We are alive in amazing times, and 2020 is a significant year, as significant as 1968 was in US history.
Mineappolis protests – By Fibonacci Blue https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=90686854
By Isaac Flanders
Tasked with writing on the current situation in the US, it is tempting to merely itemize that country’s myriad underpinning flaws and state that any nation with those flaws as its shaky foundations needs to be pushed over.
However, for anybody reading this, there is likely little to be gained by mention of slavery, sundown towns, and ideologically vacuous Randian politics. It is also tempting to say something patrician along the lines of Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard. Although the current president does indeed have tens of millions of supporters, this sentiment still doesn’t quite cut it.
I’m just going to address some points that I think are important to understanding what is going on in the USA.
In the 2016 US presidential election, about 60% of eligible voters actually voted. It would be fair to say that the country was not extremely politically involved. That remains true, but we can expect higher percentages in 2020, and clearly some things have changed since then. What has brought about this change differs wildly from the two ends of the spectrum.
US conservatives may take this stance because of deep-seated psychological reasons that make them think they don’t want medical care, a belief in trickle-down economics; broadly, the doctrine that if the horse is fed amply with oats, some will pass through to the road for the sparrows, or whatever, but right winger David Hines has it that, for the right in the US, Guns are onramps to activism, as literally everything about guns mandates local activism and involvement, and he’s correct. This, combined with the national myth of individualism and conceptualized inflexibility in the constitution, has made firearms far more of a rallying point for the right than the left, Redneck Revolt and The Puget Sound John Brown Gun Club being notable exceptions.
the whole laundry list of madness that is 2020
Clearly, though, the primary issue is that the whole Obama presidency was an onramp to anger that energized the right, initially through the active and activist Tea Party movement.
For the left and — probably more importantly — the left-leaning with spare time through unemployment, the realization of the country’s extant racism and police brutality has meant that the Trump presidency in general and the whole laundry list of madness that is 2020 has been the onramp to anger. That together with the gross incompetence so clearly visible from the federal and most state governments,
Both the left and the right are becoming more active and energized. This, combined with the paranoid style in American politics and the lack of rationalism (prudentialism and falliblism) has massively reduced the amount of common ground shared by the two sides; something quite problematic in a two-party system.
Although far from cutting edge, Anthony Downs’ explanation is useful. The basic model has it that although parties have ideology, they are primarily concerned with getting elected, and are willing to adapt their policies for this to happen. The average (modal or median) voter here is otherwise disinterested, and will pick the party that best matches his wants. The two competing parties will both wish to make a lot of concessions to this voter, and so there will be a lot of crossover between what they offer and their policies.
because of the deep split between the two groups, each will feel more aggrieved when and if they lose, and will consequently be less likely to cede defeat.
At the same time, this voter doesn’t have a political preference beyond what benefits him, and so is unlikely to so much as join a party. The ideologically-driven and energized are precisely those who are likely to join one, or otherwise become politically active.
We now then have an energized, activist left, and an energized activist right, and the genuine average is not addressed (or pandered to, depending on your point of view) as much as otherwise. As such, the right-wing party becomes more right-wing, buoyed up by enthusiastic right-wingers, and — of course — the left-wing party becomes more left- wing, buoyed by enthusiastic left-wingers. This becomes an issue, not because of so called enlightened centrism viewpoint, but rather because there is less in the way of shared discourse and norms, and because it quickly becomes a numbers game.
Gerrymandering and electoral reform aside, if the left have the numbers, they win the election, and if the right have the numbers, they win the election. Crucially however, at this stage there is no mechanism keeping those numbers broadly similar to each other. Additional to this, because of the deep split between the two groups, each will feel more aggrieved when and if they lose, and will consequently be less likely to cede defeat.
the Democratic party is not nearly left-wing enough. The existing system does not offer a reasonable choice for someone who cares about actual left-wing politics
The next issue comes from the prosaic facts of the existing parties. For the activist or energized right-winger, the Republican party is sufficiently right wing for them to enthusiastically support, whereas for the activist or energized left-winger, the Democratic party is not nearly left-wing enough. The existing system does not offer a reasonable choice for someone who cares about actual left-wing politics and not merely business as usual with a distracting veneer of identity politics.
On the one hand, the nature of the current US multiparty, representative, democratic system requires a certain amount of nose-holding come election time, and it is quite true that the vote blue (Democrat) no matter who side absolutely do exist. On the other is the analogy that you are a black American in 1940 in a sundown town and it is getting dark. The Democrats are a janky car that is almost out of gas; you’re going to have to hot-wire it and get to the next county. They offer less than the absolute bare minimum, but, tautology though it is, as there are only two options, there are only two options…
On the other is the analogy that you are a blackamerican in 1940 in a sundown town and it is getting dark. The Democrats are a janky car that is almost out of gas; you’re going to have to hot-wire it and get to the next county
If we are being generous with the Democratic party, we can say that their policies are good for the US economy. This, however, matters very little to the tens of millions of very poor USians, some of whom will have voted for Trump in 2016 based on his anti-NAFTA statements that offered hope for those employed or formerly employed in manufacturing.
Although we don’t have official measurement of poverty before 1962, the best his- torical estimates suggest that in the Great Depression (essentially the entirety of the 1930s), between 50% and 75% of US-ians were in poverty. By the end of World War 2, these numbers were down to between 40% and 50%. Into the 1950s, still about a third were in poverty. These numbers of course were for US-ians as a whole and were higher for blackamericans This was not relative poverty, but absolute, grinding material deprivation with next to no consumption of non-necessities. It is described, for example, by Michael Harrington and Gabriel Kolko.
The nature of poverty has changed, and wealth inequality is arguably the bigger issue now. Criticism should be directed at the 0.1% vis-à-vis the 99.9%, but with regard to activism in 2020, the fact that millennials (those born between 1981 and 1996) make up around a quarter of the US population but hold just 3% of the wealth. is probably the bigger issue.
the fact that millennials (those born between 1981 and 1996) make up around a quarter of the US population but hold just 3% of the wealth. is probably the bigger issue.
Although a simplification, the European post-World War 2 response to placate the proletariat, such that full socialism would be less attractive and demanded was to provide the working class with a minimum of support. The US government instead favored mortgages as the stakes to striking and protesting become that much higher when the people had houses to lose. A much higher percentage of people feel that they do not have a great deal to lose now. It is not the case that US-ians were not able to protest before 2020, but the realistic ability to do so presented itself to a large number of them for the first time this year. Of course the people are “half victims half accomplices, like everyone else” but, to their credit, it only took them a few months of lockdown and unemployment to take to the streets in large numbers against racism and racist, fascist police and policing.
I also have a sneaking suspicion that the US right will not go quietly, but that demographic shifts will see them unable to gain a majority in the not-to-distant future.
We are alive in amazing times, and 2020 is a significant year, as significant as 1968 was in US history. I do not know that this is true, but I would guess demographics will soon necessitate a more left-wing party in the US than is currently on offer. I also have a sneaking suspicion that the US right will not go quietly, but that demographic shifts will see them unable to gain a majority in the not-to-distant future. Ultimately they are not the party of white supremacy, angry Faux news viewers, or evangelical Protestants. They are the party of “Fuck you. I got mine.”, and that message is going to remain attractive to a lot of people from that milieu. The antiracist protests of this year give us hope that people with that mindset will at least not be the majority going into the future.
1cf. Nietzsche, Friedrich. Section 20 of “On Old and New Tablets”
3Mencken, Henry Louis. 1915 “A Little Book In C Major” 4Galbraith, John Kenneth. 1992 “The Culture of Contentment” 5https://status451.com/author/davidzhines/
6Renan, Ernest. 1882 “Qu’est-ce qu’une nation?”
7Hofstadter, Richard. 1964 “The Paranoid Style in American Politics”, Harper’s Magazine 8cf. Orwell, George. 1941 “The Lion and the Unicorn: Socialism and the English Genius” 9Downs, Anthony. 1957 “An Economic Theory of Democracy”
10Harrington, Michael. 1962 “The Other America”
12Markozits, Daniel. 2019 “The Meritocracy Trap”
14De Beauvoir, Simone
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