State of Collapse?

Perhaps more Americans can offer our own version of the State of the Union from time to time. Mine:

Not since the time of the Civil War has our country been so divided. Our divisions today are fracturing our country and approaching the gravity of the events which preceded the Civil War.

While there are several reasons for this demise, three problems play a central role.

One: racial violence at the center of the Civil War and endemic to our culture has persisted. Black people and other people of color have always known that there are two kinds of justice in America. There is one system of justice for white people and a different kind of “justice” for people of color. Without justice there can be no strong country and no true democracy.

A second and related reason for the weakening of America is the current level of enmity that many Americans possess toward each other. In the 1990’s Newt Gingrich emerged as the spokesperson for creating a new kind of rhetoric in the national political discourse.

Gingrich’s vile, belligerent, vicious and hate-filled speech attacked opponents while at the same time titillated large segments of the media. According to Gingrich, members of the other party were no longer simply your opponents; instead, your opponents needed to be obliterated because they were truly deserving of the scorn you could wreak on them.

Before the Gingrich era, the country had prized the notion of statesmanship – the idea that any politician would rise above their own political party persuasions to protect and defend the core values of America. Gingrich buried the ideal of statesmanship. Trump capitalized on the Gingrich rhetoric and converted it to a kind of euphoria of endless attack-entertainment and hate-pleasure.

A third reason is the way a fascination and proliferation of lies has overtaken the media. This pattern appeared most dramatically at the very beginning of the Trump presidency when Kellyanne Conway proclaimed that: “We have alternate facts.”

Of course the foundation for Conway’s “alternate facts” had already been established within the Fox News network with its fake claim of “Balanced” reporting. Instead of relying on the long-standing practice in journalism of conducting the diligent, time-consuming and arduous work to unearth and reveal the truth, Fox brandished the idea that a new type of “fairness” was the more important construct. Sounds appealing?

Soon Fox’s superficial façade of fairness and balanced reporting devolved into the creation of a “he said/she said” environment in which any unfounded, ridiculous, and extreme opinion was worthy of fair and equal representation.

Racial slurs? Let’s hear from both sides.

Misogyny? We can find spokespeople for and against.

Police shooting unarmed children? We need to know the justifications.

Trump mastered the technique and quickly learned that the more outrageous the statement, the more attention his statement garnered. By fanning the flames of ridiculous and outrageous lies, Trump and others’ habitual practice of lying contributed directly to the results of a survey published in The Atlantic, March 2023 where 16 percent of 20,000 adult respondents sampled agreed that the government, media and financial worlds were controlled by Satan-worshipping pedophiles.

Really? Extrapolating to the entire American adult population, could that mean that 40 million American adults believe that America is controlled by Satan-worshipping pedophiles? Even if we reduce that number to a mere one or two million adults, how shocking is that? What has happened to this country?

Are we at a juncture of time when we are witnessing the early stages of the end of the American experiment? Just because the insurrection on Jan. 6th did not initially look exactly like the way we are accustomed to seeing governments being overthrown, it does not mean that threat was not real.

We have been trained to think that revolutions look like tanks, military troops, explosions, and gunfire everywhere, and presidents fleeing their countries. Look again. This was no mere protest. “Stop the Steal” was not about postponing the election of Mr. Biden. It was about preventing him from becoming president.

Imagine if Mr. Biden was not confirmed on Jan 6th? What would happen next? The entire process of the orderly transfer of power would have been broken and extinguished. As President on Jan 7th, Trump could quite naturally invoke martial law to restore order while bringing together whatever military forces he chooses to entrench his deceit.

Trump’s Supreme Court and many of his other judges would not likely impede him. After all, the courts have never been in this type of situation before. There is no precedent for this situation (not that precedent seems to matter to these courts). There it is: a complete collapse of American democracy and there is no one with authority to stop it.

We came close. If we care, we should prevent such lying, violent insurrection in any future worth having.

Alan Kanner, Ph.D., is a psychologist in Amherst, MA.