“A republic, if you can keep it.” Attributed to Benjamin Franklin
We are living through the deepest crisis in recent memory for the nation. It is not just a public health emergency, but also one of governance, This is a result of decades of attacks by the far right on expertise, the civil service and the size and scope of the federal government. It is, in fact, an attack on federalism itself. At this point, the essential question is whether the nation itself will survive? We are already seeing signs that states are acting to protect their people, and talk of Californians or Kentuckians is taking precedence over that of Americans.
The structural problems with the system that was stitched together in 1789 are manifold. For example, the winner takes all system in the Constitution, and the Electoral college, are less democratic than proportional representation. They were easily exploited, and when you add the patrician idea of Citizens United that money is more important than the individual, it leads to a crisis. It’s not a new one, and it took decades of attacks and retreat by the federal government. Most of these attacks came from far right-wing libertarian Neo-Confederate reactionary forces that do not trust that federal government. They never have, because it is that same government that interfered in the caste-based, white supremacist society they prefer.
The nation has survived through a civil war, several great depressions, two world wars, and several pandemics. One occurred at the tail end of a world war. We did it with resolve and spunk. The Civil War was over similar issues as the present crisis. Whether some humans were better than others. The fundamental question was that of white supremacy.
Over time we evolved into a diverse nation that was both a super-power and the envy of the world. We are neither at the moment. This is partly due to how President Donald Trump has reacted to the crisis, foretold by the “American Rage” speech of the inauguration. It was going to be America first and in the process, he frittered away any soft power we still had. It has also removed all doubts that the nation is at war with itself.
Some of the pressures pulling us apart go as far back as the twin foundational sins of genocide and slavery. It is the caste nature of a society based on white supremacy principles, which is also Protestant. Early on not everybody was considered part of this WASP elite, just because of the color of their skin. Jews, Italians, Poles were once distrusted as much as the sons and daughters of slaves. Their access to things like higher education was tightly controlled because they were Jewish or Catholic. This was partially a direct effect of long-standing Antisemitism or the religious wars that came from the Reformation. Property deeds once contained prohibitions to sell to Blacks, Hispanics, Irish, Jews, and Poles. It was a way for communities to remain pure from those who were inferior and polluting. Melanin content, antisemitism, and anti-catholic ideology was part of it. This remains right under the surface still, and less so in certain places.
The far-right, where white supremacy reigns, does not just distrust minorities, but in some cases would like to cull them from the population. They speak of a race war often, as well as a second hot civil war. And make no mistake, if you are Italian or Jewish you are not white to these people. They believe they are superior in all points, mostly. In the recent past, they have concluded that Jews as cunning, more intelligent, and superior to them, while they need to commit genocide on an inferior devil people at the same time. These internal inconsistencies are common to the ideology.
Elements of the far-right hold power, including President Trump. He is either part of it or a tool to their goals. He, and some in his administration, are doing their level best to destroy what they hate. This is a diverse nation with a competent federal government. The epidemic is an opportunity to practice soft eugenics using disease and structural problems with access to care to quietly affect people they believe inferior. Why the Defense Production Act has been used the way it has. Make no mistake, ordering food processing plants to stay open has elements of this. Think who are the workers in these plants? Most are minority, immigrant, brown, and black.
Yes, we need to have a stable food supply, and this crisis revealed deep problems with the supply system. It also speaks to the inconsistencies in this supply. People are hungry, and going to food banks. Yet farmers will start euthanizing animals and tilling crops under because of a lack of physical space. But the decision by the Trump administration to order these facilities to remain open, while refusing to do the same earlier in the crisis with ventilators leads to questions. The fact that they refuse to scale up testing and contact tracing also raises questions: Is all of this on purpose? Are those mostly immigrant workers deemed disposable? Given other actions, such as stopping immigration for sixty days, one has to wonder if the hand of a Stephen Miller is behind this?
Why did the Trump administration fail to act early in the process? It wasn’t because of a lack of information. Intelligence warned that something was going on in Wuhan. The president, who will take responsibility for nothing that has gone wrong, is blaming all for his errors on others. He chose to misdirect the American people about how serious this was. He continues to engage in magical thinking. The epidemic will be gone, all of a sudden as if by magic he says. It’s time to open up. He likely never took a look at disaster plans.
The Barack Obama administration warned them and took them down a sand table exercise previewing exactly this scenario. It was the black man’s administration, so anything that Barack Obama did to prepare the nation was dismantled. This includes the Pandemic Response Team disbanded in 2018. This left the nation utterly unprepared for this. It was purposeful, and motives need to be questioned. Some of this is racism, which comes from the belief that lesser people cannot be intelligent. Instead, we have levels of nepotism not seen in decades, if not longer. See Jared Kushner calling this a success, as more Americans continue to die.
Trump has warned all, including civil servants who do know how to respond to a disaster. They do it every disaster, no matter who is affected. Sometimes they are hindered by political appointees, such as Katrina. Now they are by people like Kushner, the President, and dog breeders who are in charge of the response. This Is the worst response we have seen in American history. It is as if the president does not understand, or care to, the role of federal coordination. It is as if the president, and his cronies, wish to enrich themselves and crash the federal government. This is where Kushner’s gaslighting the nation is coming from.
If you do not believe in good governance, a solid government response will go against what you know in your heart should not happen. If you do not believe in the country you were elected to lead, a dissolution would be something you favor. At this point, we must ask if the president even believes in the country? Or at least this present diverse nation where anybody can rise to power, which is the heart of the American Dream? If you think the great America you want to return to is a caste society where those black and brown people knew their place, then passive eugenics is something to adopt. Whether this is accidental, or on purpose, a post-action review must ask these uncomfortable questions.
What about the future? The republic will emerge from this nightmare extremely frayed and tattered, assuming the vote goes against Donald Trump in November. He is hardly alone in this toxic ideology. There are many fellow travelers who agree with him, either partially, or fully. The Republican Party refuses to hold Trump accountable, partially because they agree with these limits to good governance. And at this point, their campaign consists of not defending Trump…but diverting all responsibility to China and Democrats.
Leader Mitch McConnell has gone so far as to say that he has no problem if states go bankrupt. The president and Republicans have no problem in blaming blue states, mostly donors to the federal through in normal times, of mismanagement. It’s Republican-run states who rely on the transfer of these funds to provide limited services to their citizens. The hypocrisy is astounding, but it is these Neo-Confederates who screamed about federal interference for decades. This is where states that believe in the federal system go bankrupt in the midst of a pandemic would be a way to cut on progressive programs, including public education, fire services, and even resilient public health. It would pull those states down to the level of Kentucky, which ranks near the bottom in all markers. (Incidentally, the governor’s house was won by a Democrat during the 1918 blue wave, and McConnell might be at risk of losing his seat.)
For Republicans, this is about returning the country to a well-controlled, and not diverse at the top, caste society. It is also an open attack on federal institutions that led the fight for civil rights, like the Voting Rights Act as well as the New Deal. The great country Trump pines for is not that of the 1950s, but rather that of the 1880s and the Gilded Age, including a non-professional civil service, and levels of corruption and patronage not seen since then.
So we come to the state compacts…
First, they are not new. States have formed them over the centuries to advance common goals or policies that benefit them. The Great Lakes Compact is likely the best example. There is a difference. The administration decided to make all states and territories compete for scant resources. This included territories that are even in the worst place, and the federal government. It was a hunger games scenario that may please the man behind The Apprentice, but hardly how this should work.
In the beginning, states did compete and then organized. After all, California has far more resources than oh Kentucky. And the compacts were an obvious response to this irresponsible behavior from the administration. However, it is far from ideal. These compacts have also broken along ideological and cultural lines. The nation has at least five distinguishable regions, and the compacts reflect that. One has to wonder if this is a rough map of successor states as well?
The western compact, for example, is the West Coast with Nevada and Colorado. That this is a hub of science and technology is a reality. The governors have vowed to follow the science insofar as opening the economies of the states are concerned. It is a more cautious approach and places barber shops at the back of the train.
Some states in the Old Dominion, who tend to be far more conservative, and white in leadership, intend to open faster. Georgia is allowing close contact businesses to go first. These include barbers, nail salons, and tattoo artists. They are also required to use the same kind of protective equipment hospitals need, which will be a problem. Their owners and employees tend to be minority workers who no longer qualify for government support. This is not accidental.
And if the country survives, a lot will have to be done to build trust between regions that have formed compacts and the Federal Government. It is clear that our role on the world stage is over. There will be far more urgent work to do at home and this includes having the political spine to enact the necessary reforms that will prevent somebody like Trump from ever again reaching the White House. Citizens United needs to go away. So do the special interest behind it. We need to restore the VRA. Chiefly, we need a professional, science-based, merit-based, civil service. Those that attack this system need to be banished from political life and onto the dustbin of history. The coming climate crisis will require this.