In a word, we are in a state. And I’m not sure where we’re headed.
I haven’t written much in the last year about the US political situation, or the ongoing tragedy/farce/horror show that is the Trump administration. Partly this was because of a preoccupation with many personal issues, and partly because every time I thought I had a good topic upon which to dilate, Trump would do something even more outrageous and send me back to the drawing board.
But things seem to be coming to a head.
The Mueller investigation may be closing in on final conclusions. It’s not yet clear whether the President is actually suspected of wrong-doing by the investigation, but you wouldn’t know it from the way Trump and his surrogates act. But this is more than people acting guilty– Trump, his minions in Congress, and Fox News, are actively, and transparently, engaged in an effort to discredit the Mueller investigation, the FBI and the Department of Justice. I hope people understand just how scary that is– a faction in our government and media has essentially declared war on an agency of our government. It is (so far) a war of words, but the rhetoric is all-or-nothing– “secret societies”, “conspiracy”, “purges”, as if the DOJ were the enemy of the people, not their instrument. It is cynical, it is false, and it is destructive, and it undermines our very democracy. I doubt that Devin Nunes and his ilk are bright enough to understand what they are doing, but that doesn’t make their actions any less destructive.
People worry about the country sliding into a constitutional crisis when Mueller releases his findings. For my money we’re in a constitutional crisis now. We have an unfit, dangerous president who is actively attempting to impede a Department of Justice investigation, and has, in the process, effectively asserted (if not in so many words) the concept that he is above the law. This crisis, of course, will become acute if and when Mueller lays out evidence that our chief executive has violated the law. That is when we will see if there is any courage and backbone left in the other branches of government, specifically Congress, to do what it needs to do to preserve the rule of law and a government of the people. If Mueller sets out evidence that Trump committed “high crimes and misdemeanors”, and the Republican-dominated Congress does nothing, then our constitution will be well on its way to becoming a dead letter, and the door opened to a sort of autocracy never before seen in this country.
Having said that, let me take a step back for a moment. At the moment we are faced with a particular crisis revolving around an unfit chief executive, and that is distressing and dangerous, but this whole affair is just the latest manifestation of a comprehensive breakdown of American political life that has been gathering speed for at least a generation, if not longer. We in this country have just about lost all sense of being fellow Americans with each other. We are increasingly divided into ideological silos, between which there is little communication and understanding. Everything is polarized, everything is divided, usually with bitter rancor, and our government itself increasingly cannot function as it should because of that division. The very mechanisms of government are, time and again, hijacked to punish political opponents. You have only to remember the Gethsemane of Barack Obama’s eight years in office, in which the not-so-loyal opposition determined from the start to deny him legislative success, not because they had a better plan, but because obstruction was the only thing they could think to do, to understand what I am talking about.
The point is, whatever the outcome of our current difficulties, we live in the midst of a more deeply-seated crisis that will persist after Trump is gone, and to which, personally, I do not see an easy solution. Trump is really just a symptom of this deeper, and widening, division. It may be that the last time we were this divided was the 1850’s, and that should scare everyone who cares about this country. At the end of that decade, with a little help from John Brown, our country split wide open, and we tumbled into the worst war this country has ever known– the one in which we killed each other wholesale. A latter-day John Brown just might have the same effect now.
As an aid to understanding how we got to this pass, I recommend watching Robert Reich’s brilliant cartoon summary of the last 70 years of American socioeconomic history. He has a clear idea of where we should end up; I hope it’s just my lack of imagination that fails to see how we summon up the collective political will to get there.
In the meantime, we all need to buckle up and hold on– the ride is about to get really bumpy.