The extraordinary and unprecedented events in Washington — in which a minority faction of extremists is somehow holding the nation hostage to nullify a constitutionally enacted law they don’t like — has inspired some smart people to write some smart things about how something like this could happen in America. And, frankly, most of it is pretty depressing.
First, see Thomas Frank, “Reaching for the pillars: The conservative plan is sabotage.” You must read the whole thing. I started to excerpt some of it, but it’s hard to choose any one part. The “reaching for the pillars” is a reference to the biblical story of Sampson, who destroyed his enemies by pulling down the pillars of their temple, which ended Sampson’s life as well. Years ago the Right set out to destroy American society to keep it from moving left, and they’ll keep at it or die trying. They’ve done so much damage already it probably cannot be reversed.
Then read Charles Pierce discussing the Right’s “campaign of pure vandalism.” He’s echoing many of Thomas Frank’s themes. If you have time, read the rest of what Pierce has written today, too.
If you aren’t depressed enough already, see Matt Yglesias, Juan “Linz’s Bad News for America.” The late Juan Linz was a political scientist who argued that republics governed by a “presidential” system, as opposed to a parliamentary one, are inherently less able to resolve intractable conflicts like the one we’re having now. Matt Yglesias writes,
… his analysis has a disturbing message for residents of the contemporary United States. The current atmosphere of political crisis isn’t a passing fad and it isn’t going to get better. In fact, it’s very likely to get worse. Much worse. And lead to a complete breakdown of constitutional government and the democratic order.
Anne Appelbaum notes one other significant difference between America and just about everyone else — even as a destructive faction is trying to break the rule of law, we’re all sitting around waiting for the rule of law to resolve the problem.
A couple of days ago, an Egyptian tweeted that it was “impressive how everyone in #US follows the law even in the face of extreme political vandalism by an irrational fringe. #Egypt.” His intention was ironic, but actually, he was right. In many parts of the world—in, say, Egypt—an “irrational fringe” group of politicians who tried to subvert the entire political system by overturning a law already confirmed by three branches of government would be called “insurgents” or “coup-plotters” and their behavior would lead to arrest, prison, or worse.
But because Americans, even irrational Americans, no longer use violence to achieve their goals, because this process is still just barely taking place within the outer boundaries of those institutions, and because the protagonists still observe the language if not always the spirit of the law, the result is peaceful. That is indeed impressive. But it is a narrow achievement. Americans are paying a high price for the events of this week, though they may not know it. The cost of shutting down the federal government for a few days or even a few weeks pales in comparison with the damage we are doing not only to the credibility of the United States abroad, but to the credibility of democracy itself.
Seriously, if most of these whackjobs are re-elected next year without facing any consequences for what they’ve done, the rest of us may have to make some very hard choices. Because the nation cannot go on like this.
And if you still see a ray of hope, see Jonathan Chait, “Why the Shutdown Is Leading to Debt Default; or, What Happens When You Take Hostages Without a Plan.”
On a somewhat lighter note, see Joan Walsh, “Angry right gets mad when you accuse it of race-baiting.”
Upate: Martn Wolf, “America flirts with self-destruction”