Wednesday, July 4, 2018

The Darkest Independence Day Since?

I am not old enough to remember 1968, which was probably the other candidate for worst American summer in my lifetime.  Assassinations, riots, a very unpopular war whose end was being undermined by the opposition party, and more.  Now?  As the classic horror movie line goes, the killer is inside the house.  Trump and his band of arsonists, varying in levels of incompetence and intelligence, are surprisingly efficient at burning down most, if not all, the norms of American politics and thus the institutions that regulate the political system.  The Republican Party has been working on this for decades, so this is not just a Trump thing, but now they are abetting the worst instincts of the most extreme parts of their party.

I have been blogging less lately because I just don't know how to express the appropriate level of frustration, regret, anger, and sadness.  I get it that when people say this is unAmerican, they are forgetting that the words of the Declaration of Independence and then the guarantees in the Constitution applied to white men, and property owners at that.  But I also get it that the uneven course of American history was largely, although not entirely, to "perfect the union."  To realize the words and values of the founding documents and amend them to make sure that they apply to women, to African-Americans, to immigrants, and, lately, to LGBTQ folks and beyond.

The American Dream was (not is) that one's kids would be better off than oneself.  While the conventional notion of this focused on economic matters, and this is where the Dream crashed first, it also meant a better society, a fairer one, a more just one.  That America is the land of opportunity.  It was always imperfect, and, as my daughter would always remind me, the changes were not happening fast enough.

Well, the destruction of the positive norms and institutions are happening more than fast enough.  Just this last week illustrates the accelerating pace of destruction: people at the border denied due process and having families ripped apart, maybe irrevocably; very partisan decisions at the Supreme Court that not only reverse much progress but suggest that the next court might choose to protect Trump rather than make sure the rule of law applies to all (the whole examination of double jeopardy which might mean that Trump can pardon people in ways that make it impossible for state level prosecutions to hang over people's heads); the end of affirmative action in university admissions; the trade war that hurts our allies; the upcoming NATO meeting and Russia summits that may lead to the US being aligned with the worst against the best; and on and on.

Yes, it has been worse, but we tend to think of the American Civil War as a one time thing that was the worst moment in American history--a war of brother against brother, with democratic rights sacrificed so that the Union could win.  What makes all of this so much more galling is that it is so unnecessary:
  • there is no immigration crisis in the US--just perceptions of one.
  • the trade relations with most countries are fine, as deficits are not especially harmful--the economy was doing fine, although not providing  enough wage growth.  The big question is not globalization but automation.
  • the facts of Russian intervention in the election are pretty clear, so it should not be hard to acknowledge them and figure out ways to confront Russia and reduce the vulnerability of American politics to it
  • affirmative action in higher ed is not a problem for white kids--the crisis in higher ed is one of debt and cost.
  • the previous administration was the least corrupt in our recollections, and now we have an entitled group of grifters .... who we knew were corrupt before they were elected and before they were confirmed by the Senate. 
I used to be optimistic about the resilience of the US to come back from big mistakes.   The US came back from the grueling era of Vietnam and Watergate.  The worldview of the US came back from the incompetence and arrogance of the Bush Administration's invasions and occupation of Iraq.  Why am I more pessimistic now?  Because one party controls not just all levels of national government, but is entirely focused on governing on behalf of the extreme end of the party--the white supremacists.  Congress, with the exception of the Senate Intel Committee, is failing to do its job to check the Presidency, and the Courts are now being filled with awful people who will perpetuate the worst for decades to come.  I am pretty confident that the Dems will do well in November, but I am increasingly doubtful that the 2020 election will be at all fair.  And, yes, the Dems have a lot to prove about winning a national race.

I hope that Dan Drezner is right about betting on the American phoenix, but I just don't have that confidence anymore.  It has been shaken by the willingness of too many to watch a compromised President to do whatever he wants, including putting kids in cages.  The protests do provide some glimmer of hope.  But I don't now if they will carry through to 2020.  And eight years of Trump and a complacent Congress may be too damned much for this country to handle.

I write this post from Santiago, Chile.  I went to their Museum of Memory and Human Rights last week, which documents the carnage of the Pinochet regime.  The country is still paying a price for the damage caused by that period.  Families are still ripped apart, and, as I am finding out, the Congress faces pretty strict limits on its ability to oversee.  I guess this country gives me hope that the US could bounce back as Chile is a pretty neat place to visit, but I am probably not seeing some of the more enduring and more painful legacies of the past.

So, on this Independence Day, I grieve for what we have lost, I worry about the immigrant kids, and I wonder how this will all end.  Hopefully, it will not end with bloodshed but with the rule of law being reinforced with the Trumps and the administration marched off to jail. 

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