Category Archives: politics

Remember John Brown

A snippet from Morning Joe regarding Trump’s declaration that the media is the “enemy of the American people”–

 

The commentators are right about the danger of what Trump is saying, but equally important, I think, is the point John Heilemann makes at about the 7:35 mark, that Trump’s language is an incitement to terrorist acts such as the Oklahoma City Bombing, still the worst domestic act of terror in our history.  It’s a point that I think needs to be repeated over and over again– we are in dangerous waters, and it may take just one latter-day John Brown to set the ship on fire.  The danger exists from both the left and the right– the respective ends of our political spectrum are overheated, and it’s possible some fanatic or deluded individual will do something so awful that our political discourse, or what’s left of it, will completely disintegrate.  What happens then, God alone knows.

Pray.  Stand up for the helpless.  And don’t let anybody, left or right, blather about doing something radical, even if you’re sure they’re not serious.  At this moment we just do not need more gasoline on the fire.

A Kleptomaniac in theWhite House, with a couple of extra thoughts

 

Thank God for SNL–

 

I think this article has to be required reading for anyone concerned about the course of our country under Trump (written by a conservative, by the way….)–

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/03/how-to-build-an-autocracy/513872/

This article immediately reminded me of a book I read years ago, Friendly Fascism by Bertram Gross, which resonates with David Frum’s concept that the autocracy Trump intends to build will not be based on the heavy-handed models of 1930’s fascism, but which will still just as effectively castrate our civil liberties.

Frum’s article has a lot to recommend it, especially how it frames Trump’s main purpose as the creation of a kleptocracy with him and his family at the center, all of which, if unopposed, would be as utterly destructive of our civil liberties as the worst of the Nazi regime.  I am, however, a little cautious about Frum’s assumption that we won’t see the same sort of heavy-handed political and social control as previous fascisms.  If it were left to just Trump, that might be true, but too many of the people around Trump are positively scary, starting with Jeff Sessions and ending up with Steve Bannon, whose white nationalist views are nothing less than apocalyptic.  If Trump leaves much of the actual running of the government in the hands of his aides, as seems likely, then people like Sessions and Bannon will inevitably use that power to further their own agendas– or get us into disastrous situations in foreign lands.  A crook opening a door for worse criminals is nothing new, except, perhaps, in this country.  That the crook is a buffoon doesn’t make the situation any easier.

It’s going to have to come down to people, progressive and conservative, putting aside their differences on issues to join forces to stand up to these people.  The test of Americans as a people will be whether we can do that.

Hang in there.

 

 

And immediately, sunlight….

No honeymoon for Il Duce

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/people-across-world-rally-womens-rights/

http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/inauguration-2017/women-s-march-washington-echoed-cities-around-world-n710156

http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/world/worldwide-people-rally-in-support-of-women%E2%80%99s-march-on-washington/ar-AAm5Ltx?li=BBnb7Kz

Note to self: yo, numb-nuts, you missed out on joining the local march because you weren’t paying attention.  Keep a better ear to the ground in the future, nimrod, because this is exactly the sort of thing I want to add my two cents to.

But this put a smile on my face after yesterday’s gloom.  We are a very large and noisy conglomeration of people, and that’s exactly what we need right now.

The state we’re in– further political thoughts, August 8, 2016

In a  previous blog post I made the case that Donald Trump is basically a megalomaniacal con-man who is exploiting the real hurts of average people to promote his brand, which is himself.  He has no a real plan to redeem the country, or even run it with reasonable competence.  His ideas are not merely unworkable (“We’ll build a wall and make Mexico pay for it!”), they are actually dangerous.

The sad truth, however, is that Trump is in no way the cause of the division this country is experiencing at the moment.  He’s merely using it to his advantage.  Our division into mutually antagonistic ideological camps has been going on for decades.

There has always been social and political tension and contention in this country.  This is inevitable in a society made up of many different groups holding a variety of beliefs.  The Founding Fathers actually recognized that faction was inevitable and took it into account when formulating the Constitution.  Americans have long had a genius for weaving contentious groups together into a, if not completely harmonious, then at least reasonably unified consensus.

Sometimes, however, this consensus breaks down.  The most obvious example, of course, is the Civil War.  Americans in the middle of the Nineteenth Century found themselves unable to continue to paper over the chasm between free state and slave state, between an agrarian South focused on social hierarchy and chattel labor and an industrializing North focused on an open society with free labor.  All attempts at compromise failed and Americans divided themselves into antagonistic camps which, in the end, could find no way to resolve their disagreements other than by force of arms.  The war quite literally destroyed the old Union and birthed a new political order, a new United States.  If that new society was any more just and free than the old, the price paid for it was undeniably high.

We live in another era of partisan division.  Many have remarked on how people are living more and more in “ideological silos”, in which they interact only with people who largely agree with them.  The Pew Research Center has done statistical analyses of this fact that are worth reading.  One of the interesting aspects of these analyses is the finding that those who are more political involved tend to have the most consistently liberal or conservative ideologies.  As these studies put it, centrists largely “…remain on the edges of the political playing field….”

The reasons for this bifurcation are numerous and go back decades– the upheaval of the Sixties, the rise of a vocal and uncompromising conservatism, the culture wars of the Eighties and Nineties, the advent of largely conservative media that has been less interested in journalistic fairness than in demonizing those who hold contrarian opinions (although liberals are hardly innocent of this sort of thing), the contested presidential election in 2000, 9-11, the Iraq war, and the growing threat of terrorism.  People have a profound sense that their government is more and more the creature of plutocrats and money-men.  On top of all of this, the nation is going through demographic and social changes which leave some people feeling alienated from their own country– the United States is well on its way to no longer being majority white, nor normatively heterosexual, nor largely Christian (I personally doubt we were ever really that Christian as a society, but that’s another post).

We are increasingly a nation divided against itself.  We have lost much of our sense of common purpose and identity as Americans– or rather, we spend a great deal of time telling ourselves that people who think differently from us or who look different are not real Americans.  This partisan division has been reflected in the operation of our government, or perhaps rather, its non-operation.  In recent years ‘legislative action’ has too often consisted of using the mechanism of government to deny your opponents legitimacy and anything resembling policy success.  When you see this sort of thing becoming common, it is a sure sign that the established mechanisms of governance have begun to break down, and that new mechanisms and a new consensus need to be created.

Unfortunately, at the moment no one seems to have a clear understanding of how to achieve this new consensus.  At the same time, many people seem to want to restore the America they think they’ve lost, or to bring in someone who will take positive action– whether or not it’s constitutional– to ‘protect’ us.  Hence, Trump.

The essential point is that, even if Trump loses this election, the forces he is exploiting– or that, in another sense, brought him into being– will still be seething with resentment and misplaced rage, doubtless looking for the next man on a white horse. This is almost unprecedented in our history.  The only analogous situation I can immediately call to mind is Huey Long in the Thirties, who was another demagogue who exploited populist discontent.  There was a reason Franklin Delano Roosevelt considered Long one of the most dangerous people in the country.

Personally, I have no ready remedy in mind to heal this rift and soothe the minds and hearts of those who are looking for– let’s not mince words– a dictator.  The rhetoric has become too heated, the divisions too deep for an easy solution.  Possibly all we need to tip us over the edge into some sort of authoritarianism is for some latter-day John Brown— domestic or foreign– to do something appalling (a terrorist nuke on America soil would do the job, if an example is needed) and the American people might just select a Trump-figure to lead them.  We are in dangerous waters.

The only thing I know for sure that we must do is speak the truth, protect the rights of everyone– even if they wear a hijab or have Mexican grandparents– and vote as if the future of the Republic is on the line.

Because it is.

 

 

Once more, thank you, Jon Stewart

Once more, Jon Stewart has a clear-eyed perspective on all the craziness that’s going down right now in our national political space.  This is an extended discussion with Dave Axelrod at the University of Chicago on May 9th.  The whole conversation is worth listening to, but the first thirteen or so minutes are particularly on point, and are excerpted here.

Stewart connects the rise of Trump to the increasingly vitriolic and even apocalyptic narrative that has for years been the daily meat-and-potatoes of right-wing talk radio in particular, and the conservative mindset in general.  He’s not the first commentator to link Republican exploitation of white and particularly male anger at the social changes of the last two generations (aka “the Southern Strategy”) to the rise of a nasty, know-nothing populism (see Sarah Palin as a Trump forerunner), but he does so here in terms that make it hard to argue with his premise. Trump is, quite simply, a monster created by the Republican Party that is now running amok, out of their control, tearing through the heart of our body-politic like Godzilla with bad hair.

Frankly, this is how democracies die.  People get afraid or angry and disgusted with the existing political process– and it’s simply a non-partisan truth that at the moment there’s plenty to be disgusted with about how our government is working, or not working– a figure on a white horse appears who promises to make the bad stuff go away, while spouting slogans such as “make the nation great again” or “regain our national honor”, and the people hand the government over to the horseman.  These strongmen are frequently strong only in their rhetoric, and absolute disasters as heads of state.  Trump shows every sign of having just such feet of political clay.

We cannot, cannot, cannot allow this man even close to the levers of power in this country.  The stakes are just too high.

 

 

 

Now it’s serious– a few political thoughts, May 4th, 2016

In the 2012 HBO movie Game Change about the 2008 US presidential election, John McCain (Ed Harris) makes an observation about the populist anger he encountered in his town halls and rallies late in the campaign.  This is not a direct quote, but I think it captures the gist– “There is a dark side to American populism, and there are some politicians who are willing to exploit that dark side for their own advantage.”  It was an apt observation at the time, encapsulating the building political rage that would culminate in the Tea Party, and the politicians who have been willing to pander to it.  Unfortunately, it is even more apt eight years later.

Donald Trump is now the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.  Every other conventional or semi-conventional candidate flamed out and fell short, even the hard right conservative– in fact, dangerously theocratic— Ted Cruz.  Against all conventional wisdom, Trump has tapped into the boiling rage of people on the right who feel disenfranchised and left out.

Ironically, their sense of dislocation is not wholly without foundation.  People in this country across the political spectrum sense that the system is rigged, benefiting an elite rather than the greater mass of citizens, with a ossified governmental apparatus and economic forces that are grinding the middle class into non-existence.  This has found expression on the left first in the Occupy movement, and then in Bernie Sanders’ insurgent campaign.  The right-wing expression of this rage, unfortunately, is larded with racist memes and scary nativism.  The Tea Party and their allies are not wrong in saying that they’re being screwed, but they go wrong with their proposed solutions.

And now all this populist anger on the right has found a spokesman in Donald Trump.  People looking for an outsider who says what he thinks have elevated him to the status of someone who can right everything they see as wrong with our current system.  And Trump is an excellent salesman, who has proven adept at selling himself as the one person who can right the ship of state– no matter what it takes.

In other times and places this sort of person has been called ‘a man on a white horse’.

I don’t believe I am engaging in hyperbole.  Many autocratic or fascist strongmen have gained power not through a coup or a revolution, but by exploiting populist grievances to achieve office through established constitutional paths– and that list includes Adolf Hitler.  We have now reached a very scary moment in the life of our nation.

By all the evidence I can see, Donald Trump has no actual plan for America, and no guiding principle other than his megalomaniacal self-importance.  On the other hand, I see no evidence that his stated concern about working people is genuine.  It appears to be mere shtick.  His proposed policies are horrifying when they’re not just plain ludicrous.  His whole campaign has been about him, and the promotion of his ‘brand’.  He is clearly unfit for high office, and even conservatives recognize this.  And yet, the base of the Republican party has anointed this man as their chosen one.  You would think they’ve all gone dotty at once, except that Trump is actually the logical result of decades of Republican pandering to the dark side of the American right.  I can do no better than to quote John Scalzi on this point–

“Again, Trump has been leading the GOP polls almost without interruption for months. He’s not an outlier. He’s there for a reason. The reason is that the GOP has made space in their party for race-baiting xenophobic religious bigots, and has done so for years by conscious and intentional strategy. Trump did not bring his supporters into the GOP. They were already there…..The GOP wasn’t always the party of race-baiting xenophobic religious bigots — there’s a reason the term was “Dixiecrat” and not “Republidixies” — but they took possession of them 50 years ago and have been banking on them ever since.

The GOP’s problem is that Trump is the distillation of every political strategy they’ve honed over the last several decades, and particularly ramped up over the last two. Lionizing the “political outsider”? Check! Fawning over billionaires? Check! Ratcheting up political rhetoric so that everyone who opposes you is the enemy and sick and awful? Check! Scaring the crap out of not-young white conservative Christians with the image of lawless racial and religious minorities? Check! Valorizing the tribalism of white conservative Christianity over the rule of law and the Constitution of the United States? Check!

There’s a reason why the National Republican Senatorial Committee’s executive director wants GOP candidates to “be like Trump” even as [Lindsey] Graham bleats that Trump doesn’t represent the party. Lindsey Graham, are you shitting me? Trump doesn’t just represent your party. He’s the goddamn Platonic ideal of it. You can’t spend decades preparing the way for someone like Donald Trump and then pretend to be shocked, shocked when he roars down the field, flawlessly executing your playbook.”

So here we are, facing a choice between (mostly likely) a flawed but competent Democratic candidate, and a man who should not be allowed within ten miles of the levers of constitutional power, never mind the nuclear launch codes.  Voting for this man in the general election would be a vote for anarchy and, quite possibly, the end of the Republic.  I can’t put it any simpler than that.

Everyone who gives a damn about this country needs to oppose this man.  Even if you can’t bring yourself to vote for Hillary, please, please don’t vote for Trump.  Support your preferred down-ticket candidates if you wish, but do not cast a vote for this man.  A vote for him is a bullet loaded into a revolver and aimed at the whole country.  Period.

 

 

Democracy– untidy and beautiful

I took part in the Washington State Democratic caucuses today.  It was a special day in more than one way– not only are the stakes in this election extremely high, but it was the first caucus in which my daughter was able to participate.  This simultaneously made me extremely proud and reminded me of my age.  Just a little while ago my daughter was far, far more interested in crayons and her dolls than politics…

Our district caucus was held at one of our local high schools.  We arrived early, but not early enough– the school parking lot was jammed, and street parking was quickly filling up.  I dropped my wife and daughter off, and then had to find parking seven blocks away.  This made my hike back to the high school a bit of a chore, as I am nursing a sprained knee (and a possible meniscus tear– medical assessment in progress).

But I wasn’t going to miss this caucus.

The caucus was wall-to-wall with people– quite probably the largest number of people I have ever seen at a caucus in this state.  People congregated by precinct, and the subsequent discussion was passionate, but generally respectful.  In the end Bernie Sanders took three-quarters of our precinct vote, Hilary Clinton one quarter, which, at the moment, roughly matches the proportion of the vote state-wide.

It was good, face-to-face grass-roots democracy, and nobody called anybody names, and nobody got into a fistfight.  It gives me hope, seeing so many people engaged and looking for change.

Because, frankly, in this country we need hope, and we need change.  There is a real sense that our essential democracy is slipping away.  Working people are getting profoundly shafted, and our republic is in danger of becoming a plutocratic oligarchy.  I am convinced that if certain people from the other party become president (by which I mean all of them, but some more than others) the danger to the country will move from chronic to acute.  We need a political revolution in this country to restore our democracy, and to point the US toward a future that includes everyone.

The problem is that there are a lot of people whose dreams for this country are quite different, far, far too many of whom are threatened by the changes the country is going through, and who are looking for scapegoats for their sense of dislocation.  Certain politicians are pandering to that fear and paranoia and dislocation, offering up empty promises of ‘restored greatness’.  Others are ideologues spouting doctrines that are seriously disconnected from verifiable reality, such as denying global warming in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence.  And all of this is wrapped up in a political polarization that is destroying our sense of all being Americans together.

So I’m hopeful, and I’m worried.  It’s seven-plus months to the general election, which is very long time in American politics, and will be even more so in this election, which has been off-the-wall whacked-out and off the charts.  All we can do is buckle up, hang on and keep working toward what we believe is right, while remembering that while one election is not going to automatically make everything better, that one election could also put us in serious danger.

At minimum, I can do two things for my country at the moment– pray and vote.  To my mind, that’s a pretty powerful combination.

Later.

 

The fix we’re in….

WARNING!– Political post! You have thirty seconds to reach minimum safe distance!

I wasn’t originally going to post about the mid-term election. There didn’t seem to be much to say about it others hadn’t already said, and I didn’t want to assign the election more weight than it deserves– mid-term elections in this country tend to skew toward the base (aka the committed, or, depending on your point of view, the whack-jobs), and the incumbent party usually takes a beating. It’s painful to watch know-nothings crowing about their “electoral mandate”, but this sort thing of thing usually passes, and the wheel comes around again.

Then I read this piece by Nicholas Kristoff, who seems to crystallize the larger issue we’re facing in the US. Democracy is ailing in this country, ailing badly, and the mechanism of government is jammed with partisan game playing. Kristoff contrasts people in other countries, such as China and Ukraine, who have fought and died for democracy, with us, the inheritors of a democratic tradition, who are failing, and it is a painful contrast.

At one point in the last years of the Roman Republic one of Julius Caesar’s political opponents refused to take the auguries required to conduct a certain piece of business, not because the gods were angry, but because doing so would have allowed Caesar to look productive and useful to the state. In ancient Rome you didn’t twitch a political eyebrow without checking the auspices (from which we get the term ‘auspicious’), and thus Caesar’s opponents were able to manipulate the machinery of government to stymie him.

If this sounds familiar, it should– it’s exactly where we are in this country, at this moment. And that is a thought that should scare everyone, because the Roman Republic lost the consensus it needed to maintain itself, dissolved in civil war and then devolved into an imperial monarchy. If that is probably not the exact path the US will follow (actually, I’m afraid it could turn out worse), it should be self-evident that if the political class is more interested in frustrating its opponents than in actual governance, the whole country is bound to suffer.

I have another book on my short list to read, Chris Matthew’s Tip and the Gipper: When Politics Worked. Having lived through the ’80’s, and remembering the partisan sniping of the time, it is sobering to see someone looking back on the relationship betwween President Reagan and Tip O’Neill, Speaker of the House, as an example of politics that worked. It’s a measure of how bad things have actually gotten.

Perhaps we all need to remember that partisan differences do not inevitably mean all-out ideological warfare, with no prisoners taken and the ‘victors’ inheriting only ruins. Because that’s where we’re headed, folks.

An additional couple of thoughts….

In my most recent post I painted an apocalyptic picture of a future America I think is at least potentially possible, if not likely. I realized afterwards, however, that I left off saying what might be done about it, and, perhaps more personally, why I have not yet fled to British Columbia or Antarctica or some other place where Congress’ ravings don’t apply. It also may raise a few questions about me in people’s minds when, in subsequent posts, I go on blithely talking about my writing and movies and such, as if I didn’t believe my country is in deep effluvium.

Let me try to s’plain myself.

There is much we can do about the danger we’re in, and mainly it’s simple; apply the tools of citizenship and democracy– obey the laws, pay your taxes, vote (can’t leave that one out), let your representatives know exactly how you feel (don’t let them, for a moment, assume they know how you feel), and don’t shrug your shoulders and be all fatalistic when the government does something you don’t like. If your Congress person or the President or some other government hired hand does something you don’t like, let them have it. Above all, speak truth to power when needful. Personally, my jury is still out on whether Edward Snowden should be considered a hero– he is certainly no Daniel Ellsberg, who stood up and faced prosecution after the revelation of the Pentagon Papers– but the truth about NSA spying needed to be told. We need more transparency like that.

But there is one more thing I believe we Americans need to do, something I think we used to do much better than we do nowadays– speak and act with humility, knowing that no one faction has all the answers to the totality of the problems we face. The people who pose the greatest danger to our civil peace and commonwealth are those who are totally certain that they have all the answers, who believe everyone else should get in-line with their agenda, and who are ready to destroy anyone who doesn’t. At the moment, we seem to be awash in that sort of absolutism.

Doing all these things is the only legitimate way to make sure the system works. It will be a telling point if we do all this and the system still cannot be salvaged. That will be the moment for a new constitution and a new social contract. If we’re lucky….

On a personal level, there are number reasons I haven’t already applied for asylum in Canada–

1. I already live within a two-hour drive of the border. And it’s real easy to cross in places….
2. I don’t speak French, and French-speakers don’t want me to try to learn (polly-voo Franksass…)
3. My daughter has told me she wants to graduate from high school in the US.
4. Hockey. Really, this is a game?
5. Curling– ditto.
6. Having to learn a new national anthem (although, the Canadian anthem sounds a lot more musically accessible than “The Star-Spangled Banner”. C’mon, guys, who thought this was a good idea?).
7. I guess I still have a fair deal of hope. A lot of people are already living in an America that is mostly inclusive and tolerant. There is a good chance that sort of wacky behavior will spread. And there are a lot of people who starting to stand up and say out loud that allowing the US to fall into the hands of oligarchs of any stripe is unacceptable. When I get down, I try to remind myself of that.
8. I am, after all, an American. I don’t think I would be happy living anywhere else. I don’t want to give up on my country just yet.

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There, I think I’m done talking politics for a while. My next few posts will be focused back on my writing, but I will also be posting more original fiction, as part of a change I am making in my writing efforts. More about that later.

A 4th of July reflection no one is going to like

I am probably at least moderately sleep-deprived to want to tackle this topic, but I’m just going to go with it. I have a few things to get off my chest.

I have never been a chest-thumping, America-is-the-greatest-nation-in-the-world sort of patriot. When people say that I have an urge to demand they define “greatest”. We’re not

the greatest, for example, when we have a higher infant mortality rate than Greece or Cuba, nor when our national infrastructure is crumbling and would embarrass a Third-World country.

This tendency makes me unpopular in certain circles.

I do, however, love my country. I love its ideals, I love our instinct for democracy, and I love how Americans, when the elephant dung hits the turbine blades, generally do what is needful and right. Churchill’s remark that “America can be counted on to do the right thing after she’s exhausted all the alternatives” is funny and pretty much spot-on. I love our practicality and our instinct to question ourselves, a trait that, if not unique to Americans, is at least one of our defining qualities.

But….

To be honest and truthful about who you are, you have to start with your own failures and crimes, along with acknowledging the good. Like any other nation we are composed of fallible and failing human beings. Because of that, Americans live, to one degree or another, with a perpetual cloak of hypocrisy about our shoulders. Perhaps it is because our ideals are so high that our hypocrisy stinketh all the more.

Through the 19th and well into the 20th Century Americans regularly slanged the British for their Empire, conveniently ignoring the fact of our own imperialism– just ask the Mexicans, Native-Americans, Canadians and Filipinos about that (quick history question– how many times did the US invade Canada? At least four– once in the Revolution and three times during the War of 1812. They were all miserable failures, to which the Canadians owe their universal health care and the Queen on their coins). We started the Revolution in the name of liberty while holding black men and women in bondage. We proclaim equality for all while giving the rich box-seats and telling the poor and hungry to go around to the back door.

It’s not just our inevitable hypocrisy (who could live these ideals to perfection?) that leaves me in a dour mood, though, despite the (momentary) Seattle sunshine. It goes much deeper than that.

To put it plainly, we’re in deep trouble.

We are a severely divided nation, Red vs. Blue, and probably a dozen factions within those broad categories, to the point that civil discourse has almost come to an end. Our government is so gridlocked that ordinary, even mundane, business falls by the wayside, the victim of political rancor. Large sections of our political landscape have been overrun by know-nothings to whom political compromise– the life-blood of democracy– is akin to mortal sin. Presidents of both parties think it’s just okey-dokey to bend the Constitution, so long as it is in the name of security. And we have a Supreme Court that is down with the idea that a man with a billion dollars should effectively have more say in our political system than a man with one hundred dollars.

All of this, to me, looks like a political system slowly slipping into a tar pit.

I have read too much history; I have probably also read too much science-fiction. I know from history that all nations and governments, at some point, fail, often with terrible consequences. I know, from history and science-fiction both, that a nation is sometimes just one John Brown moment from being shoved into a completely different historical track. We Americans have not purchased immunity from being human nor from the inability to create a perpetually perfect political arrangement. And, at the moment, our divisions look very sharp and deep.

Let’s talk about those possible future-histories, best-case, middle-case, worst-case. Of course, my opinion of best, middle and worst may differ sharply from yours– bear with me.

Best-case– we live up to our own ideals and become a nation of true inclusion and democracy. We reverse the current trend toward plutocracy and find a way to give everyone a equal share of our future. I’m not talking utopia here, but practical, hard-headed measures, such as helping the middle-class, rebuilding our national infrastructure, affirming that free speech belongs to living, breathing human beings, and getting the money out of politics. In some ways, we’re already a long way down this road– we are a far more inclusive country than we were when I was born. But there is no guarantee we’re going to succeed. There are just too many forces working against it.

Middle-case– we cannot overcome our differences and, in some way or another, we end this experiment called the United States, perhaps even peacefully dissolving the Union. The dissolution of empires (and the US is an empire, make no mistake) has been a trend since the end of World War II– the break-up of the Soviet Union was just the grandest example. Regional nationalism in the United States is much, much weaker than it was in the former Soviet Union, however, so a full dissolution may not be in the cards.

Partly because of that, I do not think the middle-case very likely. On the other hand, you’ll note that my middle-case does not consist of us somehow muddling along as we are. I don’t think that is particularly likely, either. Something has got to give.

Worst-case– we cannot overcome our differences, and our political dialogue is so poisoned that we cannot negotiate a peaceful separation– and if you listen to the rancor out there right now, you might think we’re at that point already. In such an environment, perhaps some latter-day John Brown commits a horrific act, which acts as a tipping point, and one faction or another decides to make a grab for all the marbles. Remember how I mentioned that Americans are not immune to being human beings? That includes the impulse to impose your way of believing and doing things on other people.

In plain English, tyranny, or a second Civil War. Perhaps both.

I once had a novella on Amazon about the end of a new American civil war. I eventually removed it because I decided it did not adequately convey the horror of such a future-history– my story-telling skills were not up to the task. The end of democracy in America, whether by a bloodless coup or by a bloody war, would be devastating, not just for us, but for the world. An actual civil war in this country, in modern times, would make Bosnia look like a Sunday School picnic.

Before you say it’s not possible, remember that it already happened once. Yesterday was the 151st anniversary of Pickett’s Charge. The first Civil War has been so long represented as a sectional conflict that we forget that the issues driving it, including slavery, which touched on the meaning of freedom and citizenship, were national in scope– and that the Confederacy had many friends in the North. Those issues of freedom and the role of government keep reappearing in American politics, as they have now, just in different guises.

In some ways, it is 1859 all over again. It is yet to be seen if we can avoid another Harper’s Ferry.

These are my thoughts, sincerely un-cheerful for a sunny Fourth of July afternoon, and probably why I don’t get invited to a lot of barbecues. All to the good, most likely– I’m supposed to be watching my weight, anyway.

How likely is the worst-case? I don’t know. I hope it’s not very, and that I have, in fact, read too much science-fiction. In which, by the way, some of our best authors have discussed the possibility of tyranny in America, starting with Robert Heinlein’s “If This Goes On—” and continuing through Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale”. Both books are scary, but neither of them have yet come true. Perhaps, therefore, I’m just spinning out improbable future-histories that will never come to be.

Perhaps.

But at the moment, it is certain that things are in a serious state. And that is why I can’t really get all chest-thumping patriotic and party like it’s 1776 or 1945 or whatever high-point of our national life you want to commemorate for the day.

But I did manage to put out the flag.

Later.