America is buckling

If you’ve been following the news lately, it’s hard to avoid the feeling that we’re watching the slow-motion breakdown of American self-government.

I don’t mean anything as dramatic and clear-cut as the seizure of authoritarian power by Donald Trump (although he’s evidently trying). I’m talking about something a little subtler, but potentially just as destabilizing and perilous for America’s future.

Donald Trump’s antics — doing everything he can to steal the presidential election in the name of preventing his victorious opponent, Joe Biden, from stealing it — are a big part of this. But Trump is just an expression of something far more widespread in American society. While most Republican officeholders respond passively to Trump’s ignorant, hateful nonsense, millions of Republican voters cheer it on, taking their cues from him and media personalities who amplify or encourage his acting out.

Why is it happening? As you’d expect in a nation of 330 million people, there are many causes.

Some of it is an expression of assiduously cultivated partisan hatred of Democrats. Some of it is a consequence of a widespread collapse of trust in public institutions and a resulting turn to folk conspiracies as an alternative way of making sense of reality. And some of it seems to follow from a sheer love of conflict and combat for its own sake. A sizable portion of the American public appears to crave enemies. This feeds an increasingly agonistic politics modeled on warfare or a violent sporting event. Think of it as the resurgence of a warrior ethic unwilling to be tamped down by the niceties of liberal civilization. (Some Democrats also find a combative politics appealing, including the embrace of conspiracies, as we’ve seen throughout the Trump administration.)

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All of this is very dangerous. But it isn’t our only problem.

Liberals like to say that what the country needs most right now is a centralized response to the COVID-19 pandemic. But that isn’t obvious. Yes, the federal government should be doing a much better job of providing clear and intelligent public health guidelines, organizing testing, and making resources available for contract tracing and other measures at the state level. But a pandemic that waxes and wanes in severity over time and at different rates in different regions of a continent-wide nation would seem to be a crisis for which a government with a long, rich tradition of federalism would be quite well suited. Let states (and regions within states) lock down, open up, and regulate public spaces as conditions demand and permit. A combination of flexibility and practical wisdom would seem to be much preferable to a “one size fits all” approach.

Yet this isn’t what we’ve seen. Instead of smart federalism, we’ve gotten dumb federalism, with many states actively denying reality by refusing to undertake any meaningful response to the pandemic at all, and citizens often responding with noncompliance to those states that have tried to do better. The results have been predictable, with regions that have imposed the fewest restrictions

Source:: The Week – Politics


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