeply rooted, monolithic system of disinformation spouting identical talking points as if churned out by a committee. The organs of fact and truth have nothing even remotely comparable.

For these reasons, it seems quite possible that American politics has reached a dead end; that there is nowhere to go but farther down into the muck. Yet one reason for optimism about it is that Former Guy unquestionably is going to run in 2024. Why is that good news? Because (assuming he doesn’t end up behind bars first) there are two possible outcomes.

One, he wins the GOP nomination, which probably will prompt the public to shake off its lethargy and turn out in even greater numbers than in 2020 (if the GOP hasn’t eliminated voting altogether by then). Or two, and probably more likely, he’ll lose the nomination. In which case he’ll absolutely refuse to admit loss — his blimpish ego won’t allow it — and declare that he was cheated, as he’s always done any time he’s lost anything. This will touch off a bitter feud between his cult and that of his rival (almost certainly Ron DeSantis) that could rip the Republican Party apart. The first scenario would benefit Democrats quite a bit. The second would benefit Democrats bigly.

But at this point, it seems quite possible that either scenario would provide only a temporary reprieve. The U.S. government currently is in the grip of a cult of delusion, bitterness and vengeance for imagined wrongs. It has been eating away at the social fabric for years, and the rate of decay is accelerating. We will get rid of fascism at the government level when we root it out at the societal level — not the other way around.

The trouble is, of course, that once you allow authoritarianism to plant its flag, it becomes even harder to foster awareness among the public, because the authoritarians control the channels of communication. Anyone hear that they’re banning books in some states? Or that Elon Musk bought Twitter just in time to stump for Republicans in the midterms, promising unfettered “free speech” — then quickly banning anyone who criticized him?

This doesn’t mean that the situation is hopeless. (And by the way, the first version of this post, written in advance of election day and based on the assumption that the predictions were accurate, was rather more fatalistic.) By all means, go ahead and vote. But more important, spread the gospel of science, equality, compassion and reason in any way you possibly can. Have productive conversations with friends and neighbors, and even strangers. Watch TED Talks — perhaps even give one yourself. Write a blog, maybe. Just keep the torch burning brightly. Remember the adage that “when the people lead, the leaders will follow”.

If, as a society, our hearts and minds are in the right places, our public policy eventually will catch up. Legislators didn’t just decide by themselves to kick it into gear on civil rights legislation. It took a great many marches and demonstrations and lawsuits to nudge them. But if you focus on the politics first, and expect it to pull society up to a higher plateau, you’ll be waiting a very long time.

5 comments

  1. The meticulously manufactured phantom monsters of the conservative amygdala are as menacing as ever. Fear always motivates the sort who cannot question leaders or are unable to make an effort to inform themselves of objective quantifiable realities.

    It’s not a stretch to imagine our species’ failure to evolve from the dominant, over-reactive, primitive fight-or-flight amygdala in authoritarian personalities will assure our self-destruction.

    At the very least it enabled history’s tyrants, from kings and emperors to dictators and Republicans.

    A large segment of humanity is easily trapped and exploited in their dungeons of fear, manufactured by authoritarian leaders.

    They’re OK with criminals, narcissists and liars, if they fuel and reinforce their resentment, fear and anger. They love Trump, even AFTER he praised his thugs for terrorizing Congress and beating cops.

    These Trump-sucking theocrats neo-fascists don’t give a damn about compassion, character and decency. Conformity is comfort. Power and mammon are their real gods. The duped herd believes every lie and scary monster their leaders present to them to induce them into being followers.

    The decades of propaganda from the vast network of right-wing media have paid off in spades.

    Reagan and Murdoch launched the political/media movement that succeeded in saturating the land with radical right lies, resentment, anger, and hate. Fear is their ultimate product, that drives the frightened white people into the false comfort of reactionary white nationalist authoritarianism.

    If democracy fails them it must be denied and overturned. Yes, the US has been cursed by a “lopsided system of minority rule” from the beginning.

    These are the sick and twisted times when white conservatives are convinced to FEEL they are the “real victims” of racism. Any paranoid conspiracy and persecution complex is embraced and incorporated into their socio-political beliefs. They live in a world where indoctrinated fears and false beliefs displace, and shield them from, facts.

    This gives them license to make the dreaded “others”, minorities and Democrats their convenient scapegoats, and targets of their rage. The fascist trope of the Great Replacement has taken root in American conservatism.

    And this is the very root of fascism.

    What’s standing in their way? Reality doesn’t register with them. Democrats barely resist, and are too divided and unwilling to unite against the Right. Corporate media whips up excitement and profits over the horserace, as it sells out the human race.

    The founders left us a house of cards for a Constitutional democratic republic. White property owners and Black slaves had their respective social and political positions codified from the beginning. Sorry, ladies, women were nowhere to be found in the founding documents.

    Slavery was but one of the poison pills for democracy planted in the Constitution.

    The founders wittingly and unwittingly poisoned the republic with five massive impediments to democracy, justice, and stability.

    1. Slavery/systemic racism
    2. Lifetime Supreme Court Justices
    3. The 2nd Amendment
    4. The Electoral College
    5. The anti-democratic Senate

    The Declaration’s noble ideal of “consent of the governed” quickly went out the windows of Independence Hall.

    Any political solution would involve serious Constitutional amendments. And I highly doubt we’ll see any possibility of it in our lifetime. The former “living Constitution” has become by all measures calcified.

    To make matters worse, we have endowed corporations with legal personhood, with “cash as free speech” in anonymous campaign funding and political donations, and even corporate lawyers writing legislation.

    “We the people” have been manipulated, swindled and abandoned.

    What else can we expect from a system developed and rigged by wealthy white men?

    Ben Franklin was reported to have said, “A republic, if you can keep it”.

    But can there be a republic without universal suffrage along with a public consciousness and conscience?

    Was it ever really a republic?

    Merriam-Webster
    Republic: (1): a government in which supreme power resides in a body of citizens entitled to vote and is exercised by elected officers and representatives responsible to them and governing according to law

    Sorry, America. That bar is just too high.

    • But there is an indication that cracks in his 1984 strategy have recenlty occured. This morning I saw CNN news anchors report that Trump had recommended “terminating” the constitution:

      https://www.cbsnews.com/news/donald-trump-claims-grounds-termination-us-constitution-twitter/

      You would think that for the guy who praises law and order, and wants the FBI to be investigated for its factual comments about him, and who swore to uphold the rule of law (and defend the constitution) on the Bible, has finally bitten off more than he can chew and is starting to near the end of his long efforts to extort politicians and fool voters who supported him. Many Republicans have supported him and his conspiratorial claims but are now saying nay to his latest complete disregard for US laws and moral behaviour itself. And if that is the case, expect many Congressmen spinning like whirling Dervishes to explain why they ever supported him in the first place.

      • I share your hope that Trump’s post-presidency power is on the decline. And it is.
        But he can still do a lot of damage.
        A few Republicans may decry Trump’s latest seditious treachery, but they would overwhelmingly vote for him for a second term.
        He can still shoot someone on 5th Ave. and keep his loyal cult.
        The US is at a critical fork in the road.
        The rule of law must prevail. Trump must be indicted, convicted and sentenced.
        If not, he will have succeeded in shredding the Constitution.
        Our cause is clear. Our collective words, actions, and votes are needed now and from now on.
        We may see Trump finally meet justice. But it’s just one major battle.
        The struggle against fascism is well into the 21st Century.
        It will be our longest war.

  2. This is a beautifully written piece that knocks on the door of complacency and tells us that the battle against authoritarian control will continue. Unlike the wicked witch in The Wizard of OZ we can’t just pour water on the GOP and its MAGA foot soldiers and make them go away. Instead, you caution us not to believe that the unexpected results of the current midterms represent some sort of amazingly powerful affirmation that all is well, and that democracy is no longer in peril. But rather, that there are still lots of craziness and authoritarian threats that we and our leaders need to honestly address before we can even begin to make this nightmare end.

    I also love the rich use of metaphors, that you use to characterize the political jeopardy we are all still in! –A condition that must end before we can truly establish democracy and equality as the constitution intended them to be. I also detect a degree of passion in this piece which you have not used before.

    Last night I posted a link to this article on both Twitter and Facebook because I feel that this article is among the best you have ever written, (and you have already written many outstanding articles) !

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