Echoes of a Soviet End
If you took a drive down to Huntington Beach, CA on May 1st, you would believe for a good moment that the most patriotic of Fourth of July’s were occurring in this upscale surfer town and that belief in America was at an all-time high. The U.S. and Gadsden Flag (the don’t tread on me, unless you’re a major corporation or police officer flag, once the symbol of rebellion and now the symbol of corporate surrender) could be seen in the hundreds. Red, white, and blue were the colors of the day, displayed on the shorts and shirts of plenty of protesters enjoying their needless day out in the sun. The crowds were jubilant, and more or less well behaved.
If it wasn’t for sign after sign being waved protesting the lockdown, you could be forgiven for making the mistake of thinking that there was a clear revival in patriotism (read: nationalism) in the State of California on a scale that hasn’t been seen in decades. It was a rally, not just against the Covid-19 lockdown, but a rally for America — as the mob understood it. A rally to Keep America Great, whatever they meant by that.
But was it an accurate display of the strength of true America, a no longer silent majority? Hardly. Outside the echo chamber of delusional entitlement in Californian Republicanism, Governor Newsom is the man of the hour, despite some (albeit major) caveats, with his approval rating ranging from 64 to 79 percent according to recent polling. He’s even acting in such a way that #presidentnewsom can be found on Twitter, with the hashtag perhaps encouraged by his comments of California being a “nation-state” and his own reality-based leadership skills in such stark contrast from White House shenanigans. But California isn’t a nation-state, and Californians are forced to acquiesce to the whims of other states — red states without the benefit of leadership of any kind. Red States who believe Trump is their leader. Red States that surrendered to the ideology of irresponsibility. Red States that also, for the most part, are the most dependent on their existence to the Federal Government and the tax dollars (more successful) economies hand over, despite their own anti-subsidy hysterics. States ready to vote in Trump and use the Slaveholder mechanism of the Electoral College to claim victory over the majority of the people, and a majority of decent Californians, who might not just put up with this crap anymore.
Armed right-wing conservatives protest for “Michiganders Against Excessive Quarantine” at the Michigan State Capitol in Lansing on April 15, 2020.
Besides the pandemic itself and the attendant economic apocalypse, there’s already another “rough beast” slouching its way to Bethlehem — its hour come ‘round at last, to paraphrase Yeats — the beast of national collapse and disunity. The disturbing invasions of state capitals by armed right-wing gunmen, whose body armor seems trivial next to their white privilege, the use of the National Guard in Maryland to protect Maryland’s Covid-19 tests from being seized by the Federal Government (read: Trump), and Colorado also hiding its own equipment from federal seizure speaks volumes of national instability and a growing war between local governments and the center. Happy and responsible citizens don’t feel the need to show up in paramilitary groups to their capitals in defense of their President’s views, and the local militia (the National Guard in this case) don’t usually feel the need to hide and defend supplies from their own national government and its officers.
It would be silly of course to lay all the faults and foibles of the United States on Trump, who is more a symptom of the rottenness of our system than the true disease itself. Despite calls to “return to normalcy” by the well-meaning, the country has slowly and assuredly been pulled apart in multiple ways long before. Before Trump’s ascension, the Republican Party in California was already a dead enterprise. 2016’s election reinforced the reality of a state so thoroughly dominated by a single political party and culture creating their own laws that are not, to put it lightly, federally approved. Cannabis, once a very illegal substance that if found on your person could lead to imprisonment and a ruined life, is legal in California, as it is along the West Coast and various other states, but most importantly, still illegal on the federal level. On the flip-side, the right to terminate a pregnancy is becoming more and more difficult by the day, abetted by pliant Conservative justices and legislators at the federal level, working against the interests of California. Environmental regulations suffer the same reactionary fate, with California and other states fighting to keep their own statutes and laws on the books from being knocked out, their own Attorney Generals battling to maintain what their own public wishes.
In short, it is self-evident the writing is on the wall for the American Union, and one can go back to the last days of the former Soviet Union to see horrifying parallels to our current time. During the Gorbachev Era, there was a so-called “War of Laws” where individual republics of the Soviet Union (Russia, Estonia, Lithuania, etc. etc., the rough equivalent of American states) had near-constant disputes with the central USSR government over real and imaginary issues that lead more and more to dissension, to the point that individual Soviet Republics, nominally subservient to the central government in Moscow, no longer paid any attention to the edicts coming from their own “totalitarian” capital. The Republics began to use whatever measures they could short of violence to put forth whatever policies they thought to be appropriate with little fear of retaliation due to incompetence — including declarations of “sovereignty” and “nationhood” — in the exact sort of language that Gavin Newsom has used. The Republics began passing laws that were unacceptable by the Supreme Soviet and yet still having the force of law in their own jurisdiction. By the time of the August Coup of 1991, after years of economic mismanagement and outright failure, the individual republics of the USSR, including its largest, Russia, were already ready to bolt to the exits as the central government had continued to fail in providing a case for its continued existence and with leadership that was becoming more and more laughable. The Coup of 1991 was like the final cardiac arrest in an aging body already riddled with cancer — a tragic event, but one that could long be seen coming by those paying attention, and one that could have been avoided entirely. Several Republics had already seceded on paper by this point — the rest would be gone by Christmas.
December 3, 1989: Gorbachev and Bush declare Cold War over at the Malta summit.
Does any of this sound familiar? With weak, corrupt leadership at the top in Washington D.C., continuing economic collapse, state Governors being the real leaders, and quiet desperation taking over the lives of the working class forced to pay for the mistakes of their rulers, it should no longer be out of the realm of possibility that the U.S. might exist one day as the Former United States just as we currently refer to countries as part of the Former Soviet Union. When states no longer look to the federal government for leadership in a major national crisis, the federal government is on its way out. It becomes something else, and a new “war of laws” is on the horizon. When the fed can’t enforce its own measures or it’s actively combated, it becomes each time something less than a force and more of a vague notion. A 2020 victory for Trump in the electoral college may well indeed have the same effect as the Coup of 1991 — something ignored in the end by disgusted local Soviets ready to leave the union after the last shreds of common vision are long gone. A new American war of laws is on the horizon, with the same effect as the old war of laws, only this time with an American twist, and will probably end the same way.
In Huntington Beach, the nationalist right honestly believe that they can use flag after flag, sign after sign, after a good few hours of noise, to somehow hush the grim reality of Covid-19 and come back to some sort of normalcy as they knew it and carry on their grim version of the American dream. But no amount of flag-waving and reality-denying can escape either Covid-19’s grim clutches, Trump’s criminality, and zero federal leadership. States already feel on their own.
In short, the last gasp of the right in Huntington Beach with that farce of a protest might be just the best example of right-wing Americans shouting about how American they were, and oblivious to anything else, and not realizing that their own beloved President and their own actions have caused the disintegration of what they think they so love and adore. If California or other states should leave the Union over another Trump victory in the electoral college, I’m sure they’ll have one more protest against a new reality.