Some of us have been worried about the condition of American democracy for a while now. I started worrying a bit earlier than most, but I think that the real worries started when Reagan was president. Preaching that the Federal Government in Washington was the problem was something new and insidious. It was a breathtakingly cynical and dangerous tactic in that it could snap back and bite Republicans as well as Democrats. Reaching out to the snake-handlers was dangerous as well, because the willfully ignorant are always unpredictable. Skewing all of the financial policies of the United States in favor of the very wealthy and corporations was obviously problematic, because the very foundation of the country’s prosperity was the middle-class that more enlightened policies had created. The “law and order” groundwork that had been laid before Reagan became the springboard for a three decades long hurricane of “tough on crime” legislation that could only serve to move huge numbers of citizens into prisons and destabilize communities. The list could go on, but my point is that our real worries started with Reagan.
Yes, we have had worries a’plenty to occupy our minds. They have eaten away at us at an ever increasing pace for three decades, but now it appears that the end of worry is at hand. That, my friends, is Donald Trump’s great gift to our nation. Worry, always an emotion of dubious practical value, can now safely be replaced by the atavistic fear of what appears before our very eyes. The conflicts and tendencies that have caused us to worry for so long have at last been resolved. The war of chaos against order has been won, and chaos now reins from horizon to horizon. Evil has triumphed over good. More fool us, for letting it all happen, but by now it is an accomplished reality. What follows will be a New Dark Ages, the course of which will need to be undergone before it can be properly understood. Its duration and intensity remain mysterious to us, but it will not be over quickly, and it will not be painless. It is safe to say that the future generations that may judge us at their leisure have not yet been born.
Donald Trump is not the architect of the terror that is now set to befall us; he is merely the capstone on the pyramid of chaos that now encloses us. He is the poster-child. His arrival in office signaled the victory. Whether he continues in office or is drummed out, whether he lives or chokes on a burnt steak, the brick house of chaos will remain, because the edifice is strong and it exists independent of his authority. Donald Trump is only the herald who brings the news that the American experiment is now over. Our future as a democracy has been extinguished. It is his gift to us, the gift of certainty. We need no longer worry about America’s future; now we must only live in the future that has been ordained for us.
For thirty years we could have been forgiven to hope that our politicians would learn again the skills of working together and achieving compromise. Our two major political parties have always been at each other’s necks, but they did generally manage to cooperate when the stakes were high. This was true even in the 1970s. That ability was weakened rapidly after that, and had disappeared altogether by 1992. By 2000, politics in America had become a winner-take-all proposition that was being run on a total-war footing.
A certain political party accomplished this militarization of politics almost on its own, with a little help from the Supreme Court along the way. Yes, that party. The party of self-interest. The party of individual responsibility. The party of cut taxes on those who can most afford to pay them, raise spending on the military, and who needs a social safety net anyway. The party of Gerrymandering and voter suppression. The anti-science, anti-worker, anti-minority, anti-intellectual, anti-immigrant, and anti-democracy party. Them. And it worked. They won the presidency, both houses of congress, and the Supreme Court. (The latter by a spectacular act of hubris and borderline treason. Total war at its most brutal.) Add that to their control of about thirty-five states legislatures and their governorships, and you’ve got the hat-trick of all time.
The chaos engendered by that certain political party has seeped down into society in general to the extent that our very culture is now drenched in chaos. Most of the progress that was achieved in my lifetime in matters of tolerance, rights and freedoms has evaporated. We live with an epidemic of violence that is so virulent that we can hardly keep up with the details anymore. Mass shootings; police shootings; hate crimes; the news is abuzz with them. You can’t keep track of who hates who without a scorecard. The Venn diagram of hatred in modern America would cover the wall of a gymnasium. We have seen our constitutional rights either degraded or jettisoned entirely, and this is getting worse as we speak. The war on order and decorum that has swept America has lately been extended to the international stage, with attacks on trade, the ecology, democratic allies, foreign aid, international cooperation and the arts. You youngsters out there can take my word for it: America these days is an unrecognizable shadow of its former self. For most Americans, the standard of living is quickly descending to the level of a developing country. The only things that are thriving are the military and the energy industry, and, of course, Google, Facebook, and the ever-burgeoning billionaire class.
It is disturbing that most Americans seem to be taking all of this almost casually. Some do complain about Trump or express mild concern about Republicans in congress, but most of the non-Trump voters just hold their noses and remain firmly on the sidelines. I wonder if they think that it’s all just a matter of waiting for the adults to take charge again. They act like nothing is happening. Or maybe they realize that something has happened, the tense of the verb has shifted, and there’s nothing more to be done about it at this point.
Optimists will say that the pendulum will soon swing the other way and things will begin to improve, or even return to normal. The mechanisms for that don't even exist anymore. Even the concept of “one man, one vote” has been reduced to an echo of its former self, and I’m not sure that it was ever all that it was cracked up to be.
Some will say that our democratic institutions will dig in their heels and fight back against the tide of willful destruction that is now underway. I wish them luck, really I do, but we’re seeing how easy it is to marginalize most of them through intentionally destructive appointments and budget cuts. The courts are offering some encouragement, but they can only speak to matters that are properly before them, and any of them could be overruled by the Supreme Court. (Yes, let that sink in a moment.) Our very laws, historically one of our most powerful democratic institutions, have been subverted and turned into tools of oppression by strict liability, anti-recidivist laws, sentencing guidelines, and the criminalization of everything. Some of the citizens who protested Trump’s inauguration have been charged with a truly staggering battery of crimes and are looking at prison sentences running into the decades.
I could be wrong, and I sincerely hope that I am wrong, but it seems that America has turned a corner and that it will be very difficult to return to any prior state of affairs. This is no longer the world as it once was. The entire web of human interaction has been altered completely in the last ten years by the Internet and smart phones. There is no longer an immediate past to return to. The presidency of Bill Clinton is as remote from us as the Civil War. That entire society is as gone as Blockbuster Video.
The model for surviving in the coming society will, I’m afraid, be the rat. People will prosper only to the extent that they can keep themselves in the dark, safe spaces, darting out in the shadows to obtain what they need to live.
So thanks, President Trump. Certain knowledge beats worrying any day.
As I finish this silly blog post, I am seriously debating with myself whether it would be prudent to put it up on my truly insignificant blog. After all, it’s easily conceivable that algorithms in some supercomputer somewhere will eventually chew threw every word of it and find something that violates a new Federal law! It could be subversive! Huge fines and a prison sentence might be involved! I am not enough of a glory hound to be pleased with that prospect.