We face problems. As have all societies ever.
I think framing climate change as an unfortunate side effect of a very good thing (immense and unparalleled human prosperity and flourishing in more parts of the world than ever before) is far and away the best way to frame the issue.
It allows us to acknowledge the huge benefits we've reaped by burning fossil fuels for the last couple centuries, it thoroughly undercuts and highlights the cruel absurdity of the de-growth camp (yeah, let's solve climate change by keeping most of Asia and Africa poor), and it allows us to look at the future in a positive light (ie, all the new technology we get to develop to move beyond carbon). It makes me excited instead of depressed.
Also, as someone who has always enjoyed history, whenever anyone says "this is the worst time to be alive" or "things are always getting worse" I want to say "I don't know, 536AD seemed pretty bad, and also the black death? Even 1900-1950 was pretty terrible! Two world wars and a massive economic downturn?? I'll stay in 2021 thanks"
I recall a former friend telling me a year ago that he “didn’t want to have to shoot at me if there was a civil war”. Like he would be trudging through some swampy hedgerow with his AR-15 and rucksack of bone broth and toilet paper as part of Rogans 1st Texas Rifles or something. I told him if anything we might experience something like “the troubles” or the 1970’s terrorism here in the US with political headquarters being bombed and a bunch of innocent bystanders being killed. It’s the longing to be a romantic hero in a broken world via murder of your fellow countrymen that just breaks my brain. Now most people do not feel this why but it scared the hell out of me that a relatively intelligent white collar professional told me this.
I absolutely agree (though with the caveat that I do think the Republican Party has basically abandoned small-l liberalism and really does pose a threat to US democracy.) There's a kind of grillpilling that happens when you look at the disconnect between poll responses about people's own lives (plurality answer: fine to great) and poll responses about the direction of the country (majority answer: thisisfinedog.jpeg). Of course, a big thing in liberalism/leftism is one should be careful not to take one's own relatively okay life as representative ("check your privilege"). But it turns out lots of people from a variety of walks of life say they're doing fine! The US is a rich country with high standards of living! It changes your priors; you have to be convinced that any given domestic policy concerns *is* a widespread crisis, rather than that it *isn't*.
I was just thinking today how silly it is that there's a political club in San Francisco called "the SF League of Pissed-Off Voters". It's been around since I was a tween. Mayors and presidents have come and gone, but the League of Pissed-Off Voters' lodestar remains the same: whatever's happening, they're angry about it.
Maybe this is just me losing my stomach for intense debate with highly zealous people, but increasingly I feel like you shouldn't trust the politics of anyone who doesn't have a clear idea of the kind of world they'd be happy living in, the kind of world where they could relax their constant vigilance and just enjoy life. Life is fun! Why would we want to be led by dour puritans who don't see that? The only legitimate goal of politics is to make more lives more comfortable, I'd say.
>>>I think that the United States is not under siege from a neo-fascist movement personified by Donald Trump.<<<
This is a truly engrossing article, Matt. Thanks. There's a lot to absorb here and I plan a few more comments after my brain ponders the ideas here a bit more. But I did want to offer a thought on the above sentence of yours I've excerpted.
It seems plainly the case that many Republican operatives, lawyers, political strategists and officials — the bulk whom are personally loyal to Donald J. Trump and his MAGA movement — are attempting to set things up to enable election nullification in the event the Democratic presidential nominee wins in 2024. That really does seem different (and far more menacing) from anything the republic has had to face since the 1860s in terms of the integrity of its political system and constitution. But maybe I'm being alarmist. I hope my fears are unfounded.
This is a weak article.
It seems to obviously contradicts some of Matt's own work. 5 years ago Matt wrote an article titled "American policy is doomed". 1 year ago Matt wrote an article saying "America needs a democratic revolution".
It doesn't engage with the specifics of the emergency of our time, which is that the Republican Party is close to ending American competitive democracy as we've historically known it. They've achieved it at the state level in Wisconsin and they're working to replicate that success nationally.
Just because this would not be bad as Nazi Germany doesn't mean it would not be very bad.
I was talking to my wife about the woke movement and it occurred to me that Olivier Roy's argument that Europe did not see a 'radicalization of Islam' but rather an 'Islamization of radicalism' might fit the woke movement as well. That is, Roy argues that there was a desire/need of second generation Islamic immigrants in Europe for identification with a movement against the status quo in Europe. He gives a fancy very French sociological argument for why which you can take or leave. The point is that Islamism was incindental not causal. It was there and so adopted and so all the measures to fight Islamism or Islamofascism are not only pointless but harmful as they just make it more radical. It seems to me woke movement likewise fills a need for radicalism and identification of an anti-status quo movement and the actual content is not causal. [which would make Andrew Sullivan a two-time fanatical overreactor!]
I was sort of agreeing with the piece but I think this reaction snapped me out of it - https://twitter.com/jbouie/status/1425810950142242817
If you're going to jab left, then I think you have a responsibility to actually address the concrete concerns instead of vaguely brushing them aside.
"And it’s important to understand that Republican Party presidents are always psychologically experienced by their most strident opponents as the leading edge of a fascist reaction, just as conservatives experience everything from FDR to Medicare to Barack Obama as the leading edge of a socialist takeover."
I both agree with this and think it misses the mark. Which can be taken as contradiction but let me explain. Political/campaign rhetoric has been over the top for a long time, and because it's *over the top* it ends up being wrong. But that doesn't mean current warnings are wrong. Downplaying the Trump movement's fascistic tendencies is irresponsible because they are literally acting on the Big Lie in the states. The Conservative movement has been trying to undo the VRA for decades (with Roberts literally being at the forefront of this particular movement) and have been quite successful.
You use a lot of examples to demonstrate linear progress, and claim that the negative side effects don't outweigh the positive outcomes. Which I think is fine and often useful. But then you ignore the examples of progress that is undone, because sometimes progress isn't linear.
I think also think that instead of having petty twitter arguments that ends with you blocking Jeet, it would be better to bring Jeet onto the Weeds (or go on his podcast) to actually discuss this. You both tend to dismiss each other, which is understandable since twitter is a bad place to have thought provoking debates, but c'mon. You're just jabbing left here and telling people to chill out.
Have you been outside? It's really hot. And you even mention how a lot of what needs to be done around climate should have been done a long time ago. Maybe the reason it wasn't acted upon earlier is because too many people were chilled out.
I gotta say, many people’s apocalyptic predictions about the future are not present out in their revealed preferences. If mass swathes of the left actually thought that fascists were years away from permanently seizing the reigns of power and presiding over a dying planet, they probably should stop dilly-dallying with primaring boring incumbents and move to the woods to be prepper gun fanatics, like the people on the right who believe the world is ending.
Excellent piece. Unfortunately, you'll always run up against a few challenges when you have perspective on life:
1. People want to feel like they're an integral part of a grand narrative/interesting times
2. People love to frame the world in terms of Manichean struggles of good and evil for the same reason (and all see themselves as the good)
3. People are myopic and ignorant of history, making very plausible in their minds the notion that the "bad" times we're experiencing are actually the "worst" times
The best you can do is make prudent decisions and have perspective, but the limitations of the human psyche will always keep society "interesting" I suppose...
On the one hand I agree about the policy stakes. But on the other I remember reading a really good article at Vox a while ago titled American Democracy is Doomed arguing that due to structural weaknesses in our system of government we should expect the polarization of our political parties to tend to result in political crisis. So while we might not be in a historical crisis right now compare to the election of 1800, say, we've been seeing a spiraling escalation of constitutional hardball for a while and regardless of the policy stakes I can't help thinking we're headed for political crisis sooner or later.
I think the hyperbolization of every political, cultural and social disagreement in this country, and the accelerating trend to take every single debate up to 11 is an existential threat to our democracy and if not fought by a total mobilization of us all using every means at our disposal will lead to the end of the American experiment and the absolute destruction of our way of government.
But seriously, folks . . .
When I listen to, oh, Pod Save America, and hear that Republican state legislative attempts to suppress the vote and overturn legitimate electoral results is such an existential threat (that phrase again), and that passing HR1 into law is so necessary that if it fails, it will be game over for our democracy, all I can think is "And then?" As in, once HR1 doesn't become law (and it won't), will the hosts of Pod Save America cease their funny back and forth, shut down their feed, pick up arms and take to the streets?
No, they won't. They'll bemoan the fecklessness of the Democrats, curse Manchin for not caring about democracy, and then continue on their same merry way as if nothing had happened. And to some degree that's because nothing will have happened. Voter suppression laws have limited impact on turnout; while obnoxious (and deeply un-American), if anything they inspire increased efforts to go out and vote. Laws that *might* allow overturning electoral results would be deeply worrisome if I believed that, when the moment of truth came, any state legislature would actually say, I don't care that the D won Arizona by 25,000 votes; we're giving the victory to the R. That's a Rubicon that for all their posturing and chest thumping, I just don't believe any politician is courageous (and outrageous) enough to actually cross.
This isn't to say that everything is fine and we're not facing serious challenges . . . oh what the hell. I'll go over the top and say sure, that's exactly what it's saying.
I am going to comment on the "Trump = Fascism" bit because it's the part I find most infuriating about American politics; simply put Americans REALLY struggle to identify ideology.
Donald Trump is a weak authoritarian, with Populist rhetorical impulses. This makes him similar to Viktor Orban, perhaps Vladimir Putin. However, the problem with Trump appears less to be that he does not believe in democracy, and more that he's personally incapable of reckoning with facts (like that he could actually lose an election). To some this may be a distinction without a difference, but they would be wrong. Trump never tried to end elections, and to the extent he interfered it appeared he did so from an idiotic, and maniacal, bending of the rules to make him appear better. Had Trump won in 2020 we would not see the end of presidential elections (we would have seen several other awful policies enacted, but that's different.
The real problem in America is less Trump than a handful of really illiberal institutions which need reform. The Electoral College no longer serves the country (if it ever did), the House of Representatives (and all state legislatures) are too easily gerrymandered, and one part of the US with millions of citizens (Puerto Rico) lacks presidential and Senatorial voting rights. All of these are real issues which require reform; what they are not is Fascism.
To add a few other points:
-Fascists were against capitalism, and pro autarky (the idea of a country being self-sufficient). Trump is a capitalist to his bones.
-Fascists believed in abolishing all other political parties and ending elections. As described above this does not fit Trump
-Fascists place the state (or a people) at the heart of their ideology. Trump places himself (and himself alone) at the heart of his ideology.
-Fascists were aggressively military expansionist. Trump is simply not.
Overall the most important point to be made is: you do not need to be a Fascist to be really (REALLY) bad. Trump was an awful president, a worse political actor, and a cancer on our body politic. That is enough. Exaggerating and claiming moral superiority by labeling him a Nazi says more about the accusers than reality.
I emotionally grok this piece. I'm increasingly coming around to Tom Nichols' point of view that many of our psychoses as a polity stem from the fact that "We've gotten used to a high standard of living and it bores us."
That said, I think there's a balance to be had here. Yes, "chill" out a bit. But keep a watchful eye on those who refuse to chill. Ironically, it's precisely those people in a perpetual state of mental crisis that could bring us all down in the end. Trump appealed mainly to those people, and we've seen how they can force-multiply their own paranoia and megalomania (magalomania?) into generalized widespread hell.
So yes, realize how good we have it and how standard our problems are in the long arc of history. But also realize the danger in those who will find that situation hard to handle regardless.
P.S.: Also, scratch Will Stancil behind the ears and give him a treat. Without checking today, I'm guessing he's quite tense. :/
Saying "we're living in unparalleled horrible times" is pretty obviously just ingroup signaling. It shows that you're *really* concerned about Republican fascism, climate change, etc.
Not sure that Jeet Heer or David Astin Walsh, if given truth serum, actually think today's problems are somehow so much worse than in the past.
I'm a bit grumpy at the fashion for linking the climate crisis to capitalism. There are many political and economic systems that can result in environmental degradation (like deforestation during Qing China), and just calling them all capitalist is weird.
This can get harmful when people start opposing climate policies that work within capitalism (cap-and-trade, carbon taxes, building more housing, etc), and I wish people would cut it out.
This is up there with How to Change Some Things and Secret Congress as one of my favorite SlowBorings.
I have an aunt who’s a nun, and I’ve talked to her about this kind of thing. She’s with a liberal order and has worked with refugees, death row prisoners, and people injured in the late 1960s riots in Detroit. Some kind of shit is always going down, but being paralyzed by despair doesn’t help you achieve anything.