Thursday, October 04, 2018

The Beginning of the End

Congress in 2018
I have been been giving a lot of thought lately to the current state of our politics. It may not seem like it, seeing as I have been more or less silent for the past month and a half, but it hasn't been for a lack of interest in current events ... only a lack of interest in being abused.

There was a time, in my lifetime, when the American government was composed of what I call "convivial opposites." A Republican and a Democrat could each be on the extreme ends of the political spectrum, but could still -- if not enjoying each other's company -- at least recognize the fundamental humanity of the other. Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neill, two men whose political views could not be further apart, could still get together for a friendly drink in the evening, and both recognized the value of compromise.

Also known as "Both sides get something, but neither gets everything."

This started to change in 1994, when Newt Gingrich and his "Contract For America" started pissing in the well. Taking the approach that "liberals are pure evil and compromise is anathema," he embarked on a scorched-earth campaign in which it wasn't sufficient to win a legislative agenda; your opponent must be absolutely destroyed in the process. Nowhere was this evinced more clearly than in the impeachment of Bill Clinton1, a politically motivated hatchet job that was concocted for the sole purpose of destroying a President.

Since then, we have seen intransigence, belligerence, and outright disregard for the will of the people2. Which leads us to today.

Our current state of affairs is such that political opponents are no longer "political opponents," but are instead "blood enemies." Liberals are shrieking at conservatives. Conservatives are bellowing at liberals. Both sides are making an incredible amount of noise about how evil, corrupt, and un-American the other side is, and neither side actually listens to anything outside of their own bubble.

It's not just in the halls of Congress, either. Out in the world, especially on the online arena, our discourse has taken the form of a sort of feeding frenzy ... similar to a pack of wolves bringing down a wounded caribou. Only in this case, the caribou is some random person making some random political statement, and the pack of wolves are the dozens who immediately pounce and do everything (metaphorically, of course) to rip that person to shreds.

I have had plenty examples of this in the past couple of years in my own life. A Facebook group in which I am a member has very vocal members ranging across the political spectrum. Most of them-- both left and right -- are well-spoken, intelligent people, with families, and friends, and occasional car trouble. Some of them have become people I would actually hang out with in real life (even though the prospect of this may give them hives). These are people who, when I am not on the board for a while, will send me a private message asking if everything is okay.

Interestingly, these very same people are the ones who belittle, attack, mock, and shame anyone with whom they disagree.

True story: last year, when the solar eclipse rolled through, I had set up a homemade eclipse-watching stream on Facebook using my phone, a music stand, three layers of exposed 35mm film, and painter's tape. I was getting pretty good footage for a few minutes, until the clouds rolled in, obscuring the view (I also discovered, when using exposed 35mm film as a solar filter, that it made everything purple).

Fast forward to a few months ago. I am getting into a heated argument with one of the people in this Facebook group when he all of a sudden brings up the eclipse stream, claiming that not being able to see the eclipse was proof of my incompetence.

Got that? I was being blamed for clouds. Not only blamed, but held up as an example of how all liberals are essentially useless.

This is the attitude we are seeing these days. Sincere efforts are mocked. Mistakes are weaponized. Any error at all, no matter how trivial, is used as proof that the person making the error is not only stupid, misguided, etc. but also to deny the very humanity of that person. And it's only getting worse, because of some very short-sighted behavior on the part of those in power.

donald trump is not working toward some great legislative agenda, or trying to build a legacy, or anything like that. He is only in it for one person: trump. Everything he does is for his own self-aggrandizement, from claiming that any bad news about him is "fake" to "strongly suggesting" that visiting foreign dignitaries stay in his hotels.

Mitch McConnell is interested only in partisan gain. This is the only explanation for why he would stonewall a Supreme Court nominee for over a year when it came from a Democrat, but when it comes from one of his own then it becomes imperative that the nominee be confirmed ASAP because god forbid we have an empty seat on the bench.

Paul Ryan is that kids in high school who read "Atlas Shrugged" then proceeded to pester everyone he could about it, about how it changed his life, and on and on and on. This is a man who is retiring at age 48 with a full pension while simultaneously trying to increase the retirement age for everyone else to age 70.

All three of these people are only interested in the next election. They are not at all interested in the long term health of the United States, except insofar as it aligns with their short-term agenda3.

And it's not just the Republicans. Democrats are just as guilty of this sort of thing; the only reason we don't hear about it as much these days is because they are not in power at the moment4.

Regardless of who is power, or what the agenda actually is, the fact remains that discourse has completely broken down ... which means that those who are trying to sow division and have us destroy ourselves from within -- the Russians, George Soros, the Koch brothers, the Klingons -- are getting exactly what they wanted. If we continue down this road, within ten years the United States will have torn itself apart and been reduced to nothing more than a handful of squabbling mini-states, incapable of having any real effect on the world stage.

But hey, as long as the donor dollars keep rolling in, it's all good, right?

I gotta lie down.

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1I am in no way commenting on the legitimacy, or lack thereof, of that entire thing. I merely mention it for context.

2This has come more from the Republicans than the Democrats, but I suspect this is more a function of Republicans being more disciplined in their messaging and strategy.

3There is an argument to be made that their partisan goals do not align at all with the long-term good of the United States, but that is a topic for another rant.

4Give it another month, however (I couldn't resist).

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