Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Americaland in Bad Decline: Thoughts on the Loss of the Supermajority in the US Senate

I don't normally comment on politics writ large, but here's what's going through my head on the election of Republican Scott Brown to Ted Kennedy's Senate seat today:
American democracy doesn't work very well anymore. I'm not the only one concluding this. It fails on its most basic terms: it can't manage to enact the stated will of the majority of the people, even when that will is in accordance with the judgment of the designated experts (as it is on health care). America, as a nation, doesn't seem to be working that well either.

Obama is probably one of the best Presidents our current system could produce. But that's a very qualified statement. He is abundant in the qualities of charisma, charm and communication skills, with an impeccable sense of the symbolically apt gesture. This are the qualities that the mass/social mediapoliticosphere demands. He doesn't seem to be as strong in moral courage--the devotion to fight like a bulldog for ideas that are right, but unpopular. Or even when they are popular, but there is opposition to them.

The charming, symbolically apt thing to do was to accept the Nobel Peace Prize, on the occasion of conducting two wars, and give a really great speech about it. The morally courageous thing to do would have been to refuse it.

Anyway, so American democracy: worn out. World government: not yet ready for prime time (cf Copenhagen). Yet people are suffering tragically and the world faces huge threats looming on the horizon. How then is the conscientious person to try to make change?

I think it's a good idea generally to try to work through institutions that are more functional than our national government/Congress and to build new kinds of institutions/groups/ bodies to get things done:

The courts. Nongovernmental organizations, charities, and philanthropies. Some state and local governments. Mass movements and coalitions. Science labs and research organizations. Social media. Social networks. Mainstream media. Spiritual and intentional communities. Even the marketplace.

Work with what's working. Work with what we've got.


jte said...

Yes people, some of them/us at least, should work through the institutions that look like they're working best. But if your implication is that we can wholesale abandon efforts to work with and in and through the dysfunctional institutions, I think that's a recipe for failure. With an institution as integral to the system as the legislature, you simply can't rely on the courts or any other institution to fill the gap. Some of us, a lot of us, are going to have to make it our business to find ways of making Congress functional. The courts and NGO world will never be capable of instituting the changes necessary to deal with the really big challenges. The cannot solve problems of the national debt and they cannot reshape the legal framework of the economy in a way that leads toward stable and shared prosperity. A dysfunctional Congress can't, or won't, solve those problems either, but Congress is a necessary participant. It's inescapable. Look at carbon emissions: a dysfunctional Congress will fail to create a system that reduces emissions, but that same dysfunctional Congress can block other institutions from addressing the problem on their own. The dysfunctions aren't just random. This is the process of drowning the government in a bathtub--the only quirk being that the Republicans haven't waited until the government is small first. They're just shoving the face of a large government in the water anyway. When that desperate government, and the society with which it is necessarily intertwined, starts thrashing about, watch out! Otherwise functional institutions will not be much help. We have got to, got to, make the dysfunctional institutions functional too.

Anonymous said...


Anya said...

@jte--I know you're probably right. My missive is for people who would rather give up entirely.

Anonymous said...


"It fails on its most basic terms: it can't manage to enact the stated will of the majority of the people, even when that will is in accordance with the judgment of the designated experts (as it is on health care)."

I was floored by your statement arrogance and dubious claim. First of all I had to click on the link and found it interesting that even though your blogged on January 19th 2010 the article you found was dated October 20th 2009. 3 months old?!? How long did you search for that poll?

If you looked at how the question was phrased everybody would have answered in a positive manner. I would like to live in a world without war, hunger, poverty and with pink unicorns prancing around to the sound of music but that is not going to happen. If the question had been phrased in a manner that reflected how it was going to be paid for and what would be the consequences, you would have a different answer...as MA showed last week.

"in accordance with the judgment of the designated experts" What does that mean? Who designated them? Are the people supposed to follow blindly what some "experts" say without questions, when the people know what is their own best interest? This is exactly the attitude that will be the downfall the Democratic party. The left's arrogance that they know better than anyone and that the people voice should not be heard. 11/2/10 will be interesting. Please pass the pop corn!