Biden now has the Electoral College votes to be the next president, and Trump himself may come and go. Bt the rot of Trumpism is here to stay. His spawn of ignorance will continue to germinate from coast to coast like mushrooms, which thrive in the dark while eating manure,
Trump’s adoring cult groupies thrive in the dark of ignorance and eat conspiracy. Uninformed and disinformed they’re gullible and furious, and they can’t wait to use their long guns to prove it.
These inchoate, violence-prone paramilitary groups are opaque but reproducing; especially by way of social media memes which, like mushrooms, thrive in the dark of algorithmically-induced silos of cultural isolation that become self-reinforcing by a targeted diet of conspiracy crap.
Isolation invites distortion, and in the age of social media this virulent problem has the potential for real violence. Tribalism is deepening what is already the clear and stubborn problem of American non-governability. The GOP’s national-level abdication of the Covid-19 pandemic is the example of reference for the American problem of non-governability. It is tragic, debilitating, profoundly stupid, and alarming.
So long as we remain broken as a country we won’t be able to do big projects: No Marshall Plans; no Berlin Airlifts; no moon shots; no cutting-edge science and technology that once led the world; no more bipartisan-or-otherwise functional government. In these dark times we can’t even agree to wear a mask.
In the barroom brawl of American culture right now it sounds almost naive to bring up honor and respect, truth and patience, fact and science. More frequently we respond with brute force to the assault also by brute force from our opponents. This hyper-politicization of everything forecloses future growth and prosperity.
The state of war we live in has been growing in the years since 9-11, when we declared a temporary state of military emergency. Problem is that temporary emergency became permanent when the Authorization for use of Military Force that formalized it was never again turned off. It was not supposed to be that way but there it is. It keeps getting renewed like the Patriot Act keeps getting renewed. American life is now informed by a state of war mentality which we’re turning against ourselves.
Unless some remarkable new wave of organized social change takes hold, the decay and degradation we see affecting the American empire from within will only get worse. All empires eventually fall from within, and we’re no exception. No sane state will go to war against a rabid United States that is injured and dangerous. So today the world stands at bay and vigilant, waiting out and watching from a distance the spectacle of America falling to her knees from her own infirmities and self-inflicted wounds. Will she rise again? We will see.
But why are we hurting ourselves?
Shorter term and longer term history sheds some light on this. We can look briefly at the last 50 or so years, and then take a view going farther back in time to the framing of our Constitution.
Over the last fifty years and taking the 1971 Powell Memo as one possible reference, the American project it presented has been grotesquely successful. Today more than ever before, Wall Street rules savagely; what was public has become privatized, therefore less accountable to the people and the common good; the actual purchasing power of the minimum wage has been flat for half a century; workers have seen their unions and bargaining rights disappear; the tax structure is ever more regressive and the handmaid of financialized casino capitalism, which is the exclusive club of the ultra-rich and their multinational corporations: big banks, big oil, big tech, big pharma, the war industry. None among them knows so much as a hint of the old anti-trust laws. Those went the way of the dodo bird. So today, for instance, class action lawsuits have mostly given way to corporate mediation where no common person can ever win in a fight.
This foundational economic division between ultra-rich and everyone else is not sustainable and leads to the breakdown of democracy. We’re seeing this in the US. And the rest of the world is also seeing it.
On the political end, the social media giants are aggravating the increasingly adversarial division between extreme Right politics and the more liberal elements of American society. Their perverse incentive for pouring gasoline into that ideological fire is profits, and this is hard to fix.
In the longer historical view, the deeper source of the fundamental divisiveness in our country, as we all know, takes us all the way back to slavery. The Civil War only brought to a head what was formalized a century before by the framers of the Constitution.
Consider this. In the final version of the Declaration of Independence of 1776, the Continental Congress decided to erase Thomas Jefferson’s references to the injustice of the slave trade. Slavery as an institution was thus shoved aside wholesale to clear the way for the unity and independence of the country. Thus we formalized our pact with the devil.
A little over a decade later we made another deal with the devil: The Three-Fifths Compromise of 1787, where non-voting slaves were each ascribed the human value of three-fifths of a person but only for purposes of taxation and representation. This amoral evil was agreed upon by the Northern and Southern states during the Constitutional Convention of 1787, and the framers made it an organic part of the Constitution. Ever afraid of direct democracy, the Founding Fathers also invented the Electoral College. It has lived happily in Article II, Section I of the Constitution ever since.
Looking for a moment at Europe during that same era, some historians have written that the “Ancien Régime” in Europe, meaning the Old Regime of God and King and feudalism in the middle ages, had come to an end with the French Revolution of 1789. Other historians, like Arno Mayer have argued differently, saying the European Old Regime actually persisted for far longer and all the way until the end of WWII. This makes for great reading.
But how is this relevant to American history?
I bring it up to suggest the idea of persistence. If we say that in America our Old Regime is three centuries of slavery, then we can also say that some features of our Old Regime persisted well past the Civil War which didn’t quite achieve the complete end of slavery.
In a flash review we see in 1865 General Sherman’s promise of forty acres and a mule for freed slaves, a promise that got broken almost immediately; in that same year the KKK was born; then for twelve years we had Reconstruction which failed; it was followed by Jim Crow for the better part of a hundred years, all the way into the Civil Rights Act of 1964. And ever since the Civil Rights Act, America has had a virulently racist reaction against it by way of the war on drugs and mass incarceration, both of which disproportionately destroy the lives of poor Black and Brown people. Most recently, in the years of Trump, we see the embers of racism reignited once again into an open fire.
Going forward, it is most likely Biden’s administration will continue to be strangled by Mitch McConnell’s grip of death, aided by Lindsey Graham, both these Trumpists having just won another term again.
McConnell’s type of brute force, which is unprincipled, savage and cruel shows he was born to obstruct. And in the bigger picture, the United States has been acting like a continent-sized Mitch McConnell towards the rest of the world. So now the global injuries we’ve been doling out to others for decades are somehow turning back on us and becoming self-injuries.
The United States ship will move on, now loaded with a bumper crop of Trumpist mushrooms. What we had before; what we assumed before; what we thought we knew about the US — all that has ended.
The future is by definition uncharted, and the waters we sail today are foul. Maybe we can change course and get to a better place.