Saturday, November 05, 2016

Are We Seeing The Downfall Of American Democracy?

   In my more depressive moments, I conclude that we already saw it in 2000. 
   During the Florida recount debacle of 2000, the Democrats' argument was: Our overriding commitment is to democracy. We will accept any outcome of the vote count--but we must count the votes. The Republican argument was: Give us the Presidency. Now.
   On almost all ways of counting, Bush won. He won because of the butterfly ballot--so he didn't deserve to win. But he did win. More people tried to vote for Gore; but more people actually voted for Bush.
   But that's pretty much irrelevant. 
   Bush, Cheney and the GOP tried to steal the election. They tried to stop the vote-counting with sophistical arguments (Baker: "it's subjective" (no, it wasn't); it's "divining the intent of the voter" (you mean discerning)). They flew in astroturf crowds of College Republicans to intimidate and physically assault vote-counters. They had an electronic command post coordinating these efforts. Their supporters took to the streets demanding an outcome, not an adherence to fair process. And a partisan Supreme Court stopped the recount with a decision driven by politics and based on the most laughable, patently unsound arguments I've ever seen in a decision from SCOTUS.
   This is like staging and armed coup, breaching the White House perimeter, storming in, guns drawn, ready to seize power...only to find out, as you burst into the Oval Office, that you have been declared the winner on an unforeseen technicality. (Or, rather: that you were able to win via legal trickery). Technically you didn't seize power by force. But you tried to. You are the moral equivalent of a traitor.
   IMO the GOP went insane some time ago. We let them get away with trying to steal the election of 2000, and continued to pretend that they were a legitimate political party. And now they have created an undeniable monster. And they are allied with Russian intelligence, Julian Assange, and rogue FBI agents to try to illicitly snatch another election--the second one in 16 years--in order to elect a candidate that has exactly no qualifications for office whatsoever...and who may very well be allied with Russia himself. 
   And, of course, to say that he has exactly no qualifications does not tell the half of it. He is anti-qualified. We may be on the verge of electing someone who has mental problems and criminal tendencies--not to mention an actual criminal history of assault. That's the person who could have his finger on the button.
   And the GOP is going right along with it. No...they're not going along with it, they're doing it. 
   Even if we manage to dodge this bullet, we have a problem. A very, very serious problem. I don't pretend that the Dems are blameless. I think that the Dems might even be worse in the long-run. They might be. In the long-run. But what certain is that the GOP is an undeniable catastrophe here and now
   It's common to argue that everything will be fine, that American Democracy will flourish regardless of what happens. I don't think that's true. And I don't even think that a Trump presidency--horrific thought the possibility is--is the main problem. The main problem is the derangement of the GOP that has made this catastrophe possible. It's the loss of commitment to the American system per se. One thing that American conservatives used to get right, IMO, was Anglophilia over Francophilia. They sought--or said they sought--a more calm, measured, rational, English approach to politics over a more radical, passionate, irrational, French approach...the kind of approach that leads to the guillotine. But goodbye to all that now. Now Republicans are the radicals seeking an apocalyptic break with the status quo
   We might very well be fine. The system is pretty resilient. But I don't see reason for great confidence in the proposition that we will be fine.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, the clouds are certainly darkening overhead and the forecast still calls for it to be cloudy, but we best be packing an umbrella.

Except some disregard for the rule of law immediately following the election, regardless of who wins. I don't think we're talkin' 'go out and buy a gun now' but I think we might be talkin' 'Have some mace or a bat handy for a few days in event of civil unrest' flavor. If nothing else, the peace of mind of having a plan to head into the mountains and camp for a week or two might keep you more calm and safer. or shouting "SERENITY NOW!" George Kostanza style. Tomato tomAto.

From there, I guess the average Dem trajectory aims towards preventing another Trump in 2020, impeaching Trump in the meantime, and obstruct his policies with absolutes in the meantime of the meantime. Really provides some perspective on how reasonable the GOP average voter was for the rise of the Freedom caucus and the endorsement of Trump now--they're following a trajectory of thought that begins with "Electing Obama(Trump) is the antithesis of America and endangers all Americans and the Constitution at large."

Preventing Trumpism requires we ask Why, and then we get a similar pathway (again) to how the GOP has acted for the past eight years.

My two cents about why we're here with Trump is: Collapse of American education systems ability to create reasonable people en mass, encroachment of secularism, perceived American impotence at home and abroad, and backlash to the PC culture push.

The entire thing seems to me to me so damn sensitive to which lens you're interpreting the news with, GOP vs Dem, that its damn near us not being able to discern a truth about many things.

This may be the most vexing thing for a sane reasonable person about the entire process of the last eight years, is that we are as a whole nation saddling neigh close to not being able to discern truths compared to how hard a reasonable person will reasonably try. Both sides share blame in this.

I worry that this is both deliberate and more and more intractable, and will result in uprisings like we've seen with Trump, where the party has successfully influenced but lost control of their electorate. That is the threat that I sense these days; the loss of control once a group is deeply dedicated to a larger cause, coupled with and an absence of accessible objective truths. I totally think that this will sink our ship, but not this election.

So, rest easy, if he gets in, buy some land in the mountains somewhere after the market tanks.

10:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'll offer up an example of a previous time in our history where democracy sort of took a backseat to aristocratic maneuvering: the election of 1876.

Now, I take it that the scope of the election of 1876 doesn't quite meet the scope of the 2016 election, but the former did bring an end to Reconstruction almost immediately, and placed/kept democrats in power in the south and gave rise to Jim Crow.

In short, there was voter fraud in three states, casting the results of the electoral college into doubt, and putting the votes up for grabs. Dems and Repubs agreed to create an arbitration committee consisting of six democrats and six republicans, and an independent who would serve as the swing vote. The Dems offered a state legislature job to the independent just prior to the hearing, he took the job, and then recused himself from the hearing (the Dems were hoping that they had buttered him up enough to give them his vote, but of course, being an independent, he took the non-partisan route, much to their chagrin). Both parties then needed to find a replacement for the independent, and the most moderate candidate they could find was a republican. As a result, Hayes was awarded the electoral votes by a 7-6 republican committee, so the Dems protested and decided not to honor the outcome. Hayes and the Republicans then struck a deal to put a formal end to Reconstruction and keep Democrats in power in the south in exchange for the presidency..

In essence, the American public got f***ed. This decision gave rise to Jim Crow and voter suppression in the south, and we all know how that story played out.

My point, given 1876 and 2000, we are still standing and I take it that *most* people still have faith and trust in the system (perhaps I'm wrong though, but we are still standing). I'm inclined to believe that 2016 won't be much too different, even if the winner ends up being the fascistic maniac. Democrats could very well win back the senate this year which would block a great deal of Trumpian policy..

So not only do I want to believe that we'll be okay, given our past, I'm inclined to believe that we will be. We've seen this sort of thing before. However, I will give credence to the idea of a tipping point as I'm not sure how much more of this the public is willing to take. Perhaps your worry is justified.

11:35 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Thing is, A, I agree with you to a large extent...that is, about the fact that the two ends of the spectrum have become nearly blinded by their red-or-blue-respectively colored glasses. Each side things that a large number of things are beyond any plausible doubt that are, in fact, probably not even true. It's a kind of madness...

But then along comes Trump... I mean...I was against McCain, but I respected McCain and did not think that McCain supporters had to be nuts. Palin...well...that obviously changed things...but lemme shove that aside. Mittens...same. I disagreed with him, but I didn't think you had to be a lunatic to vote for him. Again, I was pretty worried about someone so religious in the office...and I admit that I am somewhat more concerned about Mormonism than some other religions...but anyway...even though I slipped into the echo chamber at some points, I could still see the other side...

Trump is different.

Trump is very, very different.

Trump has no business being spoken of as a distant possibility when it comes to the Presidency. The idea that it's possible that he could win...that's...madness.

And, overall, IMO:
I hear the American right talk a good line--a line that I often find appealing, in all honesty. I *fervently hope* for a sane conservatism to come save us from liberal and leftist excesses toward which we seem to be moving inexorably...

I am down with that general view...

But then along comes some crucial test... The recount debacle of 2000...the Iraq War...the Great Recession...Donald Trump...

And conservatives fail. Miserably. Every.

I think I'm ok at recognizing the failings of liberalism. But damn, man. This is not a close call.

This is conservatism and the GOP working to elect a moronic ignoramus with psychological problems to the presidency...

I could be wrong about that, but I'm not.

11:38 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

You know, A, that's a really good point, and an important *type* of argument to make.

I had a history major and focused on American history, and I don't even know anything about that incident, to be honest (embarrassing though that is).

Without understanding context (in this case: history), it's easy to not actually know how bad something is.

My first significant political memory is of'd think I'd be used to political crisis. Since then I've lost my mind over Iran-Contra *and* the 2000 recount debacle. It's entirely possible that I just don't recognize how resilient we really are.

OTOH, it just seems like a different country to me than the one I grew up in. Saner and better in many very obvious ways...but crazier and worse in others. Conservatives *talk* unity and tradition, but act as if they are willing to burn the system down to gain fairly small and temporary political advantage. E.g.: elect Trump instead of giving up one election, getting their shit together, and probably winning nest time.

Liberals, on the other hand, are become harder and harder to distinguish from an insane left that doesn't even *talk* a good line. Their very *theory* is lunacy. Not only do they not believe in unity and patriotism (of some kind...myself, I'm torn on the idea of patriorism), they don't even believe in the Bill of Rights, nor nation-states and national borders...nor truth and reason for that matter...

They're the left equivalent of the looniest of the loony religious right.

Add in the crazification power of the internet, actual visceral racism among the right's demographic, and a deep, theoretical anti-white racism on the PC left that sees whiteness per se as inherently bad... and I mean DAMN...

Is this a powder keg? If so, how easily could it be sparked?

The disturbing answers are:
I don't know
I don't know
But anyway...
Maybe I ought to calm down and stop preemptively wetting the bed...

11:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, I think you're spot on in assessment of Trump, I'm moreof trying to underscore not that there isn't a massive problem with electing the guy, but moreover that its just a symptom of a larger cancer of news media / big monies making a deliberate obfuscating of objective truths, and meanwhile, the electorate only being but so good at reasoning, and so motivated to seek truth.

If you take a person and put $5,000 at the end of a 500 mile walk, most people won't make the walk, even though there are multiple motivations. And they're not unreasonable, or lazy--500 miles is a long ass walk, they correctly assess, and they weigh that against their other interests and simply don't elect to walk. I think the walk is getting longer and the prize money is getting smaller. Eventually people that are reasonable reasonably give up, like what you were describing about falling off the cliff.

The elixir of ignorant self righteousness drinks sweet, brother. It might be bad for you, but look around. 70% of us are overweight, so to speak.

11:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, the near-direct output of the 1876 election was a racial caste system, which is pretty bad in my estimation. However, I'm in total agreement that more context is probably needed before I can advance this example for my conclusion. 2000 gave us arguably the most heinous foreign policy output that our nation has seen, and I take it that you have a great deal of context for that one (I probably don't have the relevant context for that one because I think that I was about 9 or 10 years old when we invaded Iraq). I perhaps might be naïvely placing too much faith in my fellow Americans, but I always want to echo William James's Will to Believe; I doubt that I can expect to see a great deal of positive output if I don't first believe that it is possible and embody it in my character and actions. I champion this line of thinking, and make sure to remind my compatriots of it when I think that they're close to
falling into cynicism about our country.

This is my general strategy to assessing our current political climate.

1:15 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

I'm not sure that's a lesson I'd draw from "The Will To Believe"...maybe 'ought' implies 'can' is more to the point here...but I don't mean to quibble over that. Also James only thinks his conclusions apply in some very unusual and carefully-specified cases...

Anyway: There's no doubt that nothing likely in our immediate future will be as bad as Jim Crow. Obviously there's little room for disagreement there.

I don't want to be alarmist, and, again the historical example has me realizing that I've been underestimating the degree of uncertainty that's appropriate here.

And I think cynicism is a dangerous thing in a democracy.

But...I don't know where I'm going with this...

Gotta think more.

Thanks for all this, A.

Extremely helpful.

2:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, perhaps I was construing James' argument too broadly. I was thinking something along the lines of: if we don't have clear evidence of whether or not our country is on the precipice of a meltdown, then it is a rationally acceptable method to adopt the optimistic position. If not only because adopting an optimistic outlook, at bottom, increases the likelihood of a positive output. I was also thinking that many of the conclusions that follow from cynicism seem self-fulfilling.

Although, come to think of it, simply by me pointing to historical examples, we do seem to have prima facie evidence in favor of the optimistic outlook. So yeah, maybe I'm just trying to say the current sum total of our evidence about whether or not we're on the brink of a meltdown underdetermines which outlook we should adopt..I don't know, I'm just rambling at this point.

Anyway, cynicism is no good in my eyes, and it's not clear to me that we *ought* to be cynical. So instead I'll be optimistic.

Glad I could be of help.

3:27 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Yeah, I agree with all of that.

Cynicism is often harmful. And cheap.

I *do* think that hope is rational in this matter...though I often worry that people mistake their hope for knowledge.

I don't think we *know* it's going to be ok.

3:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yep, I'm just as unsure as the cynic as to whether or not it's actually going to be okay. But if I don't know the answer, it doesn't do me any good to be angry about it.

Some people who I talk to seem to believe that we're clearly on the ledge of a steep path downward. I think it's all rather hazy, so I'll be optimistic until I have a clear reason not to be.

Maybe this view is just simply naïve. Maybe I'm not looking at the issues in the correct light. I guess, we'll eventually find out.

4:38 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Despite the depressingness of much of this conversation, "500 miles is a long-ass walk" cracked me up more than it should have.

1:03 PM  

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