Watching the Soviet gerontocracy applaud itself while their empire dies feels pretty relevant these days.
As loyal readers of this blog know, I have long hypothesized that America is in its Brezhnev period, and has been for some time. Not only is the material basis of the American empire declining and standards of living falling, most people no longer believe in the ideology that the entire edifice is built upon. (More on that here.)
The essay I wrote for Tropics of Meta summing up my theories about this is now two years old. I wrote it as the Trump era was dawning, and I tried to end it on an optimistic note:
The millions who have taken to the streets in the past three months are hopefully a sign that enough people are ready to arrest the decline in democracy. In that respect, America’s Brezhnev years may be over in a much more positive way. We can only hope so."
I was thinking of the time about the airport protests against Trump's Muslim ban. I was hoping that they would be the precursor to more direct action. Sadly, their success has not been replicated. In fact, the air really seems to have gone out of mass resistance movements.
In 2018 that energy was directed towards gun control after the Parkland shootings. After massive school walkouts and huge protests, no new gun laws came on the national level, and few on the local level. In fact, this was used as an opportunity in many states to pass laws allowing teachers to carry guns in school.
Political engagement in liberal and progressive circles quickly switched to the 2018 Congressional election, which did indeed bring many important victories but did not capture both houses of congress. Now that that's over there seems to be little to no mass action from the kind of people who had been taking it up after years on the sidelines. Most of the political heat I have been feeling from the left has been related to the 2020 primary election. That's a year away, and it has tended to lead to infighting and inwardness rather than unified action against a regime that still puts migrants in camps and is dead set on stripping the country of assets and selling the rest for scrap.
So maybe we have passed the threshold into the Gorbachev years, but a crazy, Spock's beard version of Gorbachev intent on destroying institutions in order to kill democracy. In any case, I feel like the last two years have been a test, and that we have definitely failed it. The ramifications of this failure will likely still be here until the day I die.