Sitting on a Powder Keg

There seems to me to be a total disconnect between political reporting and commentary in our country and the reality of our politics on the ground.

Political reporters and pundits are dying for the world to return to the pre-Trump era (forgetting that in many ways, the Republicans were, in their abuse of gerrymandering and the filibuster and embrace of ideas like the independent judiciary theory, well along the way to rejecting the basic norms of representative democracy long before Trump).

Harrisburg reporters focus on the calls for bipartisanship from both sides.

So, we are seeing reporting on, for example, the Republican presidential nomination race that normalizes it, as it focuses on who is up and who is down, what the strategies of the candidates are, etc.

And yet, on the ground, what do we see?

–Trump continues to make wild claims about 2020 and masks racist attacks on Alvin Bragg.

–Trump’s holds on the Republican base not only continues to be immune to news of his corruption, but that news strengthens his hold on his supporters. We are seeing the power of a demagogic leader relying on mass hysteria in action to sustain his support, a power that ancient writers and analysts of Hitler and Mussolini have written extensively about, yet there is hardly any recognition of how abnormal this situation is for our politics.

–Trump continues to side with Russia against Ukraine.

–Republican candidates are rallying around Trump on both democracy and foreign policy issues, largely because they recognize his hold on his supporters.

–A judge in Texas makes absurd, lawless decisions about access to medical abortion and about ACA essential benefits, decisions that may well be ratified by the Supreme Court.

–A Tennessee legislature responds to legitimate protest by thrown two Black members out.

–The governor of Texas says he will pardon a right-wing extremist who shot and killed a Black Lives Matter protestor in cold blood and, it appears, with pre-meditation.

–In response to a dramatic judicial victory in Wisconsin that is likely to pave the way to a judicial decision that will overturn some of the most gerrymandered state legislative districts in the country overcome, the leaders of that legislature have begun talking about impeaching and removing the newly elected judge as soon as she takes office.

And in state politics we see

–Doug Mastriano preparing a campaign for the Senate that is likely to lead to victory in the Republican primary next year.

–Extremists that want to ban books and fire teachers who encourage serious thought seeking to take over school board not just in rural parts of the state but in suburban Bucks County.

–a Republican Party that has responded to a judicial decision they opposed, and that calls for fair and full funding of our public schools, by calling for the replacement of public schools entirely.

None of this normal American politics. And these are not one-off events. They are part of a pattern that demonstrates the willingness of Republican leaders to continue to undermine the norms of representative democracy–including the crucial norm that we make decisions with ballots not bullets–to great claims from their followers.

It’s so scary to think about the consequences of this radical turn in our politics that most of us don’t want to do it. Those who distrust partisan politics want to blame both sides. Reporters and pundits who grew up in the era of one the one hand / on the other hand journalism don’t know how and often are unwilling to talk about these threats.

But we must talk about them and remind everyone that the fight to save our democracy is just starting, that everything we hold dear is at stake, and that stark new challenges may arise every day.

If you have studied history, you know that almost no one really anticipates either breakdowns in a political regime or wars. In retrospect, one can see the movement toward them. But at the moment, the usually come as a surprise. The vast majority of Russians including members of the Communist Party were shocked when communism fell. Most Germans never anticipated the collapse of the Weimar Republic. Despite the obvious tensions, the start of the Civil War surprised most Americans.

We are now, today, at this very sitting moment on a powder keg. We don’t know when, how, and if it is going explode. But the potential for an explosion is higher in this country than it has been since this day in 1861.

We very much need more of us to understand the threats and to galvanize people who care about the future of representative democracy in America for the struggles ahead.

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