Weird politics

VOTE poster (1920) from the League of Women Voters. Public domain.

In politics, people are doing and saying a lot of weird things right now. President Trump (without any particular evidence) is tossing around accusations that the election could be stolen by the Democrats, while Democrats are mulling over the very real possibility that the election will in fact be stolen by the President. What is this weirdness, exactly, and what is its source, and what should we do about it?

If you get right down to it, there are a lot of weird things other than in politics going on right now. Climate change, for starters. Then there’s humans overrunning the earth. We kill and eat almost all of the large animals on the planet (livestock), but not before first confining and torturing them. The few wild animals that are left are increasingly crowded out by the human economy, and mass extinction appears to be in progress. And then there’s peak oil, soil erosion, and resource depletion more generally, which each have civilization-ending potential. Our growth-oriented economy is incapable of dealing with limits to growth.

But, oddly enough, very few are particularly concerned about these issues, except for those people worried about climate change. The weirdness in question is a political weirdness. We are stunningly polarized as a nation. It’s not just that there are divisive and emotional issues, but that there seems to be no way to debate or discuss these issues. There seem to be two Americas, each in completely separate epistemological universes; they each have their own set of “facts.” President Trump is transparently a sociopathic liar who has repeatedly broken the law and violated the constitution. But he still enjoys steady political support; his supporters seem to have their own set of “facts.”

This is weird in itself, but now this weirdness has permeated the election process. If President Trump can’t manipulate the vote directly by appeals to his base and illegal voter suppression, he could claim that the elections were manipulated by the evil Democrats. He could declare victory and stay in power, perhaps assisted by his allies in Congress.

Should we be concerned?

1876 Democratic convention. Source: Cornell University Library.

Well, yes, we should be concerned, and I fully intend to vote in the coming election, and I hope that everyone reading this will too. However, there is a larger context here. See above: climate change, the mass destruction of animal and plant life, crowding out the small remainder of wild things, systematic destruction of forests, rapid oil and mineral depletion, and the economic collapse which is in progress even as I write this.

If we were truly concerned about the integrity of the elections, I think we all missed the boat on that problem a long time ago. For truly free elections, we would need at least three changes: (1) popular election of the President (repeal the Electoral College), (2) end corporate control of politics (end “Citizens United”), and (3) stop gerrymandering (which the Supreme Court recently legalized). Arguably, all three of these require constitutional amendments. We don’t have time for that. The government, therefore, lacks the legitimacy that was conferred upon it by the original constitution and the past 244 years of American history, regardless of the outcome of the 2020 elections. We should work for a new constitution and a new government.

This is worthy of comment in itself, but that’s not our fundamental problem. We live in a corrupt and decaying society, powered by greed, and spiraling down to destruction. How bad would it be if this society did collapse? Actually, it probably would be bad. But that we can even ask this question should direct our attention to the underlying environmental issues, which would be overwhelming even if we could instantly transform ourselves into a truly democratic republic.

Resource depletion and limits to growth are propelling this conflict. Instead of looking at these resource limits and saying, “hey, what can we do about this?” we are barrelling the economy ahead, full speed, towards more economic growth. When that doesn’t work, we start fighting. Our current political weirdness is based on the failure of this economic system of perpetual growth. Things are going to stay weird until we address this issue.

17 Replies to “Weird politics”

  1. I agree that we need to elect presidents by popular vote, but it doesn’t require either a constitutional amendment or a new constitution. We just need states to choose their electors by national popular vote instead of state vote. Twenty-four states, including Colorado, have already agreed to do that if enough other states do so to carry the election. There is hope. So far the legislation has been enacted in 16 jurisdictions possessing 196 votes of the 270 electoral votes required to win an election. See for more information.

    Citizens United could possibly be reversed by legislation.

    Gerrymandering is a thorny issue. It’s not difficult to recognize blatant gerrymandering, but it’s not at all clear (at least to me) how to define it.

    1. Good ideas. The women’s suffrage movement had a debate over a constitutional amendment versus gradual progression of states granting women’s suffrage. In that case the constitutional amendment strategy paid off, but in the case of choosing electors by national popular vote, state-by-state could be the ticket. I’m wondering if anyone is trying to push this in “red” states?

  2. I agree with you on the need for reform of the Constitution.

    With respect to the 2020 vote, I am actually considering abstention this time around. As a 48 year old independent white male in New York. Maintain neutrality while magnifying the power of the women’s vote and the minority vote.

    My prayers are with those women of the Senate, on both sides of the aisle, who will now determine whether or not to approve Trump’s vowed female SCOTUS nomination. RIP RBG.

    The 75th UN General Debate is underway. The Secretary-General, the President of the General Assembly, Brazil, the US, Turkey, China, Chile, South Africa and now Cuba have all weighed in with some fiery back and forth.

  3. So I can not resist saying that unfettered capitalism is the problem,; but then if you fetter it as much as needed to ensure the sustainability of humankind, what you have is a form of socialism. The system needs to change, and if we have to add dozens of amendments to the constitution so be it! Basically, the courts are being stacked conservative but they can only interpret the constitution. So let’s change it. I can see we are fast approaching a point where the conclusion of Roe v. Wade needs to be part of the Bill Of Rights. Because the courts are going to shoot down Roe v. Wade eventually. We also need direct democracy; representative democracy isn’t representing us anymore. And we know who it does represent: it represents the wealthy and their companies. It represents the will of white conservative males more than any other group – but not well. So, yes, essentially we need new forms of government and economics here in the US and throughout the world.

  4. Roe v Wade was not particularly well decided, in my view. But I would not exactly say that China’s socialists have handled the matter better. A constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right to an abortion and even requiring the consent of BOTH parents for the carrying of every otherwise healthy pregnancy to term might reduce the number of unwanted deliveries, but would it reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies? In China, the implementation of family planning reduced the ratio of females to the serious detriment of our humanity. Nor is it clear that abortion access is the best way to secure the holy grail of well informed, age appropriate reproductive consent (within or outside of marriage). What should Roe v Wade be replaced with? One of so many questions before the Senate. On a procedural note, I see that GOP Senators Collins and Murkowski have recommended waiting until after the election to vote on a SCOTUS nominee. Senator Romney has signaled his willingness to vote before the election. It appears the women of the Senate (and with them an equity-weighted balance of Senate power) would prefer to wait. Will Collins and Murkowski abstain if President Trump and Senate Majority Leader McConnell decide to proceed anyway, or will they vote against the nominee?

    1. Yeah ok. I guess if we can just get all the school counselors and Catholic priests to talk to the kids this whole sex thing will just go away. Come to think of it, are we sure anybody is still doing this? Reproductive rights are needed for sustainability. If we added all the aborted embryos and fetuses to the world population, we would be a lot closer to self-destruction by now.

      1. The future of humanity is in the hands of thoughtful young people. Let’s trust them to honest debate with us but give them the best law that we can.

        Maybe we should agree on Finland as an egalitarian reproductive rights role model? But let’s not dodge the question of whether a prospective father also has the right to an abortion under our amended US or hypothetical vegan constitution. I do not believe man’s right to an abortion is upheld under Finnish law or Roe v Wade. Your opinion, while robust, is silent on this point.

        I am also curious what Keith thinks about the abortion debate, and how our contemporary support for population control relates to any relevant teachings of the early Jewish Christian church.

        This is a very sensitive topic. My soul-searching is sincere and I mean no offense to you, Keith or other readers.

  5. So, I know you are typically steeped in research; but I hope you pause now to follow the news closely. Certain talking heads almost sound panicked over the possibility that a contested election would go for Trump by cancelling hundreds of thousands (or more) of mail-in ballots that aren’t processed by, I think, December 8? I frankly don’t understand the political process involved in resolving such an issue; but it involves Congress and SCOTUS, as I understand it, which are packed with a radical breed of Republican. I’m concerned that these conservatives are so passionate about their bigotry and ideology that they would rather give up democracy than concede the presidential election. Please stay vigilant because your voice is needed.

    1. I’m staying alert. There are numerous “nightmare” scenarios. The best thorough scholarly analysis is:

      Edward B. Foley, Preparing for a Disputed Presidential Election: An Exercise in Election Risk Assessment and Management, 51 Loy. U. Chi. L. J. 309 (2020).

      Foley wrote this a year ago when Elizabeth Warren was momentarily the leading Democratic candidate, so the scenarios are phrased assuming that she is the candidate, but as Foley notes, you can now substitute anyone else, and we know the Dems have nominated Biden. It’s scary but also fascinating. How much do you know about the Electoral Count Act of 1877?

      1. Nothing right off hand. Unfortunately much of what I learned of history in college is gone from my memory banks. Please enlighten. I’ll check out the article, thanks.

        1. This should have been marked “irony alert.” I’d never heard of the Electoral Count Act of 1877, either, until I read the articles in my previous reply above. It’s complex and ambiguous, obviously not ideal. The 1876 election is worth reading about, as well, as the most important election crisis you’ve (probably) never heard of.

        1. Reich’s comment was: “A 6th GOP justice, nominated by an impeached President who lost the popular vote by 3M, confirmed by GOP Senators representing 15M fewer Americans than their Democratic colleagues, after Obama’s pick couldn’t even get a vote. When I say the system is rigged, this is what I mean.” Well said, and my point exactly. As I put it, the government lacks legitimacy, regardless of the outcome of the 2020 elections.

          I haven’t fully worked out what this means in terms of our actions, except that we should understand that our environmental crisis will not be solved simply through “fair elections.” The environmental crisis is complex and I don’t see a clear political path forward to dealing with it, except through political and social collapse, even if we were suddenly and miraculously “democratic.”

          How would our strategy be altered if we were pretty sure that society was going to collapse in, say, the next six months? Just something to think about, I don’t have the answer myself. Fortunately (or unfortunately, as the case may be), we’re pretty minor players and so the responsibility for the potential election disasters don’t really fall on our shoulders.

          1. Same here. RGB could have retired under Obama, who in turn could have nominated four younger women to the bench, including a black woman. Were this the Supreme Court of Israel, RGB would have been required to retire at the age of 70. Garland was not the black woman Biden now promises as long overdue. We do not know if McConnell would have stopped a black woman’s confirmation. Both sides must acknowledge the present situation is unprecedented in more ways than one. As it stands, ACB is Trump’s choice, and both sides of the aisle must play their parts to uphold peaceful transfers of power across all three branches of US government, including SCOTUS. I believe in universal health care and reproductive rights for men as much as for women. That does not mean I think ACB should be deprived of a seat on the bench if the Senate has the votes to confirm her after a reasonably fair vetting.

            In my view you are at your best, Keith, when you are Hell-fighting. When it starts to sound – even a little – like you are looking forward to collapse, I fear you are throwing in with the “accelerationists,” and that is not a narrative to which I can subscribe.

            My prayers for your continued vitality and vital output. And God hold me to genuine learning from our dialogue, not trolling, on this 2020 Day of Atonement.

          2. Jonathan, I’m definitely not an “accelerationist” if you mean by accelerationism the idea that capitalism should be promoted in order (so I take it) to speed up the collapse. The collapse is coming soon enough, thank you very much.

          3. That’s a relief, Keith! I am working it out in dialogue with you, but I believe what I meant by accelerationism is a heartbroken extremism on either the right or the left (either a hard push to capitalism or a hard push to socialism), that suggests collapse (hard landing) is the best or inevitable way forward for a (newly) faithful remnant. Perhaps I was projecting my own 2016+ vote-for-Jill Stein shadow side.

            As I see it today, something like a 2020 Sanders+Haaland or Booker+Haaland ticket would be healthy middle of the road. My concern is that while Trump+Pence (stronger on Law and Order) and Biden+Harris (stronger on Climate Change and Social Equality) are both decelerationists in public political principle, they are also both economic accelerationists on the ground…and Trump may actually be the more the decelerationist of the two. My fear is plainly foolish, because Sanders, Haaland and Booker all agree that Biden+Harris would be better…regardless of the Biden family’s apparent record of blatant profiteering from war capitalism and energy corruption. Whom do we trust to keep the US out of criminal wars and bring more troops home over the next four years? Earlier this month, Trump went on record against US Generals, essentially saying they are in the business of war to make money – not real international security. Does Biden have this kind of anti-war, anti-interventionist chutzpah, or would he be in a hot war with Putin and half the Muslim world by now? Why do I have so much difficulty trusting Sanders, Haaland and Booker on Biden+Harris?

            Perhaps you can see my quandary. So related to this, I am asking if white males (at least above a certain age) in CO and NY are accelerationists no matter which way they vote for POTUS and VP in 2020 – why is it not better for us to sit this one out? Perhaps something I read on your blog or see on the POTUS/VP Debates will convince me otherwise.

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