Monday, July 3, 2017

A Fourth of July report card. Maybe the last one.

By Isaiah Thomas

Independence Day is traditionally a day on which Americans ponder the issues most important to them, like is my back getting burned or will Kelly be grossed out if I put raw onion on my cheeseburger.  This year, though, the questions, while still vital, are different.

How so?  Let's ask the prophetic Sarah Kendzior, a St. Louis journalist and scholar who has chronicled the unfolding catastrophe with more accuracy than the parade of gasbags who congratulate themselves for defending Mika Brzezinski.  Here's what she wrote in The Correspondent many eons ago:
My fellow Americans, I have a favor to ask you.
Today is November 18, 2016. I want you to write about who you are, what you have experienced, and what you have endured.
Write down what you value; what standards you hold for yourself and for others. Write about your dreams for the future and your hopes for your children. Write about the struggle of your ancestors and how the hardship they overcame shaped the person you are today.
Write your biography, write down your memories. Because if you do not do it now, you may forget.
Write a list of things you would never do. Because it is possible that in the next year, you will do them.
Write a list of things you would never believe. Because it is possible that in the next year, you will either believe them or be forced to say you believe them.
It is increasingly clear, as Donald Trump appoints his cabinet of white supremacists and war-mongers, as hate crimes rise, as the institutions that are supposed to protect us cower, as international norms are shattered, that his ascendency to power is not normal.
This is an American authoritarian kleptocracy, backed by millionaire white nationalists both in the United States and abroad, meant to strip our country down for parts, often using ethnic violence to do so.
This is not a win for anyone except them. This is a moral loss and a dangerous threat for everyone in the United States, and by extension, everyone abroad.
I have been studying authoritarian states for over a decade, and I would never exaggerate the severity of this threat. Others who study or have lived in authoritarian states have come to the same conclusion as me.
And the plight is beyond party politics: it is not a matter of having a president-elect whom many dislike, but having a president-elect whose explicit goal is to destroy the nation.

We like our Fascism with cool architecture . . .
In fact she pretty much predicted everything that has come to pass, with the exception of the feud between Kanye and Jay-Z.  Notice that Ms. Kendzior was careful not to term this style of government Fascist, although there are any number of relevant comparisons between the Grifter-in-Chief and the vainglorious, incompetent sex criminal Benito Mussolini.  To il Duce's credit, though, he had much better taste in architecture.

To be fair, the Grifter-in-Chief's assault on democracy and our constitutional order has not gone unopposed.  We thought that while we still have a few scraps of our independence left to celebrate, we'd take a look at how the institutions that were supposed to protect us from tyranny have performed.  We'll start with the highest grades first.

The judiciary:  Lower federal courts, A; Supreme Court, inc.  To the extent there have been any happy surprises during the first six months of the Grifter Regime, they have occurred in the lower federal courts, which made surprisingly quick work of the Grifter-in-Chief's half-assed Muslim ban, not once but twice.  Not only did courts around the country block both versions, they did so on the basis of thorough, principled opinions churned out with the speed the occasion demanded.  The opinions were so tightly reasoned that white men were reduced to sputtering about obscure aspects of First Amendment standing law (which the courts got right).  A particularly sad version of white man grumbling was served up earlier in the Spy.

As for the Supreme Court, packed to perfection in the aftermath of the principle-free blockade of Judge Garland and the subsequent railroading of ruggedly handsome extremist Neil Gorsuch, the verdict has yet to be returned.  Gorsuch is turning out to be as reactionary as promised, lining up somewhere to the right of Long-Dong Thomas.  But our old classmate John “the Bongmaster” Roberts '76 seems to be thinking about attending a reunion someday without being tarred and feathered, if the tortured split-the-difference stay order in the Muslim-ban case is any indication.

The Burger Court surprised a lot of cynics in 1974 when it told Tricky Dick he was not in fact above the law.  That decision was 8-0; we doubt greatly whether this bunch will line up against tyranny with the same unanimity but 5-4 would be OK with us.

The mediaB+. After making a dog's breakfast of the campaign, by stressing equally on the one hand the Grifter-in-Chief's criminality and incompetence and on the other hand Hillary Clinton's decision to maintain a private e-mail server, the media has we confess to a large extent redeemed itself with aggressively reporting the subsequent depredations of the Grifter-in-Chief's burning clown car of cutthroats.

Unlike Watergate, when the poor sad New York Times was played off the stage by The Washington Post, this time around both papers are in the thick of it, aided to be sure by the propensity of the gang that couldn't grift straight to leak to anyone with a cellphone.   Also a shout-out to CBS News which is willing to describe a Presidential lie as – a lie.  Finally, here's to the reporters who risk insults, catcalls, and worse just to cover this den of thieves.

Now demonizing the press is a great Republican tradition.  Anyone else here old enough to remember “nattering nabobs of negativism?”  But Spiro T. Agnew was too busy stuffing cash-filled envelopes into his pockets to incite actual violence against the press.  Our multitasking Grifter-in-Chief can do both!  Where will it end?  Maybe ask Lara Logan.

The electorate: C-.  Could all the people of color leave the room for one minute?  We need to talk to the white folks for a minute.  We'll invite you back shortly.

OK, are we alone here?


What the fuck is wrong with you people?  According to recent polling, half of all white voters still support the Grifter-in-Chief, despite the evidence of the last six months.  We understand you, like 53% of white women, might have been gullible enough to swallow the WWE scripts of the Grifter's campaign, but now you see the devastation spread before you and you're still screaming.

We know that you are horrible ignorant sexist bigots willing to sacrifice American democracy for the fun of tormenting immigrants, people of color, and those whose sexual preferences and/or identifies are different from yours.  But are you really willing to die for it?  What do you think happens to you without health insurance?  Do you really think that a diet of fentanyl, crystal meth, assault weapons, and Mountain Dew is good for you?

Enjoy the show.  If Mitchcare gets 50 votes, it will be your last.

As for people of color, it's true that you understand the threat posted by the Grifter-in-Chief.  But your failure to turn out to vote in 2016 at the same rate you did 2012 (60% vs. 67%) helped usher in the current Age of Insanity.  And that's not going to look good on your permanent record.

The Congress: F.  Before he took up his new career in musical theater, our old friend Alexander Hamilton, together with his buddies Jimmy Madison and John “J-J” Jay, scribbled off a few words about the government they were creating.  They were worried about tyranny, having just thrown off one, and created a number of devices intended to avoid a rerun.  Chief among them was the idea of separating governmental powers among branches.  A powerful Congress (and the Article I Congress was powerful indeed) would serve as a check against any effort by the Executive to arrogate power and subvert the Constitutional order.

. . . so we'd have to go with Benito over
the Grifter-in-Chief on that score
But any system of government works only as well as the white men who dominate it, and the current version of the Founders' cherished check on tyranny would no doubt send the authors of The Federalist into the nearest tavern to drown their sorrows in rum.  It's not that the Republican powers in Congress don't know what they're doing.  They know damn well: they know that government is designed to offer tax cuts for the rich and early death to the poor.  That's what the people who paid to install them in power expect and that's what they're going to get.

So this Congress has responded limply if at all to each new impeachable offense and uncategorized outrage perpetuated by the Grifter-in-Chief, when it is not in fact furthering the subversion of our Constitutional system.  If they had to face an electorate whose vote was not suppressed by patently fraudulent voter ID and felon disenfranchisement laws, they would be sent packing.  But with the electoral system rigged in their favor, and an electorate large portions of which are still ensorcelled by the remake of Idiocracy, we're not optimistic.

Happy Fourth of July.

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