Perspective

Whew!  It certainly has been a week, hasn’t it folks?  This morning I stumbled on something that put our present situation into perspective just a bit.  It is hard to see a light at the end of the tunnel in these dark times, and easy to believe that the destruction of our nation is at hand.  Our friend Roger of Woebegone frequently reminds me that this, too, shall pass and become naught but a blip in history.  An OpEd by Washington Post writer Dana Milbank this morning confirms this and since I found his words encouraging, I wanted to share them with you, my friends.

We interrupt this apocalypse vigil to say that America has conquered worse

dana-milbank.pngIt was another one of those weeks in which the wheels seemed to come off the axle of the American motor coach.

President Trump speculated about his power to pardon himself for crimes, and his lawyer said the president could shoot the now-former FBI director with legal impunity.

Trump is feuding with Canada and our closest allies in Europe, but is looking forward to “friendly” talks with North Korea, which, according to the CIA, has no intention of denuclearizing but is willing to open a hamburger restaurant.

Trump, inflaming racial tensions, disinvited the Super Bowl champions from a White House celebration and instead hosted a “loud” display of patriotism during which he muffed the words to “God Bless America.”

The administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, it was learned, tried to use his position to get a position at Chick-fil-A for his wife, scented lotion from the Ritz-Carlton and a used mattress from the Trump International Hotel.

The first lady, mysteriously missing from public view for more than three weeks, returned in time to hear her husband use a FEMA briefing on hurricanes to talk about election polls, his love of coal and Air Force One.

Oh, and a contractor at the National Security Council was arrested as he arrived for work at the White House on a charge of attempted murder.

There is a tendency amid this chaos to think that American government is disintegrating before our eyes. But this week also reminded us that the country has survived worse. It was the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, which itself followed the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., at a time of war and rioting. We survived 1968. We’ll get through this, too.

I took a break from my apocalypse vigil this week to speak with Robert Mickey, a political-science professor at the University of Michigan who specializes in U.S. political history. And I offer this glass-half-full perspective on our current troubles:

Trump will not destroy American democracy.

Trump is a symptom of problems, more than the cause.

We’ll solve these problems — eventually.

“Our political situation is much more stable than it has been at many periods in U.S. history,” Mickey tells me, “and our discourse is more civil than a lot of those periods.”

During the 1790s, it wasn’t at all clear the new country would survive foreign invasion or internal division. The 1810s brought more of the same. The divisions of the 1850s led to the Civil War. The 1890s were filled with farmer revolts, strikes, robber barons, massive immigration, war with Spain, an economic depression and the expansion of Jim Crow. The 1930s brought the Great Depression and the rise of fascism. And then there was 1968.

Now, by contrast, “we have stable democratic institutions across the entire country in a way we profoundly did not before,” Mickey says. “The institutions we have, while being challenged, have been a source of strength.” Federalism has been a check on Trump, as California, New York and other states push back against him. The justice system, though assaulted by Trump, is proving to be a check on him. Trump, though breaking norms, seems to lack the competence to pull off a direct assault on democracy.

The real danger is not from Trump, but from the forces that gave rise to him and could continue to erode democracy over time: broad and persistent wealth inequality, the backlash against America’s shift from a white-majority nation toward a minority-majority one, the accompanying realignment of parties along racial lines and the related radicalization of the Republican Party.

Inequality destabilizes democracy by destroying the belief in “one person, one vote,” and giving rise to demagoguery. The United States is struggling with (and Trump is exploiting) its transformation from an electorate of white men to a multicultural one. “American democracy didn’t really kick in until the 1960s,” Mickey argues. “Periods we romanticize as civil and lovely were such because we struggled to keep race off the national agenda.”

Past crises have been resolved by either war, economic booms or luck. But this crisis could resolve itself by generational change.

Surveys from the Pew Research Center find that millennials are dramatically more likely than older generations to believe the country needs to make changes to give black people equal rights, that discrimination is the main thing holding African Americans back, that immigration strengthens the United States and that a bigger government that provides more services is better. There are indications the youngest and most nonwhite generation, Generation Z, will push against older generations even more on these questions.

This may be small comfort as Trump rains chaos and inflames tensions. It’s no excuse to relax in the fight to contain Trump. But we’ll get through this — even L’Affaire Chick-fil-A.

While this is encouraging, obviously we all still need to be speaking out against all the injustices, the threats as they happen.  But it’s helpful, I think, to remember that this nation has faced trials before and emerged intact.  Have a good weekend, my friends!

56 thoughts on “Perspective

  1. As I read these posts I remember long ago a history teacher told us that there is no such thing as a true democracy. He taught that both Greece and Rome fell because they got to close to it. Both Rome and Greece have survived -just different.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I no longer remember where I read these words by the dictator, Joseph Stalin…not a man to be admired, but still remains a man of great historical significance. I wrote them down at the time because they held an ominous truth to them that seems, to me, to be relevant today. “America is like a healthy body and its resistance is threefold : its patriotism, its morality and its spiritual life. If we can undermine these three areas, America will collapse from within.” – Joseph Stalin. America, the We the People ones, must not continue to allow the collapse from within. Thank-you!

    Liked by 3 people

    • No, Stalin was not necessarily admirable, but he was a very intelligent man, and these are wise, prophetic words. Those things that once made this a great nation, are rapidly fading into oblivion. And it didn’t really even need intervention from a foreign power … we have done it to ourselves. 😦

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  3. Dear Jill,

    “We the people” still have the power of the vote and that is why a foreign government like Russia messing with our US elections in 2016 is such a big deal. The Russians were attacking the heart of our democracy. If they could get away with this, they could erode the peoples’ faith in their power to have their vote count, then they have demolished the peoples’ sense of hope.The Russians knew exactly what they were doing. The US is truly under attack, both from within and without.

    This is why this November 2018 elections are so important. This is why I don’t get why the US government is not doing more tp prevent a future attack.

    Hugs, Gronda

    Liked by 2 people

    • I agree … I think it is inevitable that the Russians will be even more vicious in attacking our 2018 elections, and I strongly suspect Donald Trump is encouraging them to do so. What little hope I took from this piece yesterday has scattered like dust in the wind today, in light of Trump’s asinine remarks to and about Prime Minister Trudeau, and those of his advisors yesterday. Trump is a one-man wrecking crew. And today, the Supreme Court supported removing voters from the rolls if they have not voted in two elections! What other disenfranchisements will come during the next five months? Who is fighting for us in Washington? Nobody that I can see.
      Hugs!!!!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Hope is the last to die… 🙂 nature has been around longer than mortal man and the reason being nature is not shackled to political, religious or other ideologies… it is what it is and always accepting change… a growing number of young people today think a lot like nature and one day in the future they will be able to change… the problem today is the closed minded, self-centered, ideology shackled individuals (another word for them is “dinosaur) who do not wish change, fear change…

    “The thinking that got us to where we are is not the thinking that will get us to where we want to be”.. Albert Einstein

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    • You are so right! Not only do they not want change going forward, but they eschew the changes of the past several decades and wish to return to what they call “a simpler time”, or “better times”. I do hope the next generation can do better than we did. Your comment reminds me of something I read a few months ago that I have oft repeated: Earth doesn’t need people, but the people need earth to survive. There are times I wonder if we are creating our own extinction. Love the quote!

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  5. I do agree that Trump is not the cause, but there is a force willing to change the order of things at whatever cost. Right now he is serving a purpose dismantling government piece by piece. I hope you are right. Yes the evangelicals, conservatives, and the NRA are waiting in the wings. Mike Pence scares me more that Tangboy any day Thanks for trying…

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    • You are right, of course, and it is a force that I am at a loss to explain. I know that we will not emerge from the Trump regime unscathed, but my hope is that we learn lessons from this experience, and that even those who are still supporting him will, at some point, wake up and see what a horror he truly is. I was only trying to find a bit of hope amidst the flames and turmoil, but … well, I tried.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Reblogged this on It Is What It Is and commented:
    Dana Milbank, this morning … ‘The real danger is not from Trump, but from the forces that gave rise to him and could continue to erode democracy over time: broad and persistent wealth inequality, the backlash against America’s shift from a white-majority nation toward a minority-majority one, the accompanying realignment of parties along racial lines and the related radicalization of the Republican Party.’
    While I agree with this statement … I still feel a sense of doom! I see what I knew disintegrating right before my eyes …. Even though there’s ‘resistance’, HE continues unabated!!
    I’m exhausted!!

    Liked by 2 people

    • I too was part of the political and cultural and environmental activism in the 60s and 70s, but tonight, knowing what I now know, is the first time I have ever wondered: was Sirhan Sirhan on the payroll of Tricky Dicky?
      Considering Watergate, I can see him having his greatest political threat removed, by whatever method necessary…

      Liked by 2 people

        • Individually, we certainly do not lack that ability. But short of violent action, most individuals lack the power to immediately change the world for the better during their lifetime, though the names Mahatma Ghandi and Steve Biko come easily to mind.

          Liked by 2 people

      • Who knows? We will likely never know for certain, but I have my doubts. Nixon was power-hungry, but not, I think, evil. Trump is evil and human life is of no value to him, whereas I don’t believe Nixon was entirely without conscience. Just my take, and I’m sure many will disagree with me.

        Liked by 1 person

        • My remark was not actually intended to be a serious one, 50 years after the fact, so long that it did not matter anymore, I THOUGHT. But thinking more about it now, maybe Tricky Dicky didn’t actually give such an order, but I can see him wishful ly thinking aloud that life would be easier without RFK in the picture.
          Really, though, whatever happened, it is a dead issue, and should be left where it has always been, in never-never land.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Hah! That is what I keep saying when all these idiots come up with new conspiracy theories about Kennedy’s death … it’s been over 50 years! It no longer matters! Move on, people … there are important issues today to put your minds to. Sigh.

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    • Many thanks, dear one! You are right that what we have always known is disintegrating and will likely never be quite the same. My hope is that when we clear out all the detritus, the bigotry and hatred, we will be left with something even better than what we knew before. I say it is my hope, but I can by no means guarantee that being the outcome. But, I think it’s important that we keep both perspective and a positive attitude, for if we accept defeat, throw our hands in the air and give up, then all is lost. Hang in there, my friend, as I am trying to do. Much love and many hugs to you! ❤

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  7. Pardon me for interjecting a dissenting opinion. Milbank’s and Robert Mickey’s centrist perspective are quite pollyannaish and their historical analogies ignore some very relevant facts.

    I lived through the turmoil of 1968. The cultural backlash then did not target American democracy, but it did target the federal government’s corrupt involvement in Vietnam. That war was ended because of American democracy, not because the ruling establishment suddenly rediscovered their ethical courage. Today, the situation is completely different. It is American democracy that is being targeted which this article highlights:

    >>> “The real danger is not from Trump, but from the forces that gave rise to him and could continue to erode democracy over time: broad and persistent wealth inequality, the backlash against America’s shift from a white-majority nation toward a minority-majority one, the accompanying realignment of parties along racial lines and the related radicalization of the Republican Party. Inequality destabilizes democracy by destroying the belief in ‘one person, one vote,’ and giving rise to demagoguery.”

    I would add that the worrisome spread of institutional distrust in the populace combined with voter apathy and an equally worrisome crisis in our public education system exacerbates the problem and that it is the younger generations who are most affected. Placing faith in Millennials or Generation Z to turn things around seems hopeful at best because they do not have the same commitment to political activism as did the Baby Boomers of the 1960s.

    The analogy to the Civil War is also problematic but for different reasons. Today’s cultural polarization is indeed approaching that kind of crisis. And, it must be remembered that 600,000-700,000 Americans died in that conflict and that the nation just barely survived intact. To assert that the United States could survive a crisis like that again is optimism nearing delusion. Furthermore, Americans were fortunate to have a truly great leader like Abraham Lincoln at the helm. Is there anyone even remotely so gifted today?

    America’s slow and painful recovery from the Civil War also had the advantage of time. Today we are facing the existential threat of catastrophic climate change. There just isn’t a lot of time left for such stubborn progress. If we don’t acknowledge the magnitude of our current problems, they will inevitably overcome us.

    Liked by 5 people

    • Hello Robert (speaking to you from the UK)
      In the main I can agree with your principal concerns. Though have some areas in difference of opinions, looking from the outside.
      In reading histories political, social and military of the Vietnam era I agree that whereas democracy itself as a national institution was not under threat the divisions within various sections of society eg more lower class draftees in the army that upper class ones, the gradual erosion of universal camaraderie across the races and the bitter arguments at home suggest that some sections were willing to impose their views or advantages on others. Thus there was a back-door effect on democracy which was ultimately halted by as you say by the perception of corrupt involvement and a natural war-weariness which any nation can be prey to.
      Whereas some of the polemicists particularly on the Right babble about ‘fighting’ and militias and so forth I think the danger to the USA as the current nation stands is in a quasi-legalistic, and use of the Constitution to separate states and cities from the unifying centre. Some folk may throw their hats into the air over this. However this circumstance leaves these semi-independent and small (even California and Texas) territories open to the predatory trading nature of larger more established nations such as Russia and China. Thus the USA could well end up going down the road of the Holy Roman Empire, which in theory covered half of Europe but as an entity lost its power over the centuries. A civil war which hardly costs any lives but marks the end of a nation.
      As regards the younger generations it is a circumstance of human nature to write off the current younger generation. However the USA has been in a state of turbulence in cultural terms since the 1970s and arguably in strident and partisan terms since the arrival of Bill Clinton, who the Right took instant exception to. Now that matters are becoming more febrile and divisions so wide as to make one wonder if there can be reconciliation it is difficult to predict how and when the younger generation may ‘snap’ into action and turn their backs on those polemists and self-aggrandising hucksters currently plaguing your media.
      The USA does stand at yet another cross-roads in her still youthful journey. For a while she stood as a colossus in world which had been in constant war since the beginning of the 20th Century. Now many nations have repaired themselves and her influence is not as widespread. That will not come back in these eras. A new role calls. The true unification and equality of one vast nation, something which has never been witnessed in human history and is the measure of true ‘Greatness’

      Liked by 2 people

      • I appreciate the thoughtfulness of that outside perspective. To your points:

        The “back-door effect on democracy” you cited was certainly an establishment perception at that time. When the Pentagon Papers were published during the Nixon administration via Daniel Ellsberg, however, that perception dissipated rather quickly as America discovered the underlying truth of the Vietnam War.

        The analogy of the Holy Roman Empire to the U.S. is compelling and warrants more contemplation on my part. I suspect America’s fall will be more rapid, though, for the reasons I mentioned previously.

        From my inside perspective, America’s cultural turbulence since the 1970s can be largely attributed to two major political changes which both manifested under the Reagan administration: 1) the vigorous pursuit of neoliberal economic policies, and 2) the even more vigorous political activism of Christian fundamentalism.

        Your final point is very interesting. My understanding of psychology and sociology sees an inherent conflict between human nature and the logistical realities of modern civilization. We humans appear to have evolved biologically to function best within relatively small tribal structures; but, technological advancement has enabled our fairly recent population explosion. So, as modern civilization gets bigger and more complicated, our ability to organize and cooperate with each other becomes increasingly difficult. If this is true, then America’s fall will be a precursor to a much more profound global event.

        Liked by 2 people

        • Hello again Robert.
          I am something of a believer in the lessons of History, from all cultures from all ages. This I feel melds in with your last point in that whereas our scientific and cultural progress has been rapid our social structures still indeed remain tribal thus we are locked into making the same mistakes over and over irrespective of nation, race or era.
          This is where the populists and their fellow travellers fall down in their perceptions, they do not appreciate their road only ends up in the ill-fortune of the ‘nation’ or creed which they espouse. They look for their idea of perfection, which of course does not exist. A nation is only as good and strong, as all of its constituents, working together.
          We have options, evolve or became a mere smear on the fossil record.
          We keep on hoping of course. Hope is always good, especially in the face of all apparent ‘evidence’ to the contrary.

          Liked by 2 people

          • I completely agree. The dichotomy between idealism (i.e. ideology) and pragmatism has never been so consequential. Populism is as visceral as it is natural. Once awakened in the populace, it becomes an indefatigable force with great momentum. Past a certain point, reason and compromise become ineffective at trying to control it.

            Populism is also quite predictable. It is easy to understand for thoughtful observers who are in touch with cultural sentiments. Such awareness combined with skillful leadership can either refocus its energy towards constructive pursuits, or ignite its energy for destructive purposes.

            It should be clear to everyone now that right-wing extremist interests in the U.S. and E.U. won the competition for populist support. In fact, the centrist establishments in America and Europe didn’t even try to compete in that contest. Why they were so neglectful remains a mystery. However, it is my opinion that their prior rejection of the political Left played a major role – for it robbed the establishment of its former idealism.

            Ideology versus pragmatism is a delicate balance. When the pendulum swings too far in either direction, the health of society is compromised.

            Liked by 2 people

            • Cogently put Robert.
              We live in an political era where Yeats’ Second Coming seems most applicable. The days of appealing to the wider populous instead of key sections has passed and we all move into our little and visceral camps.
              As a life-long socialist it distresses me to say in the UK we also suffer from a mirror image of your Right with our Left wing. Far from trying to discuss anything they will turn on any dissenters with the same venom and ignorance as anything you would encounter in your Alt Right and it seems having created this movement the leaders are unable to control it.
              As much as my ideology favours far left solutions to economic and social issues common sense and the lessons of history teach me a society can only work and prosper in a healthy manner if there is consensus and elements of compromise and constant adjustment to keep the pendulum steady at the centre.
              The time has come for the paradoxically fiery moderate who rails against intolerance and simple solutions, who rallies folk of all classes, races, religions and creeds.

              Liked by 1 person

  8. Thanks for the mention Jill.
    Try as he might Trump is kind of stuck with that niggling US Constitution and he does not have a clue how to work within it and use to his best advantage…. which in the long run is a good thing actually.
    One of the most important weapons in the armoury is to vote, vote and vote again.
    Now we know there is gerrymandering and restricting voters right, BUT if everyone who can vote does vote, those numbers will tell their own story.
    Imagine a worse case scenario where he wins the next presidential election but looses the popular vote by say 5,000,000…..Not a really ringing endorsement is it and how could there be any credibility if the ‘loosing’ voters then start picking up on every constitutional weapon to block and frustrate….??
    Shall I buy the popcorn?

    Liked by 3 people

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