Why has America stopped being able to solve problems? Not just wage stagnation, but everything. International statistics are shocking. Despite funding the mightiest military in the world and having the highest GDP, we suck in virtually every measure of well being and civilization: education, health outcomes, infant mort, happiness and contentment, homicide rates, investment in infrastructure, whatever, it’s the same story. Why can't we fix the schools? The whole education debate, the flailing, the grasping for some measurable progress, is entirely dispiriting. Our single pathetic effort to bring us a little closer to international best practices in providing health care to everyone in the nation was attacked by a major political party as the work of Satan.
I believe the reason for this is that a large portion of the nation including some of its most powerful figures does not really want the problems solved. There are people in this country who, were America to devolve into a giant Guatemala, would not be displeased. There is a long tradition in America that from time to time a powerful brew of xenophobia, anti-intellectualism, paranoia, jingoism, often with religious overtones, bursts into political prominence. We live in such an era. Rational conservatism has been swamped by an ideology so bizarre and so detached from reality that it borders on the insane. It is a marvel of the current Right that it has been able to combine the most freewheeling feral economic polices with a social agenda bent on bringing back the governmental repression of the fifties. How? Through forcing a set of religion-derived restrictions on the personal liberty of unbelievers, using the bayonets of the state. It would be ludicrous were it not so tragic.
It feels like a St Joan moment. Our barons are trying to get the dauphin crowned and they just can’t do it, and then in walks the Maid, and everything is accomplished. Obviously, we don’t require a literal maid, although we have observed in recent years young women on the march and clearly women will bear the brunt of the coming repression and so have a direct interest. That this occurs together with the safe space/hypersensitive syndrome among many women is yet another proof that God has a sense of humor. (Feminism’s task in the coming century will be to figure out how these two irreconcileable views contribute to what we consider political feminism.)
But Joan of Arc, WTF! It actually happened. A girl of seventeen came out of nowhere and convinced the French barons to give her armor and to let her lead their armies, this in a society that makes our present patriarchy look like Bryn Mawr. And those horrid, brutal men listened to her because they were stuck and they thought they could control her. After she had achieved her simple goal the bubble she had created in the patriarchy collapsed. The lords came back to their senses and were done taking orders from a bitch of the canaille and so got rid of her. To save their pride they said she’d used witchcraft to do her deeds.
What witchcraft now will save us, I don’t know. Obviously social media will be a major part of it and I’m too old to really get social media. I hope a revolution or a civil war is not necessary, because I’m old and don’t want to spend my golden years crouching in a basement while the bombs rain down. But it may come to that because in America today a majority is being constrained by a minority. That’s why voter suppression, that’s why gerrymandering. Such arrangements are not stable. Either representative government vanishes (see Russia, Turkey) or the majority asserts itself (see South Africa or our Civil War).
I can’t bring myself to believe that representative government will really vanish, so things will probably work out okay in the end. This recent thing with the stolen migrant children is a sign that we still have the will to say, “Wait, are you crazy!” Some things are still beyond the pale, and we also got to see at least some of our fellow citizens appear on video to say they thought it was a good thing to steal kids from mothers and that they should all be shot anyway, which confirms, if anyone were still in doubt, that an American Belsen would staff up with ease.
But I also think we will not get out of this without some bad things happening. I’m old enough to remember cities burning and paratroopers and tanks in American streets, and this and worse may happen again.
Afterward, we’ll sit in the ashes and figure it out. Pragmatism runs deep in the American psyche. It’s our only native philosophy and it’s who we are as a nation. Immigrants come from Mr Trump’s shithole countries and suddenly, miraculously, they’re pragmatists too—trying stuff out, inventing, building things from taco wagons to Google. One day, I hope, pray and believe, we will awaken from the fever dreams of ideology, stand gaping in the ruins, and say, “Let’s fix this shit!” Then we’ll be Americans again.