If there is a death spiral in American politics, it involves not the Affordable Care Act — whose woes stem from the equivalent of the conspirators stabbing Julius Caesar and lamenting that the patient did not make it — but the toxic blend of inattention and resentment whereby voters keep electing candidates of gridlock and chaos only to be disgusted by the gridlock and chaos. Their latest chosen savior is an ignorant and spiteful demagogue with no relevant experience other than lying and inciting mobs.
Restoring democracy requires a mechanism for the contending factions in our country to resolve their differences through compromise. Such a mechanism was created in the Constitution. 230 years later, it has frayed at the hands of extreme gerrymandering that allows partisans to build supermajorities in legislatures even after receiving a minority of votes. This resembles democracy about as much as the trial over who stole the tarts in Alice in Wonderland illustrates due process.
Paul M. Smith of the Campaign Legal Center represented gerrymandering opponents in oral arguments before the Supreme Court in the Wisconsin case Gill v. Whitford on October 3. He ably sparred with Justice Alito and Chief Justice Roberts, drawing no questions from Justice Kennedy. Smith said, “If you let this go, if you say we’re not going to have a judicial remedy for this problem, in 2020 you’re going to have a festival of copycat gerrymandering the likes of which this country has never seen.” The decision hinges on whether opponents have a workable mechanism for determining when a gerrymander is impermissible.
The damage is already happening. Our unrepresentative House of Representatives passes a 20-week abortion ban. Trump rolls back ACA’s contraception mandate. The UN ambassador votes against protecting LGBT people from the death penalty. Log Cabin Republicans cheer decertification of the Iran nuclear deal on the pretext that the Iranian regime is homophobic, which is awfully rich considering the rollback of LGBT protections by the Trump administration.
President Seven Deadly Sins addresses the Values Voter Summit and is called a man of faith, he with his third wife, numerous sexual assault allegations, and blindly cruel policies on healthcare, immigration, policing, environmental degradation, and disaster response. How did those cheering decide they were moral champions? Perhaps the traditional values in question are slavery and warmongering.
Our willful ignorance and contempt for expertise, our ready acceptance of twisted reframings of reality, our embrace of “both sides” false equivalence — by these indulgences we slowly sink what James Baldwin half a century ago, with rueful irony, called the glittering republic.
Alt-righters gleefully crow about Harvey Weinstein as a sign of liberal hypocrisy, though after his exposure he was fired by his film studio, expelled from the Motion Picture Academy, and suspended by BAFTA, while a man who boasted of sexual assaults remains president. Meanwhile, Republicans are far more eager to regulate vaginas than assault weapons.
In a farcical if disturbing sideshow, social media attacks against gay actor and playwright Harvey Fierstein forced him to point out on Twitter that he was not the other Harvey. The Broadway star would not be mistaken for the movie mogul in person. But imagine being beaten or worse due to a mixup compounded with mutually reinforced bloodiness by the mob lurking in us all. If that seems outlandish, take a remedial course in American history.
Trump’s angry base takes his bait and refuses to notice how he is screwing them, but the joke is on them as their much-celebrated disaffection keeps them voting against their own interests. Here is the vicious cycle: cling stubbornly to your vanished coal jobs, refuse to adapt to change, reward candidates who pander to you with false promises, punish those who tell you the painful truth, and continue blaming everyone but yourself.
I end on a testimonial: The immigrants 45 demonizes (even as he exploits them) are more decent, hard working, and devoted to this country than he whose ride to power ran over them. I see it in them every day as I go about the capital city. They represent our future, which gives me reason for hope as destruction piles up all around us and powerful people refuse to act.
Richard J. Rosendall is a writer and activist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © 2017 by Richard J. Rosendall. All rights reserved.