We Are Living in a Failed State The coronavirus didn’t break America. It revealed what was already broken

From the June 2020 edition of The Atlantic.

This article is long, brutal, and essential.

Normally, I try and paraphrase the article I’m referencing, but this article makes so many powerful points, I can’t do that.  Here’s the opening paragraph instead:

When the virus came here, it found a country with serious underlying conditions, and it exploited them ruthlessly. Chronic ills—a corrupt political class, a sclerotic bureaucracy, a heartless economy, a divided and distracted public—had gone untreated for years. We had learned to live, uncomfortably, with the symptoms. It took the scale and intimacy of a pandemic to expose their severity—to shock Americans with the recognition that we are in the high-risk category.

The crisis demanded a response that was swift, rational, and collective. The United States reacted instead like Pakistan or Belarus—like a country with shoddy infrastructure and a dysfunctional government whose leaders were too corrupt or stupid to head off mass suffering.

The Daily Beast’s Commentary on Trump’s State of the Union address

This is The Daily Beast’s take on what Trump really wanted to say at the State of the Union address:

The state of the union is…. pure, weapons-grade, uncut f**king chaos, and I am both unhinged and unbound from any consequence, ever. All the pretty words my speechwriters worked so hard on are a thin veneer over the seething mass of coming horrors. I have gambled our economy, compromised our security, and shredded our dignity, and I’ll do it again. My message to the American people: bend the knee. To my enemies: vengeance is coming.

“Bend the knee”   That summarizes it all.

Trump is a ‘successful sociopath’. A predator who lacks a conscience and strategic thought.

https://www.newsweek.com/donald-trump-sociopath-mental-health-harvard-psychiatry-professor-1468441

A retired Harvard psychiatry professor described President Donald Trump as “essentially a predator” and a “successful sociopath.”

Lance M. Dodes, MD, a former assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, is yet another mental health expert to call into question the president’s state of mind

“His focus on his personal benefit at any cost is why he’s a successful sociopath,” Dodes told Salon, adding that he can “see Donald for who he really is.”

“It’s very hard to get this across to the public, because every time people talk about him, they start out with the unspoken unconscious assumption that he’s basically like the rest of us,” Dodes told Salon.

“But in order to explain and predict Trump’s behavior, you have to begin with awareness that he is essentially a predator.

“Once you keep in mind that Trump lacks a conscience and lacks empathy, he becomes very easy to follow. Unlike normal people, who are complex, he’s basically running on a very simple and very disordered program.”

John M. Talmadge, MD, a physician and clinical professor of psychiatry at U.T. Southwestern Medical Center, wrote that Trump’s “mental impairment means he cannot think strategically or in abstract terms.”

“Trump does not have a vision or a plan, because he can think only in concrete, elementary, childlike, one dimensional terms,” Talmadge, who was commenting in a personal capacity, wrote.

“He does not process an abstract idea like American forces stabilizing a multilateral conflict with geopolitical implications.

“This Trumpian brain failure is hard for normal people to understand because for normal people, abstract thought is natural, baked in, largely unnoticed. Normal people see the consequences, assess risk, make rational decisions most of the time.”

Why Christian Nationalism Is a Threat to Democracy

According to Nancy LeTourneau’s essay in the Washington Monthly:

We have to grapple with the fact that Christian nationalists are launching a “direct attack on democracy itself.” That is because real democracy poses a threat to the kind of authoritarianism they embrace. The roots of that were explained by William Barr during his speech to the law school at Notre Dame. He began by articulating his own view of human nature.

Men are subject to powerful passions and appetites, and, if unrestrained, are capable of ruthlessly riding roughshod over their neighbors and the community at large.

No society can exist without some means for restraining individual rapacity.

Barr goes on to suggest that, when the founders talked about self government, they didn’t mean what we think they did.

In the words of Madison, “We have staked our future on the ability of each of us to govern ourselves…”

This is really what was meant by “self-government.” It did not mean primarily the mechanics by which we select a representative legislative body. It referred to the capacity of each individual to restrain and govern themselves.

But if individual rapacity is the problem, what is the source of those restraints?

[T]o control willful human beings, with an infinite capacity to rationalize, those moral values must rest on authority independent of men’s will – they must flow from a transcendent Supreme Being.

In short, in the Framers’ view, free government was only suitable and sustainable for a religious people – a people who recognized that there was a transcendent moral order antecedent to both the state and man-made law and who had the discipline to control themselves according to those enduring principles.

When you combine that with the belief among Christian nationalists that the only true religion is Christianity, you have the antithesis of democratic pluralism. Instead, you have authoritarian theocracy. That loops us back to Franklin Graham and the rest of the court evangelicals, who take it upon themselves to define who is on God’s side and who is doing the work of the devil.

Years ago, Sara Robinson captured what it takes to leave that kind of authoritarian mindset.

We must never, ever underestimate what it costs these people to let go of the beliefs that have sustained them…Externally, it always means the loss of your community; and often the loss of jobs, homes, marriages, and blood relatives as well. Internally, it requires sifting through every assumption you’ve ever made about how the world works, and your place within it; and demands that you finally take the very emotional and intellectual risks that the entire edifice was designed to protect you from. You have to learn, maybe for the first time, to face down fear and live with ambiguity.

While the loss of community can be traumatic, the prospect of “sifting through every assumption you’ve ever made about how the world works” is overwhelming. As she points out, the entire edifice is designed to protect you from fear and the threat of ambiguity. For most people, scaling that one is too much to ask.

Marie Yovanovitch’s Moral Courage (testifying before Congress, defying Trump)

From the New York Times article, 10/20/2019:

It took a woman to break the spell of ‘sovereign masculinity’ that appeared to put the president above the law.

moral courage required an ability to “judge without banisters,” that is, to judge the unique and specific case in a situation that is radically unprecedented, with no universal rule available under which to subsume it. Moral courage, she taught us, is about exercising independent judgment in a situation where the rules collapse.

Yovanovitch didn’t just follow the law by complying with the subpoena, she restored the dignity and authority of that law, which had been weakened and thrown into crisis by a pattern of obstruction. Refusing subservience to the word-as-law claimed by the executive branch was an act of independent judgment.

Her moral courage struck a blow to sovereign masculinity and political authoritarianism as they are intertwined in our contemporary politics.

Stormy Daniels Exposes Evangelical Christian Hypocrisy (WashPost)

Legal proceedings force Trump to indirectly confirm there was a hush money payment to a porn star just before the election, and just after he had a kid.   But the best quote is at the end of the article:

Republicans who regarded Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky as the end of civilization as we know it are serenely untroubled. Evangelical Christians who rail against sin and cloak themselves in piety offer nothing but a worldly, almost Gallic shrug. Daniels has taught us much about their character and morals, too.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/stormy-daniels-beat-trump-at-his-own-game/2018/03/08/396f2efe-231d-11e8-86f6-54bfff693d2b_story.html

Let’s just say it: The Republicans are the problem.

Link to the article in the Washington Post.
April 27, 2012

(Thomas E. Mann is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and Norman J. Ornstein is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. This essay is adapted from their book “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism,”)

We have been studying Washington politics and Congress for more than 40 years, and never have we seen them this dysfunctional. In our past writings, we have criticized both parties when we believed it was warranted. Today, however, we have no choice but to acknowledge that the core of the problem lies with the Republican Party.

The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.

When one party moves this far from the mainstream, it makes it nearly impossible for the political system to deal constructively with the country’s challenges.

“Both sides do it” or “There is plenty of blame to go around” are the traditional refuges for an American news media intent on proving its lack of bias, while political scientists prefer generality and neutrality when discussing partisan polarization. Many self-styled bipartisan groups, in their search for common ground, propose solutions that move both sides to the center, a strategy that is simply untenable when one side is so far out of reach.

It is clear that the center of gravity in the Republican Party has shifted sharply to the right. Its once-legendary moderate and center-right legislators in the House and the Senate — think Bob Michel, Mickey Edwards, John Danforth, Chuck Hagel — are virtually extinct.
…snip…

We understand the values of mainstream journalists, including the effort to report both sides of a story. But a balanced treatment of an unbalanced phenomenon distorts reality. If the political dynamics of Washington are unlikely to change anytime soon, at least we should change the way that reality is portrayed to the public.

Our advice to the press: Don’t seek professional safety through the even-handed, unfiltered presentation of opposing views. Which politician is telling the truth? Who is taking hostages, at what risks and to what ends?

 

Putin and Bannon (and Trump) agree on the need for “traditionalism” to guard against the loss of national, cultural, religious values & identities

Sometimes the The Atlantic Monthly has articles like this, It’s Putin’s World, that just change your basic understanding of the world.

In this case, Putin has inverted the Cold War narrative. Back in Soviet times, the West was the enemy of godlessness. Today, it’s the Russian leader who seeks to snuff out that supposed threat.

Putin and Bannon both share the view that (quoting Putin):

…many of the Euro-Atlantic countries are actually rejecting their roots, including the Christian values that constitute the basis of Western civilization.  They are denying moral principles and all traditional identities: national, cultural, religious, and even sexual …

By succumbing to secularism, the West was trending toward “chaotic darkness” and a “return to a primitive state.”

What’s tough to get your head around is that a significant portion of middle America feels the same way and feels strongly that the Trump administration is the only one listening.

And middle America feels in sync with Putin’s defense of traditional national, cultural and religious identities.   By mid 2016 86% of Republicans did not view Putin unfavorably.

Is Trump really sucking up to Russia because they’re ideological buddies?  I.e,, not just because of financial leverage or straight blackmail.   Wow.

And look how this plays out for the Trump administration.  According to Bannon:

“We, the Judeo-Christian West, really have to look at what [Putin’s] talking about as far as traditionalism goes,” Bannon said. He shared Putin’s vision of a world disastrously skidding off the tracks—“a crisis both of our Church, a crisis of our faith, a crisis of the West, a crisis of capitalism.” The word crisis is used so promiscuously that it can lose meaning, but not in this case. “We’re at the very beginning stages of a very brutal and bloody conflict,” Bannon said, exhorting his audience to “fight for our beliefs against this new barbarity that’s starting, that will completely eradicate everything that we’ve been bequeathed over the last 2,000, 2,500 years.”

Just to be clear, “the new barbarity” here includes liberalism, secularism, acceptance of alternative sexualties, and godless capitalism.   And the only way to cure it is with a “brutal and bloody conflict”

Six Reasons for Trump’s Rise that No One Talks about

The actual article’s title is How Half Of America Lost Its F**king Mind

The six themes are:

  1. It’s Not About Red And Blue States — It’s About The Country Vs. The City
  2. City People Are From A Different Goddamned Planet
  3. Trends Always Start In The Cities — And Not All Of Them Are Good
  4. The Rural Areas Have Been Beaten To Sh*t
  5. Everyone Lashes Out When They Don’t Have A Voice
  6. A**holes Are Heroes

The article concludes:

“It feels good to dismiss people, to mock them, to write them off as deplorables. But you might as well take time to try to understand them, because I’m telling you, they’ll still be around long after Trump is gone.”

 

America died on Nov. 8, 2016, not with a bang or a whimper, but at its own hand via electoral suicide.

From the article “Farewell, America” by Bill Moyers:

America died on Nov. 8, 2016, not with a bang or a whimper, but at its own hand via electoral suicide. We the people chose a man who has shredded our values, our morals, our compassion, our tolerance, our decency, our sense of common purpose, our very identity — all the things that, however tenuously, made a nation out of a country.

Whatever place we now live in is not the same place it was on Nov. 7. No matter how the rest of the world looked at us on Nov. 7, they will now look at us differently. We are likely to be a pariah country. And we are lost for it. As I surveyed the ruin of that country this gray Wednesday morning, I found weary consolation in W.H. Auden’s poem, September 1, 1939, which concludes:

Defenseless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

I hunt for that affirming flame.

This generally has been called the “hate election” because everyone professed to hate both candidates. It turned out to be the hate election because, and let’s not mince words, of the hatefulness of the electorate. In the years to come, we will brace for the violence, the anger, the racism, the misogyny, the xenophobia, the nativism, the white sense of grievance that will undoubtedly be unleashed now that we have destroyed the values that have bound us.

We all knew these hatreds lurked under the thinnest veneer of civility. That civility finally is gone. In its absence, we may realize just how imperative that politesse was. It is the way we managed to coexist.

If there is a single sentence that characterizes the election, it is this: “He says the things I’m thinking.” That may be what is so terrifying. Who knew that so many tens of millions of white Americans were thinking unconscionable things about their fellow Americans? Who knew that tens of millions of white men felt so emasculated by women and challenged by minorities? Who knew that after years of seeming progress on race and gender, tens of millions of white Americans lived in seething resentment, waiting for a demagogue to arrive who would legitimize their worst selves and channel them into political power? Perhaps we had been living in a fool’s paradise. Now we aren’t.

This country has survived a civil war, two world wars and a Great Depression. There are many who say we will survive this, too. Maybe we will, but we won’t survive unscathed. We know too much about each other to heal. No more can we pretend that we are exceptional or good or progressive or united. We are none of those things. Nor can we pretend that democracy works and that elections have more-or-less happy endings. Democracy only functions when its participants abide by certain conventions, certain codes of conduct and a respect for the process.

the article continues with more, and then ends with:

But the disempowered media may have one more role to fill: They must bear witness. Many years from now, future generations will need to know what happened to us and how it happened. They will need to know how disgruntled white Americans, full of self-righteous indignation, found a way to take back a country they felt they were entitled to and which they believed had been lost. They will need to know about the ugliness and evil that destroyed us as a nation after great men like Lincoln and Roosevelt guided us through previous crises and kept our values intact. They will need to know, and they will need a vigorous, engaged, moral media to tell them. They will also need us.

We are not living for ourselves anymore in this country. Now we are living for history.