When something absolutely unforeseen challenges your worldview, it is probably prudent to take a step back and re-examine your assumptions.
After the shock of a Presidential election that successfully appealed to festering bigotries and primal hatreds that I naively thought had declined, and after a period of disbelief (and nausea), I made myself take that “step back.” You may or may not agree with my conclusions, but I’d ask you to consider them.
America’s democratic institutions and processes haven’t worked properly for quite some time. All of us can tick off evidence: a Senate that simply refuses to hold hearings on a Presidential nominee for the Supreme Court; legislators’ willingness to petulantly shut down government when they don’t get their way; the widespread, obstinate denial of science and rejection of empirical evidence in favor of policies based upon ideology and/or religious dogma; and of course, the toxic partisanship and racial resentments reflected in the decision of Congressional Republicans to block anything and everything proposed by our first African-American President, irrespective of the merits of any particular proposal. I could go on.
Had Hillary Clinton been elected President, she would have faced the same ferocious, partisan hostility that Obama has had to deal with–but on steroids. Irrational hatred of the Clintons, especially Hillary, is baked into Republican DNA. Not only would she have faced constant, repetitive Congressional “investigations,” several House members were already drawing up Articles of Impeachment. (Why wait for her to actually do something impeachable?)
Meanwhile, lawmakers in both parties continue to block policies seen as threatening to the interests of the oligarchs that effectively control our national and state legislatures. It is irrelevant that large majorities of Americans favor background checks for people buying guns, higher taxes on the rich, a discontinuation of obscene subsidies to oil companies or numerous other measures. Especially at the federal level, the policy preferences that count are those of the big donors as conveyed by their lobbyists–many of whom used to be legislators in the incestuous political stew that is Washington, D.C.
This is not the way a working democracy operates.
Although the self-dealing and the nastiness has unquestionably gotten worse, most of this isn’t new. It has become more visible in the Internet Age, but the inability of our governing structure to deal with a technologically integrated, inexorably globalizing, demographically diversifying modern world has been apparent for decades.
American government does not work as it should, and it hasn’t for quite some time. It certainly hasn’t ameliorated or addressed–or even explained– the dramatic changes that have created economic and social distress among so many of our citizens.
Dissatisfied citizens look for someone to blame. To the extent they blame the status quo in Washington, that’s probably fair enough. Given human nature, however, a lot of our fellow-citizens blame immigrants, African-Americans, Muslims, Jews, “uppity” women…the “other”…for cultural changes that disadvantage them or make them uncomfortable, and for a government that doesn’t work for them.
Social scientists tell us that the two strongest predictors of support for Donald Trump were racial resentment and misogyny.
So now we have a President-elect whose profound ignorance and incompetence is likely to deliver the coup de grace to creaky government institutions and even more likely to exacerbate the social divisions and bigotries he cultivated during the campaign. Whether he serves out his term, or we end up with Mike Pence (a rigid theocrat who is equally incompetent, equally uninterested in the mechanics of governing), all signs suggest we are on the cusp of an era of massive social upheaval.
The question is: when the incommensurate passions triggered by impending conflicts subside, will we be able to construct a fairer, more streamlined and responsive, more (small-d) democratic governing structure, one that is more adapted to the realities of the modern world?
Can we salvage the best parts of our governing philosophy, and create institutional structures that work for all our citizens? Or will four years of authoritarianism and continued exploitation of racial, religious and ethnic divisions leave the oligarchs and white supremacists firmly in charge?
What would a better, more trustworthy American democracy look like?
I have some ideas I’ll share tomorrow. I invite yours.