To anyone who came of political age during the last four years, kids in High School, young adults — it was not always like this in our country. There were once two political parties, flawed and unresponsive to the needs of millions of citizens, that were forced to work together and compromise to solve major problems. Today there is only sickening partisan warfare between the parties. This ugly situation has a long and winding history, it is not of Mr. Trump’s making, though he exploits it every day and is the present provocative face of it.
In a post-Trump America, there will be a lot of work to be done, and millions of us will have to be willing to do it, but the division in our nation was not this grim or menacing (not since the eve of the Civil War) and it will be better going forward. It has to. The pendulum of history swings, with agonizing slowness sometimes, but it does swing, based on what millions organize to no longer tolerate.
At the risk of sounding like the didactic old bastard I am, a few examples, a little perspective for those too young to remember anything other than what you see on your phone every day.
Then at least one concrete reason to be optimistic, even in a worst case scenario (for concerned citizens of all ages).
A little history:
In the past there would be no controversy, spread by the president himself, and amplified by loyal spokespeople, about proven safety precautions during a deadly pandemic or the need to marshal the federal government to provide guidance and protective equipment.
Only a party that had shut down the government three times in less than four years would refuse to pass a law to help millions of citizens from falling into poverty after jobs disappear, to prevent an epidemic of homelessness during a raging pandemic that has already killed almost a quarter of a million Americans. At one time a government shutdown was only employed by reckless political bomb-throwers. Now it is a regular annual tactic of the ruling minority-supported party, used to twist arms during budget talks by making the populace suffer.
In a more reasonable age there would be no controversy about the driving force behind the sharp annual increase in killer storms, the looming (and visible) climate catastrophe that only fanatics and fools can ignore. The president and his administration would not normally withdraw from a worldwide agreement to slow the warming of the earth while it denounced the other leaders and the world’s top climate scientists as bunch of job-killing, freedom-hating liberal stooges (and worse). No previous president would mock young climate activists as “terrorists” and crybabies.
Americans never woke up every day to see the headline “the president attacked (insert name here).” American presidents, even the most divisive ones, rarely attacked anyone. No American president would ever call the government infectious disease specialist who’d been heading his pandemic task force “a disaster” for not backing him in his absurd claims that nobody could have done a better job controlling the outbreak than the leader of the nation with the worst infection and death numbers in the world.
Few elected officials would fail to condemn racism or remain coy about an influential “theory” that holds that Democrats and Hollywood elites are satanist, child-raping, blood-drinking cannibals. “I know they feel very strongly against pedophilia,” is something no past president would ever have said by way of his complete response to a question about an insane and widespread conspiracy theory.
You would not see a case in the Supreme Court to abolish a health insurance program that protects tens of millions of Americans from death due to inability to pay for medical care, particularly not during a pandemic. A program the right continually tried to repeal (and missed by one Senate vote when John McCain gave the president a famous thumbs down) since it became law almost a decade ago. The president is currently in court trying to end his predecessor’s government supervised insurance expansion program that he and his party have no plan to replace. During a deadly pandemic. They simply, and sincerely, don’t give a rat’s ass about average Americans dying.
A Supreme Court nominee, being rushed through on a 51-49 party-line vote, literally the week before the election, would not refuse to answer a simple question of law like “is voter intimidation illegal?” She would not gracefully but forcefully demur on the question of whether she’d recuse herself from deciding a 2020 presidential election case, based on an outright hoax (massive voter fraud). The appearance of impropriety — the standard for recusal– is certainly strong, as she’d be a likely vote to in favor of the demagogue who is rushing through her confirmation so she can rule on that exact question and keep him in office, (regardless of the will of the electorate).
None of this shit is normal, boys and girls, though it is the NEW NORMAL, for the moment. Part of how we got here is that an extremely wealthy minority, employing some brilliant and unprincipled operatives, organized, and funded with a shit ton of money, a vast network of often secret influence machines, to achieve policy goals the majority of Americans oppose. The extreme right has fought a highly successful fight against what they see as Majoritarian Tyranny in which government itself is the enemy. Bill Moyers interviews investigative journalist Anne Nelson who lays a good deal of this operation out in discussing her book Shadow Network .
Here is a great discussion on the far right’s long, winning battle for control of the federal judiciary and the Supreme Court. Here’s a bit of the background about how ideologically committed Supreme Court nominees have learned to refuse to commit to any judicial, legal or philosophical position whatsoever.
You may have heard of a federal judge named Robert Bork, a haughtily opinionated, very conservative man, nominated by Ronald Reagan, who got “borked” and was not confirmed for a lifetime seat on the Supreme Court. “Borking” is making a potential lifetime appointee to the unappealable Supreme Court unequivocably answer specific questions about his or her judicial record and political philosophy. After hearing those answers from a contentious nominee (think of Antonin Scalia, but openly ill-tempered and without the wit or personality of the original “Originalist”), most Democrats and six Republicans voted against his confirmation. The rejection of Bork, his “borking”, was bipartisan. Reagan’s next nominee, a much less objectionable candidate named Anthony Kennedy, was confirmed unanimously. Those plain facts were not allowed to stand in the way of the handy radical right-wing foundational grievance myth that Bork was unfairly “borked” by Democratic partisans who viciously challenged him left and right.
Here’s a snapshot of our nation today in two titles from the Op Ed section.
Here are three winning “Democratic” ideas (I can’t read David Brooks, so I picked just three obvious ones).
In democracy, every eligible voter must be allowed to vote. The candidate who gets more votes wins.
The federal government must protect all citizens in case of disaster.
When there is demonstrated foreign interference in an American election, electoral vulnerabilities must be quickly and aggressively fixed.
In democracy, rule by the People, the will of the citizens is expressed by voting for representatives who act on our behalf. An open debate on policy ideas followed by widespread voting are hallmarks of a healthy democracy. Democrats support this idea, the president’s party rejects it, sponsoring laws that make voting more difficult in every state they control, bringing court cases to restrict voting in “swing states” they do not outright control, challenging every rule that allows freer access to voting. The conservative Supreme Court, 5-4, recently cut the heart out of the Voting Rights Act– and most Red states immediately enacted legislation to make it harder for certain classes of citizens to vote.
The federal government represents all of the people of the nation, it goes without saying. The federal government is the guarantor of all of the rights of citizenship enumerated in the Constitution. When a natural disaster strikes, the federal government moves in quickly to help. It does not dispense aid according to which party the majority of an area voted for. It doesn’t force zero-sum competition between the states for urgently needed supplies. It doesn’t punish jurisdictions run by one party or the other. It doesn’t have an idiot spokesman, like the manifestly unqualified Jared Kushner, nonsensically piping up that the federal stockpiles of supplies needed to halt the spread of a pandemic are “ours” and not for the states.
One last big Democratic idea, then a word about Ayn Rand.
The Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee released a five volume report that confirmed what Robert Mueller’s investigation, and a House investigation, found, and what every intelligence agency concluded — Russia sweepingly and systematically interfered in the 2016 election to get Donald Trump elected.
Idea: pass legislation and implement policies to prevent a repeat in 2020. Biden missed a great opportunity at the last debate to mention that Mitch McConnell has blocked even debate on all such measures. McConnell did this as nonchalantly as he vowed to work with Trump’s defense team during the impeachment, to allow neither a witness nor evidence to be presented at the “trial”.
From McConnell’s power-first point of view, why should he? Russia interfered to help his candidate, his party. He’s got a 51-49 majority, why would he do anything to interfere with what promises to be much more sophisticated Russian interference on behalf of his president’s reelection? That would just be stupid.
Ayn Rand was a politically radical novelist, an emigre from the Soviet Union. Her novels were written in service to her feverishly anti-Communist worldview. The individual, she believed, was far more important than any notion of the collective — and the protagonists of her massive novels were living examples (so to speak) of this essential concept. Socialism, she preached in her passionate, metaphorical works of fiction, was the enemy of personal greatness. She fled from a totalitarian state, so her point of view is understandable. But not as a coherent political philosophy.
In the real world Ayn Rand’s “philosophy” is Social Darwinism, the perverse notion that it is the absolute natural right of someone with the might to take from the weak whatever they want. Reading Ayn Rand’s gigantic books qualified former Republican House leader Paul Ryan as a Republican intellectual. Her novels were treated by the right as expressions of inviolable universal truth, in the same way religious people venerate their holy books. Put into practice, you get a very ugly society where the weak can go fuck off and die.
A reason for hope, in one of the worst case scenarios for a contested election:
Even if Trump loses the election by a wide margin, and manages to get his many legal challenges, based on widespread election fraud he cannot prove (since evidence of such fraud has never been produced) up to the Supreme Court, and the 6-3 ruling ties up the Electoral College vote and throws the matter into the House of Representatives to decide on a one vote per state basis (a scenario he brought up the other day) — check this out.
Trump correctly stated that, under the current composition of the majority Democratic House of Representative, rendered one vote per state (as the twelfth amendment of the Constitution requires for resolving unresolved presidential elections) Republicans have a 26- 22 majority and so he’d still be president. Robert Reich points out in a neat little video that the House that would vote on this issue would not be the current House but the one in session after the 2020 election. Members of the new Congress would be sworn in on January 3, 2021 and would vote to decide the presidential election on January 6.
There was a big Democratic swing in 2018 when that party recaptured the House and that was before Mr. Trump’s botched pandemic response and an erratic campaign that will not win him many undecided voters. His attempt to stay in power after he loses the popular vote, and ties up the Electoral College with a 6-3 Supreme Court decision, with a favorable narrow House majority will hinge on Alaska and Montana (one representative, one vote each) remaining in his column, along with currently tied Pennsylvania (no vote) and virtually tied Florida (where three Republicans are retiring), and Michigan (Republican by one seat). If those states change column, majority rule in the USA will live to fight another day.
And fight we must, boys and girls.
 from the intro to the Moyers podcast:
What is the shadow network behind the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court? Who selected and groomed her for this moment? Who’s financing the campaign to get her confirmed? Who’s counting on her to side with President Trump if he’s losing the election and wants the Supreme Court to declare him the winner? For the answers, Bill Moyers talks to journalist and investigator Anne Nelson about her book: SHADOW NETWORK: MEDIA, MONEY, AND THE SECRET HUB OF THE RADICAL RIGHT.Moyers