Broken & Broke

Extreme polarization is the pandemic that broke America.

Often, when people invoke the concept of federalism, they immediately think it means leaving the states to do their own things. That’s not actually what federalism means. If you go back to The Federalist Papers, the vocabulary they use is about the importance of harmonizing the interests of the states. Successful federalism has a role for every layer. There’s no such thing as successful federalism without the appropriate activation of the national layer in harmonizing the interests of the states. I definitely feel that I’ve seen the power of federalism and its potential. I don’t think that we are fulfilling its potential in the current moment, but this experience has given me a new window into just how powerful and robust our architecture is—if we know how to use it. And that’s where the problem comes in: We don’t know how to use it. It’s like sitting in your uncle’s Ferrari, and you don’t know how to drive it.

Politico: Why Coronavirus is an Existential Threat to Democracy


How did America arrive at this moment? Ronald Reagan famously cracked that the nine scariest words in the English language were: “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” What started as a joke about federal overreach metastasized across the decades; government was not only inefficient, but unnecessary, suspect and even dangerous. This antigovernment posture was embraced by many in government itself. Bill Clinton’s 1996 declaration that “the era of big government is over” became self-fulfilling: The less trust Americans had in the ability of government to take care of them, the less government was in fact able to do so. Failure bred cynicism, which bred disengagement. Big government became all government. By the time the pandemic hit, America had elected a president who was himself openly contemptuous of the very notion of good government.

New York Times: A Governor on Her Own With Everything at Stake


"The number one fact about the news media," he said, was their love of confrontation. "When you give them confrontations, you get attention." In 1990, Gingrich's organization GOPAC distributed a memo that taught Republicans how to "speak like Newt" -- emphasizing the need to describe their opponents as "sick," "traitors" and "radicals."

Like Sen. Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s, Gingrich also understood that the press would report on allegations, the accusations would stick, and rebuttals wouldn't get as much attention. This was especially true as the accelerating speed of the news cycle greatly increased with the spread of cable television in the 1980s. Gingrich learned that the press would investigate something because he pronounced it to be true and this was enough to cause the damage he sought. Unlike McCarthy, who was pushed aside in 1954, Republicans made Gingrich their leader (House minority whip in 1989 and speaker in 1995).

CNN: What Trump Learned from Gingrich


Trump & Coronavirus are just demonstrating how broken – and broke – we are.  

The problem for Trump now is that, although his willful inversion of reality may work for him as a coping mechanism, it is wildly unsuited as a formula for governance, especially during a public-health crisis, when facts matter and spin is irrelevant. The coronavirus pandemic and the recession are the ultimate bad news for a President who can’t bear it. On Wednesday, the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, travelled to Brussels to speak to the European Parliament—her first appearance outside of Germany since the start of the pandemic. As always, she was understated but unyielding. “You cannot fight the pandemic with lies and disinformation,” she said. Here in Washington, where the grim march of the coronavirus is unrelenting, it sounded like a message aimed right at the man in the White House…

This is exactly what Merkel was talking about. Trump and his Administration did not just get the coronavirus wrong. They lied. They spread disinformation. And they are still doing so. Perhaps—although the polls do not reflect it, and despite history suggesting that a comeback for him is unlikely—the President sees political advantage in this misinformation campaign. But there is no such thing as winning by losing against a deadly disease. Trump can still pull out a victory in the election. He has, however, already been defeated by the pandemic. We are all losers now.

The New Yorker: President Winning-by-Losing Is, in Fact, Losing


Trump’s aspiration to rank among the world’s strongmen has always been hindered by his own weaknesses of character—laziness, ignorance, lack of self-control—and the ineptitude of his henchmen. For a year, Barr seemed to be the most competent of them. Spinning the Mueller report as an exoneration of Trump with some success was a masterpiece of propaganda disguised as legal reasoning. But in the past two months, Barr has made mistake after mistake. His meddling in the Stone and Flynn cases was clumsy and transparently political. His role as secret police chief in Lafayette Square was a public-relations disaster that forced even him to make excuses. And when it came to getting rid of the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, Barr mismanaged the job so badly that he’s ended up with a replacement who, from his point of view, might be even worse...

Trump always has more impulses than strategies...

The administration’s actions have always reflected a mix of malevolence and incompetence; these days, the balance is shifting toward the latter...

The triple crisis of the spring of 2020—the coronavirus, unemployment, protests—and the elusive basement campaign of his Democratic challenger have Trump swinging wildly and connecting with his own face. All the tricks that once kept him on the offensive—rallies and purges, insults and race-baiting—are no longer working.

The Atlantic: Failure is a Contagion


The picture that emerges is one in which they are working to balance Trump’s insatiable need to feed off adoring crowds against the reality that people might be disinclined to brave the plague conditions that he did so much to unleash on the country. The imperatives of satiating Trump’s megalomania are bumping up against the consequences of his depravity and incompetence.

“Trump's biggest existential fear is that the spotlight will be turned off, the seats will be empty, and his phone will stop ringing,” O’Brien told me. “If the ratings drop, he drops.”

Now Trump is facing the prospect of losing even his ability to create and experience the illusion that an enormous portion of the country remains enthusiastically behind him. And it’s all because he can’t conjure up the power to seduce people into believing the lethal virus he has done so little to curb doesn’t really exist.

It must be a special kind of hell for him.

Washington Post: Trump Comes Face to Face With One of His Greatest Fears


But all is not lost. Americans are capable of profoundly idiotic optimism which can accomplish great things.

Political activist Newman presents an enlightening and alarming—but ultimately hopeful—take on the causes of what he sees as America’s ailing democracy and offers strategies to repair the damage. He breaks down the ways in which corporations and “dark money” influence political candidates and electoral outcomes: “The rules let politicians choose their voters, instead of the other way around.” Newman lays out his theory that the agenda of billionaires such as the Koch brothers and Betsy DeVos is to render government virtually irrelevant by sowing partisan gridlock, hollowing out safety nets like social security, and packing courts with operatives (such as Supreme Court Chief Justice Roberts) who will actively rule in favor of voter suppression and gerrymandering. In opposition to these far-right schemes, Newman highlights progressive political initiatives designed to boost citizen participation, including the “Democracy Vouchers” program implemented in Seattle in 2015, which provides vouchers to voters so they can donate to candidates of their choice, and ranked-choice voting, currently implemented in Maine and several U.S. cities. The energetic drawings by O’Connor (the Olympians series) effectively bolster Newman’s occasionally packed-in text throughout, ending with an effective call to arms. This cogent plea for democracy is fueled with an urgency that should initiate debate and inspire action.

Publishers Weekly: Unrig: How to Fix Our Broken Democracy


Litt discusses Rick Scott, a white man who ran a Florida hospital system that committed massive Medicare fraud. The Justice Department obtained a $1.7 billion settlement from the company but charged no executives. Litt then considers Ricky Scott, a black man charged with "grand theft" in Florida, which can be something as trivial as removing a fire extinguisher from a wall. The white man is the junior senator from Florida following two terms as governor; the black man was found guilty of a felony and barred from voting for life…

The good news is that there isn't space to describe most of Litt's proposed solutions. Democracy In One Book Or Less is a no-nonsense guide for how we, the people, can fix ourselves. In the words of Abraham Lincoln, "Democracy is direct self-government over all the people, for all the people, by all the people."

NPR: ‘Democracy in One Book or Less’ Proposes Solutions to US Government Ills


To develop accommodations with one another, we need functional institutions for our joint decision-making. We can pick up this piece of work now—together. But at the same time, we must also kindle a spirit of mutual responsibility in civic life, a humility that rehumanizes us. Our institutions and our norms will thrive only if we remember that democracy, when it works, is not a battle whose purpose is annihilation of the enemy; it is, if it works, a game of infinite repeat play that includes ever more participants. We must therefore remember how to work together—even with those we might want to demonize or ignore—if we are to achieve the reinvention called for here.

We have no time to waste. Our constitutional democracy is only as strong and resilient as our belief in it. For love of freedom and equality, for love of country, for love of one another, and out of hope for a better future, we need to reclaim our bond. If we turn back toward one another, we can transform our institutions. We can renovate our Constitution. We can elevate our culture. We can at last achieve a true democracy.

American Academy of Arts & Sciences: Our Common Purpose Reinventing American Democracy for the 21st Century


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