Tuesday, November 07, 2017

A Ship of State With Neither Rudder Nor Compass

Washington Post columnist, Michael Gerson, looks to America's horizons and sees only intellectual and moral exhaustion.

Our times are not normal — and it is a disservice to the country to normalize them. In a recent Post-ABC News survey, Trump’s approval rating is worse — far worse — than any president at this stage in seven decades of polling. About half of those surveyed stronglydisapprove. The public assessment of Trump’s leadership, character and competence has grown harsher in every category.

All this is true following two quarters of more than 3 percent economic growth, with the stock market booming and unemployment at 4.1 percent. Practically, this means that Trump has no cushion or margin of public support when economic circumstances worsen. At a time of (relative) peace and prosperity, Trump is still broadly viewed as divisive and ineffective. The ship of Trump has strong winds at its back — but is sinking too fast to take advantage of them.

And yet . The Post-ABC News poll shows that if the Trump/Clinton presidential race were re-held today, it would be a tie. Think on that. Arguably the worst president in modern history might still beat one of the most prominent Democrats in the United States. This indicates a Democratic Party in the midst of its own profound crisis. During the Obama years, it collapsed in large portions of the country. Its national establishment has been revealed — with extensive footnotes provided by Donna Brazile — as arrogant, complacent and corrupt. But the only serious ideological alternative to that establishment is frankly socialist — the fatuous and shallow sort of socialism held by college freshmen and Bernie Sanders.

We have reached a moment of intellectual and moral exhaustion for both major political parties. One is dominated by ethnic politics — which a disturbingly strong majority of Republican regulars have found appealing or acceptable. The other is dominated by identity politics — a movement that counts a growing number of Robespierres. Both seem united only in their resentment of the international economic order that the United States has built and led for 70 years.

The lead ideology of the Republican Party at the national level is now immoral and must be overturned — a task that only a smattering of retiring officeholders has undertaken. The lead ideology of the Democratic Party is likely to be overturned — by radicals with little to offer the country save anger and bad economics.

Where does this leave us at Year One of the Trump era? With two very sick political parties that have a monopoly on political power and little prospect for reform and recovery. The stakes are quite high. If America really develops a political competition between ethno-nationalism and identity socialism, it will mean we are a nation in decline — likely to leave pressing problems (educational failure, unconstrained debt, a flawed criminal-justice system) unconfronted. Likely to forfeit global leadership, undermine world markets and cede to others the mantle of stability and firm purpose.

There is a serious prospect that the president will truly crash and burn in a colossal fiasco so disastrous as to be undeniable proof against all things Trump. But that would be so bad for the country that it is hard to wish for.

So what should we wish for? It is a measure of our moment that this is not obvious. It is quite possible that moderate conservatism and moderate liberalism are inadequate to explain and tame the convulsive economic and social changes of our time. Which places America’s future — uncertain, maybe unknowable — on the other side of an earthquake.


Toby said...

As with so many things, Americans are leading the pack. Those problems are common elsewhere. Here in Canada turn on any television, any radio or open any newspaper of journal and you will be confronted by identity politics and xenophobia. What you rarely find is politicians seriously addressing the major issues of our day such as global warming with its nasty side effects, over population and the ravages of voodoo economics.

The Mound of Sound said...

My thoughts exactly, Toby. I was going to close with a paragraph asking just how far we are behind the US on this. The line about modern conservatism and modern liberalism having become inadequate to tame the convulsive economic and social changes of our time resonated with me in the Canadian context. With each passing year it seem more possible that our future is also uncertain, unknowable and "on the other side of an earthquake."

rumleyfips said...

There is a problem with the politicians, but there is also a problem with the electorate. The moral and intellectual decline is seen in the 40% of US voters who went for Trump. No reformation of political parties or formation of new reform movements will be successful as long as the electorate stays stupid. What to do: I despair.

the salamander said...

.. It seem a struggle involving basic problems needing solving, lateral solutions.. and the upside of down (choose your metaphors and/or scenarios) At what point do you drop any optimism & start bracing for the collision. The USA is engaged in a political civil war, and there are civil casualties and collateral damage. Certainly Canada is lurching in the same political direction.. and similar consequences. Political parties are failing us and deceiving us. Stepping back from the political muck and reckless horseshit of 90 + percentage of politicians, we can see the real environments at risk within the various regions, societies & different economies & cultures. Urban or rural, coastal or grasslands, racial demographics, educated or ignorant.. on and on. Plantet earth is turning.. people in North America are trying to flourish, be happy.. or at least satisfied. Of course earth is overpopulated. But here in North America that's not an overwhelming problem.. yet.

Pock your scenario though, game it through.. economic collapse, civil or nuclear war, epidemic, environmental collapse or radical regional swings impacting food belts, nuclear 'accident.. hell, solar flares ! Its the tipping point, or the cascade of events. Even if there is no obvious catastrophic event.. I can't see the USA 'flourishing' within 6 to 10 years from now. The diseased political parties are so oblivious to this and so ahockingly ignorant.. they will poison us, lr just plain break us down. Mad 'doctors' treating - operating on a shocked, confused weakened patient. I have some ideas, potential pathways etc but they all involve escaping from the mad quacks who think they should, and can.. skin us alive. Thoughts n Prayers aint going to help us.. the USA is never going to be great again and Canadians need to wake up to what is coming.. and it sure as hell aint the Rapture baby.. its a nightmare.. hell on earth

Trailblazer said...

And yet . The Post-ABC News poll shows that if the Trump/Clinton presidential race were re-held today, it would be a tie.

That friggen Clinton.
Again I say; she is still the downfall of the Democratic party.
Out of power but stirring the shit on a daily basis, much like Tony Blair.


The Mound of Sound said...

Yeah, TB, that tie business was part of Gerson's op-ed. I agree, though, it's time for Hillary to stand down. No one has elected her the elder statesman of the Democratic party.

The Mound of Sound said...

Rumley, do you believe so many Americans became so stupid by happenstance? I don't. I think they're the end-product of some very high-end fear mongering and cultivated xenophobia and paranoia laced with appeals to their basest instincts. Look at the diet they're constantly fed through cable outlets, such as FOX, or the open-mouth radio guys - Limbaugh, Alec Jones, etc. That is grooming. It's worked for North Korea for generations.

The Mound of Sound said...

Sal, I agree that our political parties are failing us. Political parties today resemble tribes that view each other as inherently evil in all things at all times. We both know a very pro-Trudeau blogger who fits that description to a T. And there's plenty of that same sort of partisan on the opposite side.

There was a time when Canadians could disagree without believing each other an enemy of the country. Now we're herded into separate camps that view each other with anger and suspicion. How can you sustain a viable democracy that way?

Our friend speaks regularly of "destroying" the Conservatives for all time. He wants to eradicate a party that still draws the support of almost 40% of our fellow Canadians. What fucking darkness leads a person to think that way, to say such things?

I've written many times that I think our politics is broken. It's a vestige of a time past. All of our modes of organization today - political, social, economic, industrial, geopolitical - are faltering. That's because they came into being in a different time in vastly different circumstances to that which we're in today. 18th century economics, 19th century industrialism and 20th century geopolitics cannot evolve much further. Their utility for the 21st century is degrading and steadily waning.

So what are we to do? How are we to find solutions to our new needs? How are we to restore the absolutely vital levels of social cohesion? We're not finding them in our existing political apparatus.

That brings to mind a post I put up in late October about "Politics as a Displacement Activity" based on an op-ed by Financial Times columnist Simon Kuper. I think it sums up quite well the political predicament we've been left in.