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General News    H3'ed 11/15/21

Tomgram: Andrew Bacevich, American Politics Hits the Wall

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This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

What a burst of attention, analysis, and fretting in the mainstream media about the election of Republican Glenn Youngkin as governor of Virginia! The shock was so great you might almost have thought this country had never elected Donald Trump president in 2016, nearly did so a second time in 2020, and could conceivably do so again in 2024. It was as if nothing like it had ever happened before.

Yes, I know, I know" Virginia had indeed been trending Democratic in recent years. Still, you can't truly be shocked to discover that all is not well in a country in which (the Pentagon budget excepted) the Republican Party is opposed to everything (and I mean, everything) and Joe Biden squeaked into the White House with just 50 Democratic senators, at least one of whom the actual president, it's often seemed has been a Republican in all but name (though much of the media still refers to him as a "moderate"). You can't be shocked to know that the 78-year-old former senator and vice-president, the oldest man ever to sit in the Oval Office, has not exactly proven the most energetic or effective leader in American history. You can't be surprised that a Democratic Party which, in recent years, hasn't exactly gone out of its way for the working class, even as inequality grew to Gilded Age proportions, is now being rejected by parts of the white version of that very class. You can't" but why go on?

We're living in a new America and, for all the idle talk about twenty-first-century New Deals and Wars on Poverty, the worlds of Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson are, as TomDispatch regular Andrew Bacevich points out today, something for the history books. They are now the certified old deals. We, on the other hand, live in a world in which it's estimated that almost 17 million people have already died from Covid-19 (five million of whom have been counted). Meanwhile, from a burning American West to a megadrought-ridden Southwest to a flooded Germany to a broiling Middle East to a burning Australia, this planet is changing in ways that should frighten us all, ways that no longer fit the world and the politics we once knew. But let Bacevich explain. Someone needs to. Tom

The Last Progressive
Joe Biden and Illusions of "Normalcy"


In a provocative recent essay in the New York Times, the political historian Jon Grinspan places the distemper currently afflicting American politics in a broader context. In essence, he contends that we've been here before.

Grinspan describes the period from the 1860s to 1900 as an "age of acrimony," with the nation as a whole "embroiled in a generation-long, culturewide war over democracy." Today, we find ourselves well into round two of that very war. But Grinspan urges his fellow citizens not to give up hope. A return to normalcy boring perhaps, but tolerable might well be right around the corner.

Mark me down as skeptical.

Party politics during the decades following the Civil War were notably raucous and contentious, Grinspan writes, with Election Day turnout "higher than in any other period in American history." Yet, despite all the commotion, not a lot got done. "The more demands Americans put on their democracy, the less they got."

Then sometime around the turn of the twentieth century, "Americans decided to simmer down." Popular interest in national politics declined. So, too, did voter turnout. Rather than a participatory sport, politics became something like an insiders' game. Yet "American lives improved more in this period than in any other," he contends. What many today remember, fondly or not, as "normal politics," dominated by once prominent but now forgotten white male pols, prevailed. Making this possible, according to Grinspan, was "the unusually calmed twentieth century."

By what standard does the twentieth century qualify as unusually calm? Grinspan doesn't say. Given that it encompassed two horrific world wars, the Great Depression, a Cold War, at least one brush with Armageddon, multiple genocides, the collapse of several empires, and the rise and fall of various revolutionary ideologies, calm hardly seems an appropriate description.

Even so, Grinspan finds in that century reason for optimism. "We're not the first generation to worry about the death of our democracy," he observes.

"Our deep history shows that reform is possible, that previous generations identified flaws in their politics and made deliberate changes to correct them. We're not just helplessly hurtling toward inevitable civil war; we can be actors in this story" To move forward, we should look backward and see that we're struggling not with a collapse but with a relapse."

So, fretting about the possible death of democracy turns out to be a recurring phenomenon. Our impoverished political imagination misleads us into thinking that our own version of those worries is particularly daunting. If we were to peer a bit further into our own past, we'd recognize that lowering the political temperature might once more enable us to get things done.

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)

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