Lazy Caturday ReadsPosted: December 28, 2019
I really dislike these two “holiday” weeks at the end of every year. I always end up with a sense of unreality. This year I’m away from my home–I’m house- and cat-sitting for my brother and his family while they visit Denmark and Norway for two weeks.
I’ve been reading constantly and avoiding TV. I’ve been reading a lot; I just finished a book by Stephen King, The Institute. I guess that is contributing to that freaky unreal feeling I’m experiencing. And of course there’s the knowledge that Trump is still “president” and our country and the world are in danger because of him.
I don’t know if anyone will read this, but if you do I want tell you that this blog and everyone who has read it and/or commented on it have helped me maintain some sanity in a crazy world over the more than a decade since 2008. I’m grateful to all of you and I wish you strength to get through whatever is coming in 2020. I love you all.
If you read nothing else today, I hope you’ll choose this essay by Michiko Kakutani at The New York Times: The 2010s Were the End of Normal.
TWO OF THE MOST WIDELY QUOTED and shared poems in the closing years of this decade were William Butler Yeats’s “The Second Coming” (“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold”), and W.H. Auden’s “September 1, 1939” (“Waves of anger and fear / Circulate over the bright / And darkened lands of the earth”). Yeats’s poem, written just after World War I, spoke of a time when “The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity.” Auden’s poem, written in the wake of Germany’s invasion of Poland, described a world lying “in stupor,” as democracy was threatened and “the enlightenment driven away.”
Apocalypse is not yet upon our world as the 2010s draw to an end, but there are portents of disorder. The hopes nourished during the opening years of the decade — hopes that America was on a progressive path toward growing equality and freedom, hopes that technology held answers to some of our most pressing problems — have given way, with what feels like head-swiveling speed, to a dark and divisive new era. Fear and distrust are ascendant now. At home, hate-crime violence reached a 16-year high in 2018, the F.B.I. reported. Abroad, there were big geopolitical shifts. With the rise of nationalist movements and a backlash against globalization on both sides of the Atlantic, the liberal post-World War II order — based on economic integration and international institutions — began to unravel, and since 2017, the United States has not only abdicated its role as a stabilizing leader on the global stage, but is also sowing unpredictability and chaos abroad.
A 2019 Freedom House report, which recorded global declines in political rights and civil liberties over the last 13 years, found that “challenges to American democracy are testing the stability of its constitutional system and threatening to undermine political rights and civil liberties worldwide.”
If Lin-Manuel Miranda’s dazzling 2015 musical “Hamilton,” about the founders’ Enlightenment vision of the United States, embodied the hopes and diversity of America during the Obama years, dystopian fables and horror-driven films and television series — including “Black Mirror” (2016), a rebooted “Twilight Zone” (2019), “Joker” (2019), “Get Out” (2017), “Watchmen” (2019), “The Handmaid’s Tale” (2017) and “Westworld” (2016) — spoke to the darkening mood in the second half of the decade, as drug overdose deaths in America rose to nearly half a million by the decade’s end, life expectancy fell in the United States and Britain, and many of us started to realize that our data (tracking everything we viewed, bought and searched for online) was being sold and commodified, and that algorithms were shaping our lives in untold ways. In what was likely the hottest decade on record, scientists warned that climate change was swiftly approaching a “point of no return”; we learned that glaciers were melting at record speed at the top of the world; and fires ravaged California and Australia and threatened the very future of the Amazon rainforest.
A bit more and then you’ll need to head over to the NYT to read the rest.
Many of these troubling developments didn’t happen overnight. Even today’s poisonous political partisanship has been brewing for decades — dating back at least to Newt Gingrich’s insurgency — but President Trump has blown any idea of “normal” to smithereens, brazenly trampling constitutional rules, America’s founding ideals and virtually every norm of common decency and civil discourse….
Mr. Trump’s improbable rise benefited from a perfect storm of larger economic, social and demographic changes, and the profoundly disruptive effects of new technology. His ascent also coincided with the rising anxieties and sense of dislocation produced by such tectonic shifts. Around the world, liberal democracy is facing grave new challenges, authoritarianism is on the rise and science is being questioned by “post-fact” politicians. Echoes of Mr. Trump’s nativist populism can be found in Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain’s recent electoral victory and the Brexit referendum of 2016, and in the ascent of the far-right President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil. Democracy is under threat in Hungary and Poland. Once fringe right-wing parties with openly racist agendas are rebranding themselves in Sweden and Belgium. And far-right groups in Germany and Spain are now the third-largest parties in those nations’ parliaments.
AT THE SAME TIME, Donald Trump remains a uniquely American phenomenon. Although the United States was founded on the Enlightenment values of reason, liberty and progress, there has long been another strain of thinking at work beneath the surface — what Philip Roth called “the indigenous American berserk,” and the historian Richard Hofstadter famously described as “the paranoid style.”
It’s an outlook characterized by a sense of “heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy,” Hofstadter wrote in his 1964 essay, and focused on perceived threats to “a nation, a culture, a way of life.” Its language is apocalyptic (Mr. Trump’s “American carnage” is a perfect example); its point of view, extremist. It regards its opponents as evil and ubiquitous, while portraying itself, in Hofstadter’s words, as “manning the barricades of civilization.”
The “paranoid style,” Hofstadter observed, tends to occur in “episodic waves.” The modern right wing, he wrote, feels dispossessed: “America has been largely taken away from them and their kind, though they are determined to try to repossess it.” In their view, “the old American virtues have already been eaten away by cosmopolitans and intellectuals,” and national independence has been “destroyed by treasonous plots, having as their most powerful agents not merely outsiders and foreigners but major statesmen seated at the very centers of American power.”
You might also want to read this opinion piece by Deborah Pearlstein at The Atlantic: How the Military Lost Its Proper Place in the Constitutional Order.
In his efforts to mask the seriousness of his actions around Russia and Ukraine, President Donald Trump has taken aim at one essential democratic institution after another—questioning the legitimacy of the press, the intelligence community, the courts, and, most recently, the House of Representatives itself. But he has so far mostly held his fire against both “his generals” and “our boys” in America’s military. “I will always stick up for our great fighters,” Trump promised his political supporters in Florida at a recent rally, championing on that day his recent decisions to pardon soldiers accused of war crimes.
The military, for its part, has had more mixed feelings. As a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, described one such pardon, the president’s action was nothing less than an “abdication of moral responsibility.” Indeed, the military’s generally steadying reactions to the president’s worst moments of volatility have given members of Congress on both sides of the aisle reason to hope that the Pentagon at least will remain a check on presidential impulse that might really compromise national security, should other checking institutions fail.
But hoping that a president will defer to the judgment of the professional military is a sign that something has gone very wrong in America’s constitutional infrastructure. The American republic was, after all, founded on the complaint that the king had “affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.” The Constitution’s Framers abhorred the British army, as much or more for its treatment of colonists in the years leading up to the war as during it. As Alexander Hamilton put it with characteristic clarity in “Federalist No. 26”: “The people of America may be said to have derived an hereditary impression of danger to liberty from standing armies in time of peace.”
Click the link to read the rest.
A few more stories to check out:
Margaret Carlson at The Daily Beast: McConnell’s Big Mistake Defending Trump? Listening to Him.
Scott Turow at Vanity Fair: Could Chief Justice Roberts Be the Democrats’ Impeachment Savior?
Have a nice weekend, Sky Dancers! If you’re around today, please comment and/or share a link.