Unexceptional Is the New Normal

The best thing I’ve read this week: American exceptionalism was our preexisting condition, by Dan Zak at WaPo. Here’s just a bit:

Perhaps we ignored our preexisting conditions for too long. In 1979, Jimmy Carter admitted to a national “crisis of confidence,” in the wake of Vietnam and Watergate and energy shortages. But then we shut our eyes and pictured Ronald Reagan’s “shining city,” as wealth oozed upward. We believed Bill Clinton’s pep talk about how our best qualities excused our worst, which included prioritizing mass incarceration. We cloaked George W. Bush’s costly foreign policy in pageant-style patriotism and then believed Barack Obama’s insistence that Americans were not as divided as we seemed. Meanwhile, big banks crashed the economy and got bailed out, white people in rural areas started dying “deaths of despair,” black people kept getting killed by police at disproportionately high rates, and more Americans turned to conspiracy theories to make sense of it all and prescription pills to blunt the pain.

Then a minority of voters elected as president a salesman who built his empire on fraudspectacle and bankruptcy. Three years and 20,000 “false or misleading claims” later, the reality-show presidency is reaching a dramatic first-season climax marked by mass death, rampant joblessness, tens of millions of people in the streets. …

… “You can no longer pretend that ‘the American century’ isn’t over,” says Elizabeth Tandy Shermer, an associate professor of history at Loyola University Chicago. She views the years since 1968 as a cycle of recessions and widening inequality, debt and disenfranchisement that is only now becoming apparent to broader America — white America, moneyed America — because the pandemic and social media have made it impossible to ignore. Institutions have been deteriorating and failing us for generations, she says, but we rigged workarounds with our own social networks and mutual-aid groups. We made do. Then the pandemic scattered us, isolated us, exposed us for what we really are. …

… The coronavirus is “fueled upon the systemic injustices in our country,” says Cedric Dark, an emergency-room physician and assistant professor at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. The contagion doesn’t just spread because of proximity or air droplets; it feeds on disparity in housing, insurance, transportation, wages, child care, food security. Our current failure is built on previous failures.


“All these years after the Civil War, are we still just a union of states — or have we become a nation of people?”

That’s the question Shermer will ask the students in her U.S. history survey course. She’s watched governors battle the president and states squabble over stocks of personal protective equipment. Meanwhile the movement of Black Lives Matter has behaved like a nation of people, demanding something more, something holistic, something that was promised centuries ago.

Meanwhile, Senate Republicans are flailing about trying to come up with a new relief package. Paul Waldman:

The first thing they’ve done is drop Trump’s demand for a payroll tax cut, because it was a dumb idea that no one except Trump liked. But Republicans are still squabbling among themselves, particularly over how much help to give those tens of millions of unemployed Americans.

The Cares Act provided for an extra $600 a week for people who are unemployed, on top of what they would normally get from their state. In some cases, this meant workers would actually bring in more than they had been paid while they were employed, which many conservatives found appalling. And now with that $600 benefit set to expire next week, those conservatives want to make sure we stop coddling this nation of layabouts.

The result is a conflict within the GOP between, among others, Sens. Ted Cruz and Tom Cotton, both of whom would like to be president one day:

Cruz vented his frustrations in private at a lunch Tuesday. As Republican lawmakers continued to add costly items to the ballooning virus aid package, he asked, “What in the hell are we doing?” Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) was similarly vocal about spending concerns, even though others — such as Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) — argued in favor of spending a little more so that Republican senators in tough reelection races would have tangible policy wins to bring home for voters and help the party’s chances of retaining control of the chamber.

They both have a reasonable case to make, at least from where they sit. Cotton is right that Republicans are headed for disaster, and if they want to give Trump any chance of winning — and keep themselves from being pulled down with him — they should be showering every penny they can find on the economy.

Republicans are very, very bothered that some folks have been getting more money on unemployment than they got when they were working. So their current bright idea is to cap unemployment benefits at 70 percent of one’s former wage. That might not be enough to pay rent and buy groceries, but that’ll teach those deadbeats to get laid off because of a pandemic. Or something.

See also Seung Min Kim and Rachael Bade, Republican feuding this week represents broader reckoning over party’s future as Trump sinks in the polls.

9 thoughts on “Unexceptional Is the New Normal

  1. The best decades (arguably w/ postwar statistics and intangible metrics of the 'greatest generation') were the most socialistic in our history. But it's crucial to remember they followed the darkest days of the great depression. We could emerge with a properly calibrated moral compass and the power to be guided nationally by it.

  2. "We could emerge with a properly calibrated moral compass and the power to be guided nationally by it."

    President Uncle Joe, Nancy 'PayGo' Pelosi, & Chuck 'Wall Street' Schumer becoming FDR Democrats is not something I would wager the house on.

    • I'm sure if you were around during FDR's time you would be giving him a lot of shit.

      You know what?  I would honestly prefer Biden, Pelosi, and Schumer being in charge instead of the authoritarian wanna-bes of the GOP.  But I guess it's "both parties are the same!!" to you.

      With Pelosi, Biden, and Schumer you will get a good chunk of what FDR delivered.  With the GOP retaining power you will get NOTHING.  But I guess that's too goddamned hard for you to figure out.

      • The people holding the 'moral compass' are not the people we elect – the people holding the compass are the people doing the electing. At the moment we realize the primary election is the election, we throw off the control of the party machine and fill the halls of Congress with patriots we can trust. It really is that simple.

        • Well, when it comes to moral compass the people doing the electing have some explaining to do.  The world wants to know, how the American people could find their way to elect an incompetent, racist moron, and even after he's devastated everything in site, presiding over the deaths of 140,000 Americans to boot, still have enough support that his reelection remains a possibility.

          Its not just the leaders; its "us."

      • It is difficult to not respond to your attack vehemently, but I will try.

        I also honestly prefer Biden, Pelosi, and Shumer to tRump, McCarthy, and #MoscowMitch.

        BUT for you to say that they will give a 'good chunk of what FDR delivered' on economic policies is pure horse-pucky.  What reason is there to believe that this herd of zebra will lose their stripes? 

        Until proven otherwise, I will continue to believe that they will deliver all of the progressive actions on economic equity for the working classes and our planet's climate crisis that Wall Street tells them is acceptable.

  3. FOR SHAME!!!

    I feel ashamed that, as a born and bred American, I live in a country where the $600 extra weekly pandemic pay, on top of the person's minimal unemployment money, actually gave people a raise – A RAISE!!! – over the shitty pittance they regularly collect for working like chattel slaves!

    And the lesson the Republicans learned, was, "DO NOT be so damn overly generous with unemployment money in a time of pandemic, with no jobs to be found."

    The lesson they should have learned, was, "Holy shit!  People make so little  money, that the $600 extra we gave them looked like a huge bonus!!!  How do we fix that?!?!?"

    If you don't see that the poverty level wages that most American's earn are a major cause of a whole litany of social ills, you're either a sociopath, a Republican (but I repeat myself), a share-holder, or the owner or C-Something-Something of a company that pays really shitty wages!

  4. Who would have guessed that Republicans would turn into the party of cut taxes and spend on borrowed money?  Yes they have abandoned all of their standard ideals and have mutated into a malignancy. They are now just puppets of those who own them, or perhaps those who hold their IOU's.  Sold out and clueless.  

    The Kansas Republican Primary is a circular firing squad.  One can only hope the survivor is so wounded that a Democrat will at long last take a Senate seat and represent the people of Kansas instead of big money interests.  A slim hope in the year of no hope.  

  5. Certainly Biden is better than Trump, but that's a low bar. Nor is Biden the best. Is he good enough? Maybe, if we pull him to the left.

    As for American greatness, we've jumped that shark. Live with it. Greatness is over-rated anyhow; it's enough to be good. Almost anyone can be good, but only a few can be great; so the good is a better bet than the best.

    I will be content with Making America Good Enough. MAGE!


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