The End of America
Two things have kept me going over the now almost two years of the Trump regime. First, the fivethirtyeight page that tracks Trump’s approval rating on a daily basis (witness the complete blandness of the flat line hovering at around 40%), and second, the columns of Charles P. Pierce at GQ, who has not stopped putting an asterisk next to the word President* ever since January 20th, 2017. Pierce places the asterisk, of course, and it must be stated again, because Donald J. Trump, like George W. Bush, was not duly elected by the American people. Trump, unlike W., had the help of a hostile foreign power, and that help actually proved decisive, as communications professor Kathleen Hall Jamieson of the University of Pennsylvania has now carefully documented in a new book. Even if Trump were not a criminal tax evader or unrepentant racist and misogynist, the fact remains that he did not fairly win the election.
The executive branch is now led by an imposter, a reality television star playing the role of President*. The fact that the political and media apparatus went along with this farce says much about the decay that has taken hold in the United States: access to power, it seems, corrupts the minds even of those who portray themselves as members of the “resistance.” Very rarely do people actually say that the executive branch is now illegitimate and therefore not to be obeyed by people of conscience. I will go a step farther and say that all three branches of government are now illegitimate and that, in fact, Americans have a duty to oppose the federal government itself. The rot has now gone too far for the three branches to be salvaged. Not only will reform not work: the system is now structured in such a way as to make reform impossible.
Let’s start with the Supreme Court. Donald Trump was not duly elected. Therefore Gorsuch and Kavanaugh are illegitimate “Justices.” We can set aside the McConnell theft of the seat that rightfully belonged to Merrick Garland. Even if McConnell had been acting in good faith, the President* is an imposter who had no right to take office. It obviously matters that the “Justices” of the Supreme Court are now just politicians in robes, but even if we believe the Kavanaugh line that judges just call balls and strikes, he had no right to take office. This would be true even without the taint of sexual assault and alcoholism that surrounded his nomination. Even if he were the choir boy he pretended to be, he would still be an illegitimate judge due to the election failure of 2016.
Suppose we set aside the fact that Gorsuch and Kavanaugh are quite obviously partisan hacks. The Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission decision of 2010 had already made clear that this court has no interest in preserving democratic institutions. That decision shattered any meaningful chance of campaign finance reform that would keep politicians from simply following the marching orders of their corporate masters. Now a steady torrent of cash from Super PACS and undisclosed donors flows into campaigns and think tanks and other front organizations for the express purpose of subverting democratic control. The United States now runs auctions, not elections, and the vote now stands as a merely ceremonial pretense of democracy. Corporations are now legal persons, while actual people are purged from voter rolls or gerrymandered into districts that limit the impact of their vote.
This brings us to the third branch of government, the legislature. The United States has a system of legalized bribery, in which influence money can be laundered through front organizations. Both political parties are guilty of voting along lines dictated by their corporate donors and ignoring the wishes of their constituents. The only way to eliminate legalized corruption would be to have publicly financed elections with strong measures to prevent outside advertising. But that door has already been closed by the Supreme Court, which has effectively enshrined oligarchic control of government. The United States becomes more like Russia every day, as a handful of billionaires have an outsized influence on our laws and institutions. In many cases, lobbyists actually write the bills that our ostensible representatives pass in Congress. Members of Congress themselves often receive jobs in industry upon leaving office, the very same industries that they are charged with regulating.
The United States government purports to derive its legitimacy from the philosophical principle of the “consent of the governed,” but it is far from obvious that the requisite consent has been secured. When a minority political party controls all three branches of government, we have to ask whether that minority really has a right to rule. The Electoral College or Slaveholders’ College is an obvious impediment to democratic control, but it does not operate in a vacuum. Pervasive corruption in all three branches also makes it possible for a regressive minority to hold the rest of the country hostage to their classist, racist, xenophobic, and misogynist views. The needed remedies are not fixes around the edges: let’s stop pretending that reform through the ballot box can work.
It is quite clear that change of revolutionary nature is needed in order to secure a just government for the American people. Perhaps you accept this conclusion, but the alternative is just too terrible to contemplate. The country does not divide neatly into red and blue: even conservative states have large pockets of urban, progressive voters. This may be true, but the moral consequences of our political union are now worse than a political division would be. This illegitimate government is separating children from their parents and taking away the right of women to make their own reproductive choices. This government does not believe that climate change is a real and existential threat. Lives, perhaps millions of lives, can be saved by stopping the farcical belief in a non-existent “system of checks and balances” and refusing to indulge in fantasies of a “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” nature.
We may have something resembling a “rule of law,” but the problem is that our government is rotten from the head. It would be better to let the country balkanize into various regional entities, which could then experiment with new economic and governmental forms. Our present system stifles innovation, and, in fact, is incapable of dealing even with basic issues like budgeting and infrastructure. Dissolving the federal government would be a horrible and messy process, no doubt, but the status quo simply does not work. If national-level politics were removed from the game, it is possible that state and regional governance could return to some sense of normalcy. It is time to dispense with the fiction of E Pluribus Unum and let our differences divide us.