Saturday, February 5, 2022

Dying Empire Blues

"You're all the just pissin' in the wind"

There's little that depresses me more than thinking back to a year ago. I got my first COVID shot the night before Biden's inauguration. Back then you had to show credentials to get a vaccination and the lines were staggering. At the end of it I was sitting in the auditorium of a public school in uptown Manhattan waiting to be released, crying tears of happiness. The next day, when I was teaching remotely (I was on a hybrid schedule), I cried much harder during the inauguration. Despite Trump, despite the insurrection, the republic had survived. The new president was pushing an ambitiously progressive agenda, and the Republican antagonism towards democracy was so toxic that baseball players (not the most radical bunch) forced the All-Star Game to be moved from Georgia over voter suppression. 

So where are we a year later?

The Republican Party yesterday basically declared their approval of the January 6 insurrection, and attacked their party members who have pushed to bring the perpetrators to justice. Trump is able to speak publicly and threaten his opponents and promise pardons for those who smeared their shit on the walls of the Capitol. Biden's agenda has floundered. Not only have the courts blocked needed vaccination mandates, red states have done everything they can to thwart mitigation of the virus. Hundreds of thousands of people died of COVID last year AFTER the vaccines were available, leaving the US with the highest death rate among its peer nations. Needed legislation has been torpedoed by the filibuster as well as conservative Democrats like Manchin and Sinema. The Trump years demanded a new birth of freedom to set the nation right, we aren't getting that, and we never will.

Worse that that, the Right has been emboldened. They are burning and banning books. They are putting bounties on the heads of teachers who dare to tell their students about this nation's racial history. They are firing local health officials who want to stop the virus via masking and vaccination. The media still, after all this, treats the Republicans like a normal political party, not as a vehicle for an extremist movement that will toss democracy aside to maintain power. The average dipshit swing voter will follow suit and vote against the incumbent party like they always do in off year elections. 

In the early weeks after January 6, we had an opportunity to put things on the right track. We missed it, and that opportunity is never going to come back. The United States has settled back into its familiar rut of imperial collapse, where it's been for most of my life. Our system's overweaning legalism and neoliberal orientation mean there's little to no collective action on COVID, and any that has been attempted has been destroyed by our asymmetric polarization. Conservatives have proven the literal truth of an old adage of mine, which is that a conservative is someone who would rather die than admit a liberal was right about something. 

Others have contributed to this as well. The feckless and aged Democratic party leadership still thinks it's 1988 or something and have completely failed to get their shit together. The Biden administration completely lacks the energy and urgency required right now. The centrist punditocracy has spent far more time attacking Biden's ending of our foreverwar in Afghanistan than in sounding the alarm about rising fascism. Leftists just ineffectually light their hair on fire on Twitter without bothering to do any organizing. Nobody in power who needs to stand up to the fascist wave is capable of rising to this moment. Everyone just wants to go back to their comfortable ruts and not have to bother with fighting anymore. I spent so much time getting involved in elections over the past five years and all that effort seems to have been wasted on people incapable of doing their jobs.

This is a dying empire, and the final blow may come sooner than we expect. In 1988 people living in the USSR and Yugoslavia never would have thought that their countries would cease to exist in four years' time. I was thinking about this watching the Olympic opening ceremonies last night. It was quite a display of China's power, and even though I know it's just propaganda, I did not fail to be impressed. It is also a sign of the confidence of the authoritarians. If the United States is the supposed lighthouse of democracy then democracy looks pretty undesirable in the eyes of the world. Putin and Xi can rattle their sabres because they know if this version of the US is challenged to a war we are so divided it would probably bring about our collapse. 

At this point it's not a matter of if, but when. And when it happens the Right will easily smash their divided, feckless opposition, despite the fact that the Right represent a minority of Americans. The problem is, not enough people believe in the foundational ideology of this country to defend it. Much like the people of the Soviet Union stopped believing in the promises of Marxism well before that empire ceased to exist. All I can think is that I am too old to emigrate but too young to spend the rest of my life trapped in the horror the American Right wants us to live in.

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