In trying to make sense of what just happened, lots of people are taking mental shortcuts. Gross generalizations about groups—all Trump voters, all Democrats, all white guys in diners (Krugman)—are proliferating. It’s dehumanizing not to account for individual differences within groups. And yet, because we’re not up to the complexity of the moment, we succumb over and over again to simplistic mental placeholders. I do not want to be your mental placeholder for white, well educated, liberal Democrats. I want to be respected as an individual who sometimes parts ways with others who share my political affiliation. And because I want that, I assume you do too. I will try to remember that and refrain from assuming you are just like all the others in your respective groups.
As one part of my history major, I studied Central and Latin American history in college. And there was one thing I could never figure out. Until this weekend.
I didn’t understand why, whenever a populist, land-reform promising political party gained control of political power, they never managed to follow through on their promises to upset the status quo, distribute power more fairly, and improve ordinary people’s lives.
Forty years later*, I realize it’s because the idealists’ hatred for their predecessors became so all encompassing it distracted them from the day-to-day work of building a brighter future.
The common good took a backseat to getting even with the bastards in the other party for the sometimes decades-long laundry list of political grievances including massive corruption, and in some cases, government sponsored death squads.
The political class in the (dis)United States thinks the (dis)United States is superior to any country to the south, so my reference is irrelevant. But it’s dead wrong, human nature doesn’t respect political boundaries. We are prone to the exact same desire to get revenge. I know that because I feel it in a more visceral way this weekend than ever before. Others do too, no doubt.
Consequently, we are on the precipice of a very similar downward spiral that’s seemingly inevitable when every political party assumes the worst of the other.
Listening to the Senate Majority Leader, the President, and other Republicans unprecedented, unapologetic politicizing of the Supreme Court convinces me that they care way more about their party’s interests than the country’s.
The Democrat’s refrain this week will be, “Never forget.” Democrats risk being overwhelmed by anger at the Republican’s historic hypocrisy. When they gain power, which they inevitably will sooner or later, they are likely to seek revenge. And when the Republicans regain it, which they inevitably will sooner or later, they will do the exact same.
Just like that, if it hasn’t already, the organizing principle of our politics will become revenge. Instead of looking to the future, we’ll be mired in the past. And our national debt will grow large; our natural environment will grow more inhospitable; our infrastructure will erode further; racial justice will remain more illusive; and more people will struggle to meet their basic needs for food, shelter, and clothing.
And I will take zero joy in being right.
*better late than never
Political science pop quiz.Who is the gravedigger of American democracy?
Christopher Browning, renowned Holocaust scholar; and my liberal friends Richie and Larry; are no doubt cursing me for giving Trump any cover. And for good reason. They’re convinced, among other historically minded people on the left, that life in the (dis)United States today is frighteningly similar to 1925-1930’s Germany. And I agree.
Here’s a summary of Browning’s argument with excerpts from his October 2018 New York Review of Books essay, “A leading Holocaust historian just seriously compared the US to Nazi Germany”.
As Vox explains, Browning warns that democracy in the US is under serious threat, in the way that German democracy was prior to Hitler’s rise — and really could topple altogether.
Vox’s Beauchamp explains:
“Browning’s essay covers many topics, ranging from Trump’s ‘America First’ foreign policy — a phrase most closely associated with a group of prewar American Nazi sympathizers — to the role of Fox News as a kind of privatized state propaganda office. But the most interesting part of his argument is the comparison between Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Paul von Hindenburg, the German leader who ultimately handed power over to Hitler.”
Props if you identified Mitch McConnell as the gravedigger. Could the nerdy Kentuckian really be that dangerous? Beauchamp again:
“McConnell, in Browning’s eyes, is doing something similar to Hindenburg— taking whatever actions he can to attain power, including breaking the system for judicial nominations (cough cough, Merrick Garland) and empowering a dangerous demagogue under the delusion that he can be fully controlled.”
Do conservatives have the necessary self-awareness to take this critique seriously? Beauchamp:
“Now, as Browning points out, ‘Trump is not Hitler and Trumpism is not Nazism.’ The biggest and most important difference is that Hitler was an open and ideological opponent of the idea of democracy, whereas neither Trump nor the GOP wants to abolish elections.
What Browning worries about, instead, is a slow and quiet breakdown of American democracy — something more much like what you see in modern failed democracies like Turkey. Browning worries that Republicans have grown comfortable enough manipulating the rules of the democratic game to their advantage, with things like voter ID laws and gerrymandering, that they might go even further even after Trump is gone.”
How does one maintain meaningful, personal friendships with people who support McConnell and Trump when our democracy is under serious threat in the ways Browning convincingly illustrates? The vast majority of people do it by avoiding any discussion of politics, but it’s too late for that for me because my friends and I have been locking political horns for decades.
My successfully balancing the two is less important than us avoiding Germany’s fate.
I highly recommend reading all of Beauchamp’s summary and all of Browning’s original essay if you know someone who has a subscription to The New York Review of Books or if you can access it through a university library or interlibrary loan.* And of course, it’s important to remember that Browning isn’t the only scholar highlighting these historical parallels. See also. . .
“’This should be an alert to the Republican Party as they think about generational replacement,’ said Elizabeth Bennion, a professor of political science at Indiana University South Bend.
Each succeeding generation of Americans tends to be more progressive than those that came before, Ms. Bennion noted, a trend that potentially poses a long-term threat to the Republican Party’s power.”
One caveat. That more young people vote.
I follow national and international news closely, but I’ve run smack dab into a Presidential politics news wall. The coverage is way too extensive and speculative.
Constantly changing state and national polls, accusations back and forth, bizarre public appearances, both sides pandering for votes while our serious challenges intensify, soundbites left and right, an army of analysts dissecting every detail, even the debates lack substance.
I’m more cognizant than before of the opportunity cost of following the thirteen month long circus—hours of time down the drain. Life is short, I’m going to tune it out to the best of my abilities and focus instead on my “To Do” list:
1. Decide whether or not to refer to Ron Artest as Metta World Peace.
2. Clean the gutters.
3. Determine whether the Beibs fathered a baby or not.
4. Get the lawnmower serviced.
5. Clean the sink pipes in the Ron (master) bathroom.
6. Teach Marley to ride on the back of the new scoot.
7. Devise a plan to get on this list.
8. Run, swim, and cycle long distances.
9. Distract the offspring, then give away the bulk of their childhood possessions.
10. Take a nap.
• Just like her opponent, Senator Murkowski from Alaska says she wants to reduce spending and reduce the national debt. And then in the same breath she says she will work hard to maintain all of Alaska’s federal funding because one-third of Alaskans’ jobs depend upon it. And she might win as a write-in candidate. So what she meant is she wants to reduce federal spending in the other forty nine states.
• Newsflash, President Obama is ordinary. The problem of course is that he was an extraordinary campaigner. ARod isn’t supposed to hit .255, Tiger isn’t supposed to be a Ryder Cup captain’s pick, and Meryl Streep isn’t supposed to make bad movies. He’s a victim of unrealistic expectations. I’m cautiously optimistic that he makes the necessary adjustments and steadily improves throughout years three and four.
• In a recent Washington State Senate debate Dino Rossi and Patty Murray were both asked two times if they would raise the minimum age for full social security benefits. Neither answered. Four non-responses. Are any politicians willing to tell constituents what they need to hear and not just what they want to? Why couldn’t Rossi or Murray say what’s so painfully obvious, “Yes, for the well-to-do at least, we’re probably going to have to raise the minimum age for full social security benefits again. More generally, we have to make serious changes to our entitlement programs to have any hope of balancing the budget and reducing the national debt.” I’m sure their non-responses are based upon political science research. By desiring honest, straightforward, specific, succinct answers, guess I’m in the minority.
• Juan Williams has been fired by NPR for comments made on Bill O’Reilly’s show. I met him once in Kyoto, Japan. I agree 100% with this commentary on his firing. As the Quakers say, “That Friend speaks my mind.”
• Get a load of French high schoolers. When I taught high school I struggled to get my students to think beyond Friday night’s game and dance. In contrast, these adolescents are protesting something over forty years down the road, having to work to 62 instead of 60. Talk about long-term thinking. Guess they anticipate hating whatever they’ll end up doing for a living and maybe they already have detailed plans for when they’re 60 and 61.
• Favorite campaign development. . . multimillionaire candidates spending tens or hundreds (in the case of Meg Whitman) of their own millions and still looking like they’ll lose.