We Need a New Common American Story

Back during the 24 hours surrounding election day, we had as big a spat as we’ve had on these pages, ever.

The night before the election, Quinn wrote a piece envisioning What Comes After America (Quinn has both the gift and the curse of writing necessary things at uncomfortable times and this piece, on the eve of an election in which large swaths of America came out in droves to support Trump’s white supremacy, almost giving him an Electoral College win again, is no exception). Quinn’s piece spoke explicitly about the Constitution (though to my mind didn’t focus enough on the specific aspects of it that pose such problems).

The flaw is our Constitution. As there is no politically possible path to rewriting the it, the Constitution can only fall further into entropy and catastrophe.

The longer this goes on, the worse the end will be. This is why it’s the duty of people who are in and of, or love, America the culture, Americans the people, the land it spans and the diversity it holds, to imagine what comes next and the easiest way to get there. We’ve been running what was essentially the broken beta of the first representative democracy for almost 250 years, and it was built to not be upgradable. It doesn’t work right, it never did, and it is awful. It was a compromise of rich and frightened men whose imaginations (understandably) didn’t reach far beyond the 18th century.

Even while talking about the flaws of the Constitution, Quinn nevertheless endorsed the idea of America as a culture.

The successes of America, and there have been many, came not because of our form of governance but despite it. The culture – for good and ill – isn’t the constitution or the legal regime or the nation-state as recognized by other nation-states. It’s the people. It’s what we choose, believe, and imagine.

Rayne responded by insisting We’re So Not Through Here, paying tribute to the tireless fight of America’s people of color.

Take a hard look at what the Black Americans of this country have been doing since voting began last month as a commitment to form a more perfect Union. Ask them if the Union is done.

Take a hard look at what Native Americans have had to do — forced to change their lifestyle, assigning addresses to places which to them are simply Home — in order to vote, otherwise invalidated and erased if they don’t. Ask them, too, if the Union is done.

And take note of the naturalized immigrants who are worried they and their kin will be harassed by ICE and potentially incarcerated or deported while trying to vote simply because they aren’t white and have come to this country too recently. Ask them if the Union to which they emigrated, many as refugees, is done.

My Chinese family members weren’t permitted to emigrate here or own land until 1943, when it suddenly became convenient to have China side with the U.S. against Japan. I tell you this Union is not done, from the house I own under a hyphenated Chinese name.

Rayne ended by pointing to both activism and voting as a way to salvage our union.

[T]his union is by no means done and over. It’s there in the lines we have seen in the streets for weeks, snaking out the doors of polling places across this country. It’s in the cars lined up in a drive-through campaign rally, queued hopefully, trustingly in a drive-through foodbank.

It was there in the streets after George Floyd was murdered.

From goose quill pen’s first ink on parchment 244 years ago, this union has always been aspirational, a nation in a state of becoming, a people who must occasionally check themselves and listen to their better angels.

From the speech before a battlefield of nearly 50,000 American dead 157 years ago, we re-consecrated ourselves,

that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

The union is not over. The dream still lives, its work goes on; we will not yield.

It’s simply time once again to rededicate ourselves to forming a more perfect union.

We can begin this day of all days by exercising and protecting our right to vote.

Since Rayne wrote that, of course, Biden accrued 6 million more votes than Trump, but with only the same Electoral College outcome that Trump got in losing the popular vote in 2016.

And Trump — abetted by a goodly chunk of his party — has implemented a slow-motion coup in an attempt to hold onto power by thwarting the will of the electorate. A key part of this effort, unsurprisingly, has been exploiting a growing Republican certainty that the votes of Californians like Quinn and Michigan voters of color like Rayne are not legitimate votes, and therefore can just be discounted with impunity. The effort will probably fail, this time. But not before Trump and Republicans do untold damage to America and Americans

Perhaps what I am about to say will be discounted as an effort to protect the site, but I think both Quinn and Rayne had important and not inconsistent things to say. Importantly, both focus on the idea of America, pointing to its culture and diversity as something that needs salvaging. Both point to things that need to happen — committed activism and legal changes — for this country to survive.

Which is why I want to talk about something that we can try to do, and very much need to do, for that to work.

We need a new story about America.

Back in 2016 and 2017, I repeatedly argued that the fracture of the myth of American Exceptionalism made Trump possible. For example, in May 2016, I argued that both Dick Cheney’s anti-racist imperialism and Pat Buchanan’s nativism bespoke a crisis in the myth of American Exceptionalism that made Trump possible.

Trump’s lies, Buchanan suggests, permit these white men to believe their myth again, the myth of white American exceptionalism.

Here’s the thing. A lot of people are linking Buchanan’s post are pointing just to those far right nutjobs whose enthusiasm has fueled Trump’s rise this year.

But — as the example of Dick Cheney perpetuating the very same myths, even while criticizing Trump’s overt racism — that underlying myth extends well beyond the far right nutjobs, well into mainstream Republican and even Democratic ideology.

America has a Donald Trump problem — one that its diversity will probably defeat, at least in the short term. But underlying that Donald Trump problem is a desperate insistence on clinging to the myth of American exceptionalism, with its more offensive parts even embraced in the mainstream. For the sake of the white men who’ve relied on those myths for their sense of dignity, but also to prevent future Trumps, it is time to start replacing that exceptionalist myth with something else.

Even in April 2016, I thought a malaise created by the failures of American Exceptionalism was the recipe for a Trump disaster.

My real point, however, is that the Trump effect is secondary. It is absolutely true that American workers and middle class, generally, have been losing ground. And it absolutely true that whites may perceive themselves to be losing more ground as people of color equalize outcomes, however little that is really going on. It is, further, absolutely true that large swaths of flyover country whites are killing themselves, often through addiction, at increasing rates, which seems to reflect a deep malaise.

But I also think the effect of the Trump side of the equation — the thing that’s driving rabid adherence to an orange boob promising a big wall and domestic investment as well as promising to treat other countries with utter disdain — is secondary malaise, the loss of the self-belief that America actually is exceptional.

(White) America needs to stop believing its superior[ity] stems from the ability to lord over much of the rest of the world and start investing in actually living with the rest of the world.

For years, American Exceptionalism got many but not all Americans to buy into a common story, and that common story served to keep the country running. That story has, for better and worse, largely failed, at least in its original incarnation.

We’ve been overdue for this reckoning for a very very long time.

Think of this blessing and curse: America was founded — with that very imperfect Constitution Quinn focused on — before the flourishing of nationalism, without a history of a sovereign out of whose dead body we could carve a founding story. All we had is that document and some fanciful notions about reason and Enlightenment.

Nevertheless, out of that document and a whole bunch of myth-making, we created a story that has worked to get Americans to believe in common cause for two and a half centuries. The process of that myth-making is critically important: It involved a belief in a virgin land that disappeared native people. It involved a belief in self-determination that disappeared the slaves. It came to include a notion of Manifest Destiny that excused our own imperialism.

Why that process worked is critically important too: All those disappeared people — Native Americans, Blacks and Latinos, immigrants, women — never held enough sway, collectively, to unpack the lies that our collective imagination relied on. That was why Barack Hussein Obama, seemingly the embodiment of American Exceptionalism, posed such a threat to it. And having failed to radically alter the means of power that exploited that founding myth, Obama left the ground ripe for a resurgence of white supremacy, the reality that long masqueraded as exceptionalism though its process of disappearance.

Today, in significant part as a result of four years of Trump, any premise of a common cause, of a shared American story, is utterly shattered.

Huge numbers of Republicans either believe or claim to believe that the only way to save the nation is to ensure, at all costs, that Democrats are not permitted to effectively govern. Those Republicans are willing to do real damage to this country — they’re willing to see a quarter of a million Americans die, many deaths of which were preventable, they’re willing to discount the votes of their neighbors and co-workers based on the most outrageous legal hoaxes — rather than joining together with their Democratic neighbors for a common good.

In days ahead, if we are to save the idea of America and prevent it from becoming an authoritarian behemoth, we need to find a new common story.

I’m not sure what that story is, but from one thing I take solace in the Trump presidency. He was competitive in 2020 in part because he integrated the lesson of 2018, that misinformation about immigrant caravans affirmatively turned off key voters. He still is an unashamed white supremacist; just the other day he appointed white supremacists to a Holocaust commission. But he didn’t run against immigrants in 2020, and it worked to attract surprising numbers of non-whites to embrace Trump’s story of victimization. Meanwhile, Trump’s relentless attacks on immigrants from the first days of his term actually reversed polling on views towards legal immigration in this country. Trump attacked one way that this country really is exceptional, the degree to which immigrants have thrived and often lead, and caused a fairly widespread backlash.

That’s certainly not enough to find common cause and common story again. But it is one yarn we can start knitting.

Trump has done one more thing to create this opportunity, if we take it. By embracing other pariahs on the world stage, Trump has irrevocably ended our claim to be exceptional. President Joe Biden, if and when he takes power, will be forced to adopt a humble new face for America. Remarkably, that may present a useful opportunity for us to rethink America’s role in the world, one where we’ll have to earn any claim to lead, much less to lead from some vision of exceptionalism.

305 replies
  1. Bay State Librul says:

    Fintan O’Toole has my vote. We are in Limbo.
    I like your idea of a story but how many chapters do we need?
    When Bobby Orr came out and endorsed Trump, with the statement. “He is the kind of guy I want to be on my team” I flipped out.
    We can have a story, but at lease 30% of Americans have lost their collective minds.

    O’Toole writes…

    “The historic question that must be addressed is: Who is the aberration? Biden and perhaps most of his voters believe that the answer could not be more obvious. It is Trump. But this has been shown to be the wrong answer. The dominant power in the land, the undead Republican Party, has made majority rule aberrant, a notion that transgresses the new norms it has created. From the perspective of this system, it is Biden, and his criminal voters, who are the deviant ones. This is the irony: Trump, the purest of political opportunists, driven only by his own instincts and interests, has entrenched an anti-democratic culture that, unless it is uprooted, will thrive in the long term. It is there in his court appointments, in his creation of a solid minority of at least 45 percent animated by resentment and revenge, but above all in his unabashed demonstration of the relatively unbounded possibilities of an American autocracy. As a devout Catholic, Joe Biden believes in the afterlife. But he needs to confront an afterlife that is not in the next world but in this one—the long posterity of Donald Trump”

  2. bmaz says:

    I found Quinn’s piece not just objectionable, but disgusting. Did immediately then, and still do. She prattled on about how horrible the Constitution was, and how broken America is. She clearly demonstrated she has no clue really about the Constitution when she said:

    “The flaw is our Constitution. As there is no politically possible path to rewriting the it, the Constitution can only fall further into entropy and catastrophe.”

    Actually, there is exactly such a process, but neither she nor anybody else would like it. It is called a Constitutional Convention, and upon petition by at least 34 states, one could be called. Perchance this came up in the last thread. I’ll just copy my comment from there here:

    “The last thing in the world you, or anybody else, should want is a “Constitutional Convention”. As former Chief Justice Warren Burger said:

    “There is no way to effectively limit or muzzle the actions of a Constitutional Convention. The Convention could make its own rules and set its own agenda. Congress might try to limit the Convention to one amendment or one issue, but there is no way to assure that the Convention would obey. After a Convention is convened, it will be too late to stop the Convention if we don’t like its agenda.”

    Once opened, there is no way to control where a Constitutional Convention goes. And it would not be run by the various states, nor the kind of people that think like we do here. Instead, it would be run, and its agenda set, by wealthy elites, the most powerful politicians (and don’t kid yourself, the extremist Republicans are by far the most organized and powerful bloc), lobbyists and special interest groups.

    Opening a “Constitutional Convention” is one of the worst ideas in the world. If you want to destroy what is left of democracy, civil rights and privacy, that is how you would do it. It is insanity.”

    But people like Quinn find it far easier to whine about a document instead of realizing that any replacement would be worse, and that any “constitution” depends on the good faith and interest in public good of the people elected to govern on our behalf under it. Rayne was right, it is we the people that must fix things, and elections, while a slow process, are how that plays out.

    • emptywheel says:

      She addressed that, counselor. Correctly noting that amending it is not a realistic option any time soon. Hell, it almost proved out that we didn’t survive 24 hours, bc of the EC advantage to Trump.
      There are better forms of democracy in the world. There are things worth keeping that no other democracy has.
      But we can’t survive allowing minoritarian rule and almost didn’t survive the last four years of it. Still might not.

      • bmaz says:

        Respectfully, no she did not in the least. An amendment is different than a full on Constitutional Convention. There were people in comments to her post that discussed it, but she did not at all in her post. And, no a Constitutional Convention is no more likely to occur anytime soon than an individual amendment clearing the bar. She was right that particularized amendment is not likely I guess.

        There may, or may not, be better systems of democracy in the world. I think that is fairly debatable. But, again, unless you favor a “benevolent dictatorship” over representative democracy, it all still comes down to who the people select to run their country. This country has chosen badly too often. But ain’t that democracy!

        • emptywheel says:

          Quoth Quinn: “there is no politically possible path to rewriting [] it”

          Perhaps we should revisit this discussion in six months, once we’re sure Trump’s coup hasn’t worked. We are in an unbelievably vulnerable moment and a good part of the reason stems from weaknesses in our government.

          • bmaz says:

            Yeah, and again, she wants to rewrite the document. That is different, and scary as hell. But there IS such a process. And there have been 28 of the necessary 34 states that have so sought such a convention, mostly to install a balanced budget requirement and deny personal civil rights. That is less than the 30 states in support of the Equal Rights amendment when it flamed out. So, it is indeed possible, if unlikely. The better point is that what Quinn desires would be truly catastrophic.

              • bmaz says:

                Bullshit. It would be the greatest clusterfuck in American history. It is literally nuts. Again, as long as a republican democracy exists, it will depend on the good faith of people exercising it on our behalf.

                  • bmaz says:

                    Again, that is democracy. It is messy. It will never get fixed by blowing up the Constitution and rewriting it via the people that would do so. Such thought is the purest fools gold in the universe.

                    • emptywheel says:

                      If Trump HAD won again, it’d be game over anyway. Particularly if he won after losing by 6M votes.

                      Which is why Quinn’s point was pretty fucking prescient.

                    • BROUX says:

                      Come one, Trump came within less than 50,000 votes of remaining President despite a 6M vote loss, and your answer is “that is democracy”.

                      No, that is not “democracy”. That is the near-malfunction of a particular political system as currently operating in the US. Without the Electoral College, the system would have better chance to operate more sensibly as a representative democracy.

                    • bmaz says:

                      Yes Broux, that is my answer. People vote for the leaders they want. And, yes, that is democracy. It is the worst system in the world, except all the others.

              • bmaz says:

                I do not think so, see here. And the 2020 attempt to revive it died with McConnell and the Senate sitting on the House measure. There have been some after the fact “ratifications”, but they seem moot. It may well have the votes now, but it will have to be restarted to effect it.

                  • bmaz says:

                    It is the only way as far as I can tell. At least have to start over by reviving it in Congress, and both houses of it.

                    • holdingsteady says:

                      Just one more comment since I realize it’s off topic to the larger discussion here…
                      From the Wikipedia page you posted I think I read there was still an appeal pending in the first district court of appeals.
                      Maybe it’s already been decided or thrown out –
                      I’m down in the weeds and wayyy over my head but it seems to me some are still fighting for the ERA of old for whatever it’s worth

                    • bmaz says:

                      Hard to see where any attempt solely through the courts gets anywhere other than the dismissal as in the Massachusetts case. It will be considered a political question under the “political question doctrine” and, frankly, it should be. That said, I do think that Congress could properly revive it. Not positive on that, but I think so!

    • Andrew Dabrowski says:

      “and that any “constitution” depends on the good faith and interest in public good of the people elected to govern on our behalf under it.”

      Trump has demonstrated how much our system depends on unwritten rules. I fear that having been killed off by him, there will be no resurrecting them. Our only hope is that White people become a minority before they turn the country to fascism.

      • bmaz says:

        Maybe I am also wearing rose colored glasses, but I find it highly objectionable that it is about any one race or color. It is about all citizens. Marcy is right that the message and effort needs to be way better, but making it about race is a horrible idea.

        • Xboxershorts says:

          I agree 1000% that this can’t be made about race, even if it is a major component of what’s been taking place since 1964.

          Maybe make it about kicking the well monied special interests out of our policy making decisions and I think we would gain some traction with the GOP voting base. That IS the common ground that my remaining conservative friends have agreed with me on.

          Pointing out the racially tainted nature of policy that the GOP has advocated will only serve to create resentment and anger in others. Because, nobody likes being called a racist except for an overt racist. And the messaging from the media they’ve been consuming for decades now has them convinced that a strong social safety net is actually the most racist policy…which is completely ass backwards, but that’s a challenge we must face.

          I wonder if others have seen the great documentary from Jen Senko called the Brainwashing of my Dad. She chronicles how her Dad wound up being sucked into a world of hate and disdain for “the other” by the media he was consuming…Limbaugh, Hannity, Savage, Ingraham…etc.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Your argument is inconsistent. Quinn said, and your first quote makes clear, “there is no politically possible path to rewriting the it.” The process would be hijacked by Davos plutocrats, who would obliterate the rights of the have-nots and enshrine their own.

      But you seem to agree with Marcy and Quinn that the “fix” is not to rewrite the founding law, but to unite politically behind “we the people,” in an effort to reform common bonds.

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        The most obvious common bonds evolve around economic and social justice, regardless of race. But it would mean fighting propaganda plutocrats have built into the system since the days of Alexander Hamilton.

        Plutocrats have been trying to prevent a coalition built on economic and social justice from forming since before the first Robber Baron age. It’s the message that probably killed Martin Luther King, and possibly RFK. It’s one reason behind Nixon’s relentless campaign to expel John Lennon, who could rally, at least temporarily, a million people with a song.

      • bmaz says:

        I do not think that is what Quinn said at all. And I still find her original article disgusting. She wants to blow it all up and admit defeat. I’ll have none of that.

        • emptywheel says:

          Perhaps your anger (and noted predisposition to protect US law even when it sucks) blinded you to parts of it?

          • bmaz says:

            Eh, that is neglecting to admit that the bigger picture she painted was of a post-America utopia that she wants to paint. That takes more than an amendment. It takes a whole different Constitution, which she neither admitted or particularly discussed. I’ll still have none of that. And I was not “blinded” in the least as to her nonsense, I understood its intention just fine.

            • emptywheel says:

              Um. No. You were just called on not understanding it.

              And it’s actually not up to you to “have none of that” as a categorical issue, however badly you portray it. By all means argue the constitutional issue. You chose not to do that, though.

              • bmaz says:

                Oh, I understand her just fine. And she is full of naïveté and shit. And, the people not “arguing the Constitutional issue”, at least meaningfully, include Quinn. We shall just have to disagree I guess, but don’t tell me I don’t understand her bunk.

                • emptywheel says:

                  You’re ignoring direct quotes from her piece AND calling HER naive.

                  It’s a bad, defensive look you might want to think some more about.

                  If you want to agree to disagree do that. But that’s not what you’re doing. You’re digging in and doubling down on insults.

            • ducktree says:


              Whether post or ante, either Trump or Biden ~ whose “American” exceptionalism do you speak of?

          • bmaz says:

            Quinn is a brilliant intellect, a superb writer and a great asset for this blog. But I doubt we will be finding commonality on this one. I look forward to her future writings.

            • RacerX says:

              That doesn’t fill me with hope re: a new common story for all US citizens to share, but thanks for the honest reply.

    • Johnny R. O'Neill says:

      We don’t need a new story. We need to embrace the old story, which got buried, post World Wars, under a glitzy, false mountain of American glory as economic and military might.
      The military is not America. Wall Street is not America. The egalitarian ideal of democracy is America. ‘One person, one vote, building our world together, all equal,’ that’s the American ideal. You don’t get to that ideal from prosperity and power. You get to that ideal from shared prosperity, and shared power.
      It’s not a matter of building a new story. It’s a matter of peeling off the caked and cracking facepaint of might and glory and embracing the pure and simple story of equality hiding underneath.

      • ducktree says:

        The “old story”

        After 400 rounds on the Monopoly game board, you still end up losing because just as you’re getting ahead, the game board is thrown to the floor by your ‘host’ …

        then what are we to do?

          • readerOfTeaLeaves says:

            Equality: ‘one person, one vote’, makes a good story.
            Unfortunately, at present, it is complete, absolute, total bullshit.
            And everyone needs to understand why.

            For instance, Biden/Harris won by over 6,000,000 (possibly 7,000,000) votes.

            Ordinarily, we see ‘votes for Biden/Trump’ displayed on a map of states colored either ‘red’ or ‘blue’. This is a mischief that leads to widespread bamboozlement about US population asymmetries, and what that implies for:
            — the US senate,
            — US federal politics, and
            — US federal court appointments.

            If I go a handy Wikipedia list of ‘US States by Population’, and ignore US territories, how many states will it require to add up to a total population of 6,000,000?

            7 states.
            Reminder: 7 states = 14 senators.
            Which is 14% of the US senate.
            So let’s figure out which states those are, and then figure out the GOP/Dem breakdown:

            State = Population += US Population Totals
            WY = 578,759
            VT = 623,989 += 1,202,748
            AK = 731,545 += 1,934,293
            ND = 762,062 += 2,696,355
            SD = 884,659 += 3,581,014
            DE = 973,764 += 4,554,778
            RI = 1,059,361 += 5,614,139

            The difference between Biden/Trump may actually be closer to 7,000,000.
            Let’s add in an eighth state to see if that gets us closer to 7,000,000.
            We’ll add MT.

            MT = 1,068,778 += 6,682,917 total US population.

            Here is a breakdown of the senators that represent about 7,000,000 Americans:

            GOP = 9 US senators
            WY: Barrosso, Enzo
            AK: Murkowski, Sullivan
            ND: Hoeven, Cramer
            SD: Thune, Rounds
            MT: Daines

            DEM = 6 US senators
            VT: Leahy
            DE: Carper, Coons
            RI: Whitehouse**, J Reed
            MT: Tester

            IND = 1 US senator
            VT: Sanders

            But reminder: we are looking at around 7,000,000 out of a total US population of as much as 340,000,000

            So we should also ask, ‘what percentage of the US population do these senators represent?

            WY has 0.17% of total US population.
            To put it another way, WY has < 1/5th of 1% of the entire US population.
            And it has 2 GOP senators.
            It has a smaller population than LA, Miami, Houston, Atlanta, NYC, or even Seattle or Portland. But still, 2 US senators.
            How is that 'one person, one vote'?!

            VT has 0.19%, so almost 1/5th of 1% of the entire US population.
            And two senators, both of whom happen to be walking compendia of federal legislation.

            AK has 0.22%, or closer to 1/4th of 1% of the entire US population.
            And two GOP senators.

            Quick summary: 3 states = 6 senators.
            And so far, these 6 senators represent only about half (.58) of 1% of the entire US population.

            After AK, we come to ND’s population, which is 0.23% of total US population.
            So we are now at 8 senators — but we are not yet representing even 1% of the entire population of the U.S.

            So when we add our 5th least populous state, SD, we can now claim to represent 1.08% of the entire US population.
            Our fifth state gives us 10 US senators representing a mere 1% of the total population of the US.
            Let that sink in a moment…

            So if we now add DE’s 1/3rd of 1% of the entire US population, we are at 12 senate seats representing 1.37% of the total population.

            Adding in RI’s 1/3rd of 1% of the entire US population, we are still below a combined total of 2% of the US population controlling 14 senate seats.

            MT has a similarly small 1/3rd of 1% of the entire US population, and if we add it as our 8th state, we now have a combined total for these 8 states of 16 senators representing a mere 2.01% of the American population.
            16 senate seats.
            2% of the entire population.

            Any and everyone is welcome to double-check my math.
            My point remains: stop talking nonsense about ‘one person, one vote’.

            Mitch McConnell’s power rests, in part, upon the ‘one person, one vote’ mantra.
            It allows him, a man representing 1.35% of total US population, to continue controlling Federalist Society judicial appointments.

            We need a new story, because the old one cannot withstand the asymmetries between state population sizes and the archaic structure of the US senate. Our new story would need apportionments at least in the 1:4 range, rather than today’s 1:40.

            This comment was too long, but I could not figure out how to make my point with less information. Sometimes, as in this instance, the devil loves hiding in the details.


            ** FWIW, the times that I’ve seen Whitehouse, he punches above his weight. But he still has only one senate vote.

            • Johnny R. O'Neill says:

              Operative word: Ideal. To quote from my original post, “One person, one vote, building our world together, all equal,’ that’s the American ideal.”
              That we haven’t achieved that ideal, and that indeed much work needs to be done, I do not debate. But as an ideal to be worked towards and as a story we can all, as Americans, embrace, I believe it is good, grand, and worthy.
              America has never been, and never will, be perfect. A phrase in the preamble to the Constitution says it outright, “in Order to form a more perfect Union…” The framers knew full well of the immense work needed to achieve any ‘union’ at all, let alone a more perfect one. That we, after nearly 250 years of working at it, haven’t achieved it, doesn’t mean we should give up. It means we have work to do!
              The naysayers who try to turn the country against itself, saying we’re too fractured, need to grow up, cease their whining, and get to work. We have a country to rebuild. Everything you wrote in your reply, in broad terms, I already knew and have known for many, many years. Systemic imbalance was unknowingly built into our very Constitution. It shows up right in the name of this country: The United States of America. Not The United People, The United States. Trump and his minions have shown this nation, via people like you, that there is an imbalance. And what’s step one to fixing any problem: Acknowledging that there is one. So, hey, rejoice! We’re on the way!

              • readerOfTeaLeaves says:

                Frankly, I think that Biden and his group have nothing but opportunity.

                I also believe that senators representing such tiny populations lends itself to ‘gaming’ by oligarchic interests – whether finance, fossil fuels, Big Ag, or offshore interests. Extreme asymmetries make this system as a whole more brittle, and less stable. (And this is before mentioning the filibuster, which is brittleness on steroids.)

                It is critical at this moment, in adherence to the notion of ‘one person, one vote’ to unpack the nature of McConnell’s power, as well as the cultish nature of the GOP.

                The tail needs to stop wagging the dog. The dog has too many other, urgent needs.

                I still believe that ratios of 1:40 are not sustainable, particularly when you have people as entrenched and fundamentally undemocratic as McConnell and Graham.

                But I agree that discussions like this post are symptoms of progress.

    • my-name-is says:

      I concur with bmaz, that a constitutional convention may be quite scary.

      Many find the rigidity of the usual amendment process frustrating and problematic. It is certainly not nimble, a consequence of demanding a strong consenus. Yet, with one possible exception, the amendments have each made the US a more inclusive, equitable and democratic country. On the other hand, there are many laws, some good, some bad, some manifestly unjust, moved from thought into law by some passion of the time. I believe Joe Biden regrets passage of one of those in particular right now.

      Above all, I guess I think that the rigidity of the constitution is a constraint on aspiring authoritarians. Changing the constitution to give Trump indefinite terms in office, for example, is an almost insurmountable obstacle. But it is not in lots of other places, where constitutions seem to change all the time, and want-to-be strongmen hasten those changes to remain in power.

      • bmaz says:

        You probably will not be shocked to know that many attempts to rescind the 22nd Amendment have been put forth, starting in the mid 50s not long after it was enacted, and up to 2013 by a bozo Congressman from New York who wanted to keep Obama in office. You can bet that if Trump would have won a second term, it would have been put forth again.

        • Burrell Poe says:

          If we can’ have a constitutional convention because the results may be too scary then that represents a much more pessimistic and disturbing view of our society than Quinn painted. It seems the idea is that racists and plutocrats have the real power in our society and the constitution, however flawed, is our only protection from Elon Musk eating our puppies and David Duke from beating our grandmothers to death.

          This view ignores the power that millions of people on the streets showed in DC in 2016, in Minneapolis in May. We have power too. It’s time for our power to be codified into law as well.

          • bmaz says:

            What a bunch of hyperbole. Do you not believe in the Constitution, the citizens of this country, or the rule of law?

            Go to the streets. Vote. But don’t whine to me with the “oppression”. Get a grip.

            • Burrell Poe says:

              I do believe in the rule of law and the citizens of this country. Call me patriotic but I believe that citizens have to right to impose new laws if the laws that govern them are inept and atrophied. I want a constitution that guarantees me healthcare, that protects me from polluters and guarantees me work if I want to work.

              You may not agree with those guarantees but I don’t have to care. Because when we change the law, you’ll comply.

              • bmaz says:

                I may, or may not comply. But that is irrelevant because the thought that there will magically be a new Constitution exists only in fever dreams and drug induced stupors.

                And you can bet everything you have that if there ever were to be a Constitutional Convention your concerns will never make the cut.

                • Burrell Poe says:

                  I would gladly place a bet that I’m right about this. We will have a better constitution that guarantees some basic responsibilities from our government. It’s not magic, it’s not born from drug-induced mania, it’s called: HOPE.

                    • Burrell Poe says:

                      I looked up all of the Article V applications thus far and they lean to the right. So many I need to keep my house deed. But I have a jar full of coins that I would wager

                      I think many of us on the left are tired of being told to think small. Why does the Right get to have a virtual monopoly on using the law to bring about a more perfect union? Why do so many of us get angry when someone even poses this question? Why do we accept this as truth when most people actually support left leaning programs?

          • Rayne says:

            Your focus on the constitutional convention misses the fact that the convention can be convened by states’ governments.

            Article V
            The Congress, whenever two thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or, on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which, in either Case, shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as Part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States, or by Conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other Mode of Ratification may be proposed by the Congress; Provided that no Amendment which may be made prior to the Year One thousand eight hundred and eight shall in any Manner affect the first and fourth Clauses in the Ninth Section of the first Article; and that no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate.

            The problem with a states-based convention is that up until recently the partisan composition of the governors of the 50 states leaned right along with their states’ legislatures. There was a strong push by right-wing donors to ensure that either by gerrymandering in 2010 that Congress would move rightward, or that the states’ governors and legislatures would also move right. The ultimate intent was to amend the Constitution to form a theocratic government which would sustain white supremacy and minority rule; this has been the aim of the Council for National Policy since the 1980s.

            Yes, that’s fucking scary. It’s scarier you haven’t really seen the growing risk over the last decade-plus up to the present when there is finally some light at the end of the tunnel.

            The biggest single problem facing this country is insufficient citizen participation in civics. It was very easy for the rightward march to happen as long as the left sat on its hands, very nearly realizing the numbers needed at state level to call a convention. But 2016 was a wakeup call as well as a tipping point between generations. Between adults’ continued neglect or complete sell-out to the NRA putting an entire generation at risk daily for mass shootings in school, the mounting climate emergency which younger voters are far less likely to deny than their parents/grandparents, and the demographic shift from a white majority country toward a more diverse, inclusive society, Millennials and Gen Z are far more aware, educated, engaged — woke, you might say — and are less willing to roll over and play dead for the oligarchs who want a fascist theocratic government.

            The next biggest problem: assuming there’s something wrong with the Constitution when it has never really been applied.

            Like the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Do you really think that ALL citizens have received equal protection under the law? Mass voter suppression says nope. That’s not the fault of the Constitution but corruption between the White House and the Senate. And that in turn is the fault of the voters.

    • Badger Robert says:

      Its the constitution that is the problem.
      I think its TV, digital TV, and its capacity to influence passive viewers.
      This tendency towards autocracy was much weaker in the era of newspapers and magazines. Even early radio required active listening skills and it did entirely replace print media.
      But TV brings in participants who are not good readers and have a limited range of cosmopolitan experiences.
      As long as there is political TV, no constitution will prevent the rise of a political demagogue.

      • timbo says:

        think more along the lines of how our minds are colonized so that we end up with someone like Trump in charge. Idiocracy is a real thing, and it is lead by the need to get folks to stop thinking rationally and to just by the next notion that some advertiser can sear into our minds. TV is a part of that equation for sure. But so are the many memes our society puts before us with regard to notions of how freedom is created and destroyed, how and whom is exploiting or being exploited, how we are served or disserved by externalities, etc.

  3. jaango says:

    C’mon, Biden has no “vision” for a better America. And there is much to critique at a notion of a “Common Dream ” of a better society. To wit, our America will continue to be a neoliberal empire over the next twenty years.

    As a Chicano, and when I look to the future, America’s Anglo-oriented society will no longer be the ‘driving force’ of today, given that the demographics of today will no longer drive our future. Further, we, the Chicanos, well understand that wherever Anglos take America, we are obligated to follow, regardless of whether labeled Fascists or Socialists. Consequently, divisive politics has been America’s Common Dream, given that here in our wonderful Sonoran Desert, Anglos have utilized their ability to maintain Voter Suppression for these past one hundred years.

    Subsequently, when we, the cutting edge of progressive politics, to respond to a or in a similar behavior by using voter suppression as an imposition for punishing the ignorant and hate-mongered white vote, will seem appropriate that targets the Anglo voter since their is no platform for advocating Mandatory Voting by either the Republicans or the Democrats.

    Therefore, in the next 20 years, I will continue to await our Anglo-oriented Democracy, to ‘change’ in a constructive manner. Of course, my starting point starts with Biden’s Weekly Saturday Morning Bloggers Conference. and unfortunately, Anglos aren’t listening. And considered the establishment of a municipal-owned Internet News Network. And again Anglos aren’t listening. And further, Biden won’t be listening to Chicanos since he too cannot tell the difference between the ‘propaganda’ delivered to either Chicanos or the Tejanos..

    • timbo says:

      I’m not sure I’m for mandatory voting laws, although I used to lean toward that more heavily as a possible political necessity. Can you expound on your thoughts on mandatory voting a bit further?

  4. BobCon says:

    There’s a move to cast the struggles of down ballot Democrats as a problem of issues — people not liking Medicare for All or Defund the Police. The implication being that if the Democrats simply come up with a watered down version, they’d be OK, while progressives have pointed to the popularity of the minimum wage increase and pot legalization and said there were missed issues that should have been pushed harder.

    I think this is missing a fundamental problem, which is that there was no coherent message for downballot Democrats. Biden won because he managed to develop a coherent image for himself as a decent, non radical. It wasn’t an extremely potent image, but especially in contrast to Trump it worked. But it didn’t translate down ballot because once people got past the person, they had no sense of who Democrats are.

    Congressional leadership has been far to incoherent in putting together a vision of who they are. The GOP has core ideas, even if they are completely unbacked by policies, which voters know — growth, strength, predictability. These aren’t issues, they’re branding, and the GOP understands branding vastly better than the Democrats, and they also understand how to trash the brand of the Democrats far better.

    Democrats constantly complain about how the GOP contradicts itself on their message with this issue or that — how their brand of free speech warriors is undercut by speech restrictions at Liberty University or attacking Colin Kaepernick. But what the Democrats don’t get is that as long as the GOP pushes its messages forward, they gain traction regardless of legitimacy.

    The obvious danger is that the Democrats become a parallel to the GOP — that they push an agenda of tolerance, science and the environment that covers up intolerance, irrationality and exploitation. But it doesn’t have to be about buzzwords. It is absolutely possible for the Democrats to take a deep breath and decide they will do what a good company that has a branding problem does and press onward on both the image and the issues at the same time.

    Getting hung up on a laundry list of issues actually makes life harder for down ballot Democrats — if you’re trying to fight a charge of socialism without some unifying countervision, you are going to be stuck apologizing, backsliding, and confusing voters. But if you put the image of Democrats first, defend it, and use it in contrast to the GOP attack, you don’t find yourself trying to explain how expanding Medicaid isn’t really socialism.

    Even something like putting health care at the top of the Democratic agenda isn’t enough unless Democrats explain how it’s only a piece of our vision. We care about the wellbeing of Americans, and if the GOP thinks that’s a problem, well, that’s because they hate America.

    • kenster says:

      While I appreciate your points and I think we’re actually aligned on the whole “lack of message” part of your position, the outcomes of the Electoral College and the Senate over the last 40 years simply do not support your other underlying apparent position that being more left is the answer, at least in the short term (demographics may eventually become destiny, but they sure as heck didn’t this election). The Presidential and Senate results are continuing to become more clear, and that clarity is that the United States is, generally speaking and at least for now, continues to still be a center / center-right country. The vast majority of Americans do not believe in defunding the police, M4A or the GND or student loan forgiveness. Don’t look at the Twitter feeds and cable news shows that allege that most Americans agree with these policies and cite highly specifically constructed polls. You know how you confirm whether or not people agree with their views? On how people actually vote and who gets into office.

      If the Republicans succeed in getting one GA seat, they will retain control of the Senate, in a year that was a referendum on arguably the worst President in the history of the Republic. Dems lost seats in the House. Not good. Look at the battleground states where Dems lost:

      Maine – Center-right with a deeply Independent streak. Susan Collins won while voting with Donald Trump 67% of the time.

      North Carolina – Center-right, trending ever so slightly toward true center. Thom Tillis won while while voting with Donald Trump 93.4% of the time.

      Iowa – Center-right. Joni Ernst won while voting with Donald Trump 86.2% of the time.

      Georgia – Center-right, trending toward true center. If David Perdue wins, he will have won while voting with Donald Trump 94.9% of the time. If the execrable Kelly Loeffler wins, she will have won while voting with Donald Trump a perfect 100% of the time.

      In other words, the message I took away from this year was that Democratic moderates could have saved this election, but they were defeated by Republicans successfully hanging the albatross of defund the police, apologia on looting and rioting and the classic inability to understand that nuance and smug Dem-splaining does not win elections, clear moderate positions win elections, around Democrats’ collective neck. Trying to haughtily and condescendingly explain the nuance of the terms “socialism” and “defund the police” to those that disagree with you has always been, is and will continue to be, a losing battle. The only reason Trump didn’t win and we didn’t lose the House (although we came close because of AOC et al) is because Biden kept hammering a centrist, moderate, Dem + Rep unity message. There’s a reason why moderate House Democrats are furious about what happened and why so many got picked off in a year where they were supposed to surge.

      Finally, I know it’s inconvenient to mention, but it’s not a coincidence that the only Democrats that have been elected President since Carter are 2 resolute centrists.

      All to say, the answer to the question is most definitely not what Quinn is saying, which is the unfortunate distillation of the far left’s continuous drumbeat over the last 60 years of “this country’s so horrible the only way to fix it is to throw out everything and start over”.

      The answer is that, until demographics truly do become destiny in the next 5-10 years, we need to walk the line between carefully supporting left causes in left states and moderate causes in swing states, with a national moderate unity message that can be used the hammer the Republicans when they try their shenanigans.

      • BobCon says:

        The point to stress is that “Dem-splaining” isn’t the result of trying to defend socialism. It’s the result of getting stuck up in hypertechnical arguments and improvised cobbled together talking points lacking any kind of overriding message.

        The point is not to make socialism some kind of centerpiece argument. The point is to stop letting the GOP get inside the heads of Democrats about it. Biden succeeded where a number of Democrats did not in fighting off attacks by simply laughing at it and asking if people really believed that is who he was. Sherrod Brown has won that same way in Ohio by earning trust that his motivation on the economy isn’t some kind of allegiance to Marx, it’s because he’s a fighter for the people.

        Claire McCaskill lost as a split the difference mush mouth in a year when Missouri voted down a statewide union busting amendment by over 2-1. Nobody in Missouri knew what she really stood for, and that’s continued during her time on CNN.

        The Democrats keep getting slammed on organizing. The stories out of Florida are absurd — reporters talk about approaching the state GOP for information on their efforts, and getting immediate detailed county by county reports that tied into clear messaging. They approached the state Democrats and literally heard nothing for days. It’s not that the GOP message was dominant — it’s that there was no Democratic cohesion. And you can’t organize if you don’t know what you stand for.

        Biden kept things together in places like Wisconsin and Arizona in large part because his campaign understood the linkage between branding and organization, but it’s a point a bunch of Democrats failed to understand.

        Another piece is that there is a powerful cycle between creating your own message and defining your opponent, and by refusing to define your opponent you effectively short circuit your own ability to define yourself.

        Because Pelosi bent over backwards in 2019-20 to avoid any kind of coherent definition of Trump and the GOP with investigations and a coordinated PR campaign, she ended up severely weakening the ability of Democratic candidates to stand for anything. Leaving it up to voters to connect the dots between people as different as DeJoy, Pruitt, and Duncan Hunter Jr. doesn’t resonate — it’s critical to point out that they are not isolated phenomenon, they define who the GOP is, and Democrats stand out by pushing for government that works for the people, not for the powerful.

        This isn’t to say that message building is simply coming up with a slogan in a two hour focus group session and repeating it ad infinitum. It’s long, hard, complicated work that involves huge numbers of subtle adjustments, and in order to work in the long run, it has to be connected to serious policy. The GOP disconnect with serious policy is a big reason why Democrats are as competitive as they are. But unless they pick up their understanding of messaging — and to be fair, some are doing just that — they’re going to continue to struggle.

        • Rayne says:

          I don’t have it in me today to address many points in your comment. I do want to take exception to the premise we need “message building” even though you acknowledge we need more than a slogan.

          We need a new American narrative. The one we have now has been built over 244 years. The new one needs to build on top of the past one in a way that recognizes those Americans who’ve been erased and suppressed, and embraces the idea that America is a story of growth, a place where mistakes of the past can and will be recognized openly, and corrective action encouraged not just in policy and its realization in governance.

          The GOP’s mortal failure is in William F. Buckley’s description of a conservative: “A Conservative is a fellow who is standing athwart history yelling ‘Stop!'” This is ultimately nihilistic and will not build the new American narrative.

          Democrats’ issue is that it is a big tent — you say there’s “no Democratic cohesion” but the challenge is the wide embrace of every Democrat of every shade and shape. Their message needs to acknowledge that because it is essential to the new American narrative, and yet each representative in their own district needs outreach that fits their slice of a diverse nation. The leaders of the Democratic Party going forward need to do a better job of helping each district no matter if there’s an incumbent or not (I’m looking at you, DCCC, thank gods Bustos is going), or risk losing to a GOPer with a simple, childishly regressive message, “Stop!”

          • BobCon says:

            I think the distinction you draw between narrative and message building is a good one, where message building would be seen as a lot more particular and changeable.

            I think it’s fair to say that trying to be everything to everyone will fail, and the job of building a narrative needs to address what it means to be a citizen, what we need to give to this country and what we should be able to expect in return.

            It would talk about where we are going and how we hope to get there. Build a story that is strong enough to stand on its own and challenge the GOP to say otherwise. And then keep saying it over and over, and make the debate about the best way to achieve it. Because there is no way to become the America we want to be through more corporate tax cuts and trashing public schools and shutting down public health.

        • jmac says:

          The point is to stop letting the GOP get inside the heads of Democrats about it.

          Very True, but unfortunately the GOP has played their ‘long con’ to dumb down the American electorate nearly to perfection. It’s sad that there are so many who have no clue that socialism is not communism, but I fear we are about 30 years too late to do anything about it.

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        Your argument reads like a reprint from the octogenarian Democratic establishment.

        People say that hate “socialism” – not knowing what it really means – because they have been raised on the catechism of America’s extreme capitalism. But people love their mail, and if you touch their Social Security and Medicare, there will be hell to pay.

        People doubt those programs because for generations, the GOP has tried to run them into the ground and repeal them. They scream that those programs are running out of money and won’t pay a younger generation when their time comes – so why pay taxes for them now?

        For the same reason, some doubt the prospect of universal health care. They don’t believe Democrats would actually replace their employer plan (if they have one) with anything better. The GOP reinforces that message by talking about getting rid of ACA, but it never seems to have that promised replacement ready to talk about.

        One solution is to make programs work for the average Americans who need them, not plutocrats. People might reflexively dismiss “socialism,” but not real programs that work for them. Even Ayn Rand feverishly cashed her monthly Social Security check.

        Disabling the federal government is the GOP’s plan to prevent that. That’s because progressive programs work and attract votes. They demonstrate that government can and does work for the common woman. It’s why the GOP, on behalf of its patrons, hates it.

        • kenster says:

          You can denigrate my position all you want, but all I need to say is “scoreboard”. Humphrey 68. McGovern 72. Mondale 84. Dukakis 84. Clinton and Obama ran center and Dems were in the Presidency for 16 years. Not bad for an “octogonarian establishment”. Obama and a fully Dem Congress managed to get the ACA passed and expending even that political capital resulted in partial decimation in 2010 and full decimation in 2012 even with Obama winning. But yes, please let’s keep running far left candidates and ideas front and center and see where that gets us. This is also why Quinn’s position is so far off and why Bmaz gets so pissed off, it posits a rose colored glasses world that doesn’t exist and won’t exist.

          Rayne has it exactly correct. We need a new American narrative that can be sculpted and compartmentalized as necessary to appeal to all districts.

          • MB says:

            Clinton certainly was a “centrist”, if the definition of centrist is “anti-labor union” and “pro-Wall Street”. The worst thing he did was allow banking deregulation in the late ’90s which led in short order to the 2008 debacle. He basically sold his soul to Republicans after his failed impeachment.

            Obama had the singular advantage/disadvantage of being the first black president. So being centrist, among other things, increased his chances of for avoiding assassination. In 2008, I feared he wouldn’t last out his first term.

            Humphrey was certainly a centrist, especially in comparison to RFK and Eugene McCarthy who ran against him in the primaries, and yet he still lost in 1968. Same with Mondale in 1984.

            So your argument that “far-left” candidates are the bane of the Democratic party and the centrism is a winning strategy fall apart considering these facts, to my eye. In fact, the Democratic party has never really had a “far left” presidential candidate, let alone a winner.

  5. greengiant says:

    The old myth could not pass the Equal Rights Amendment.
    Consider the increase in turnout with Trump’s 2020 spread increase in 30 to 65 year olds compared to 2016. That age is the nexus of those empowered who are challenged by
    equality, wealth transfer by oligarchy and kleptocracy, globalization and the Covid economy.

    The 18-29 year olds increased the spread for Biden from +19 to +24. They are America’s future.

  6. jo6pac says:

    Sadly but expected biden isn’t going to change anything and might in the end of his 4yrs might just elect another trump.


    His new govt. is just bush the lesser and obama liberal neo-conns reinstalled in govt. The corp. owned demodogs and repugs have no reason to change because they are the gate keepers for the 1%

    I do wish it wasn’t true but sadly here we are.

      • bmaz says:

        Naw, they really don’t. CU is right that money is First Amendment speech in politics. The real culprit is Buckley v. Valeo.

        • Steve13209 says:

          IANAL, but can we look back to Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific R. Co., 118 U.S. 394 (1886) as being the start of many problems. This, combined with campaign donations as a 1st Amendment right, creates an imbalance of 1st Amendment power. Individuals die, limiting their ultimate free speech power. Corporations can live forever.

          What about a Constitutional Amendment that Corporations are not people? Would that balance things a little better?

          • bmaz says:

            Ooof, that is a really long conversation for another day. I would note that Santa Clara did not really do it in and of itself, as it was really throw away dicta, and arguably mostly in the synopsis. It was not really precedent in the least. But it took hold, and here we are.

            I am not sure there will be a Constitutional amendment anytime soon. But the consequences of that as one would be immense. The entire tax code would hang in the lurch, as well as much of the civil and bankruptcy code. The undertaking would be beyond massive.

            It is appealing. Like rewriting the Constitution, however, be careful what you ask for.

            • timbo says:

              A rewrite of the way agency works in our legal system is almost certainly necessary if we are to actually bring this Republic around to once again strengthening individual autonomy, right to physical integrity, etc. The commodification of our own essence for profit by others is well underway here in the US. Arguably the trend is world wide but it seems to be at least more reined in in Europe, where privacy laws, and corporate responsibility towards society and individuals seems to be a more enforced principle than here. Elsewhere not so much, alas.

              In fact, one can see that Brexit is to some significant extent about attempts to exploit English labor, it’s “human fields” for elite benefit, rather than remaining in a more prohibitive, less “permissive”, environment of individual exploitation and privacy abuse that EU human rights and growing body of privacy laws, etc, were beginning to stymie. Thus, our own plutocrats and oligarchs have no doubt fought to chip England away from the protections for individuals that the EU was building, and hence the support for Brexit in many quarters that are aligned with increasing these abuses for profit. The fact that Russia benefits from a strategic standpoint with Brexit, that China benefits diplomatically and economically, etc, is obvious. Less obvious but nonetheless true, the more exploitative aspects of US economic human commodification engines are pushing for even more “access” to “the data” on ever more people around the world, and poor England is a symptom of that ill trend.

              So, yes, we need to strength individual rights to control one’s own autonomy, to control one’s rights to not be exploited by auto-opt-in laws and regulations, to control one’s own body and physical person as something some incorporated artificial construct cannot own without explicit and clear permission from each one of us, the individual. We must move away from the current seeming deference to business interest of just opting us all into the data Leviathan that we seem to have been building here for many years now.

          • gmoke says:

            Yale Law School Professor Thurman W Arnold was laughing at and arguing against the stupidity of “corporate personhood” in his 1937 book The Folklore of Capitalism. We’ve been circling this drain for a long, long time.

            • earlofhuntingdon says:

              Unqualified corporate personhood at any rate. The idea’s origins are suspect, a gloss from a S.Ct. clerk, recording dicta in a head note in Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific (the Amazon-Google of its day). Under then current practice, that was considered part of the opinion. It wasn’t really: the dicta came from introductory remarks by the Chief Justice.

              That said, RRs, particularly the Southern Pacific (a behemoth), was constantly before the courts in attempts to expand its rights and monopoly. Many senior judges and lawyers were former or current Southern Pacific lawyers. Its largesse was copious, even by the standards of the day.


              • P J Evans says:

                IIRC, Sprint started from the phone lines that SP owned along its rights-of-way. They still own a lot of land, even after spinning off a chunk of their real-estate business.

              • earlofhuntingdon says:

                Southern Pacific remains very much a big company. And after the federal government, it’s still the biggest landowner in California.

                It devotes a lot of resources to burnish its image and stay out of the limelight. But in its heyday, it rivaled the empires of J.P. Morgan, Ford, and the DuPonts (who long owned General Motors as a subsidiary).

            • earlofhuntingdon says:

              Thurman Arnold, later founder of DC’s Arnold & Porter (now merged with NYC’s Kaye Scholer), was a keen proponent of antitrust law, too. That tool of governance hasn’t fared well the last forty years either.

              • P J Evans says:

                True – if it were applied, there would be a lot fewer billionaires.
                The annual course we had at work, which amounted to “introduction to anti-trust law for non-lawyers”, made it clear that it’s about maintaining competition, though it only used small-business examples.

        • Ed Walker says:

          Money isn’t the issue. Dem senate candidates had huge amounts of money in NC, SC, IA, ME, KY, and others I can’t remember, and lost badly. I can’t imagine what those candidates did with all that money, but we’ll know soon enough, and maybe we can learn.

          Compare that with the outcomes in GA where Stacey Abrams organized voter registration and turnout in a solid red state and beat all expectations. There’s a lesson there.

          • bmaz says:

            Yes. The voter registration and engagement thing is what finally started turning the tide here too (not that does not take some money, of course). It started with the Adios Arpaio movement a while back, and they kept working it, especially in the minority communities. Took a bit, but it paid off.

    • BobCon says:

      We really don’t know where he is headed, and comparisons to Obama don’t make sense. If you had told anyone on November 22 2002 that the president-elect in six years would be someone named Barrack Hussein Obama, they would call for someone with a net. We don’t know what is in store.

      For a silly spell people kept thinking of 2020 as a parallel to 1968, and we are headed into a similar cycle of comparing 2021 to 2009. We have no idea if the GOP will react the same way as in 2009, we don’t know what the public reaction to the radicalization of the Supreme Court will be, we don’t know where the economy is headed, we don’t know what surprises may be ahead.

  7. fastenbulbous says:

    Unpopular opinion: It doesn’t matter. The conditions that we require to live on this planet are rapidly disappearing. No country will matter. It’s not America that’s over, it’s Homo sapiens and we are going to take most life on the planet with us. As long as the power elite are making money nothing will change….

    • Sandwichman says:

      In short, “It is easier now to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism,” which is NOT a call to imagine the end of the world. Just the opposite. “America” is not the problem. CAPITALISM and the way that the U.S. creed has been redefined as capitalism uber alles is the problem. As H. Bruce Franklin pointed out in the essay that end-of-the-world expression was paraphrased from, ending capitalism holds the possibility of a BETTER WORLD, a MORE democratic U.S.A., a “Constitution” that is respected as a flawed but innovative first step rather than a pseudo-Gospel.

      • Rayne says:

        First, we aren’t a true capitalist country. We are a mixed economy, one of the improvements we made over time (and mostly by way of Democrats); this country has been at its best when entrepreneurship is encouraged while Americans who aren’t entrepreneurs are adequately rewarded for their labor, and the vulnerable protected from vagaries of human-made and natural challenges.

        Second, it’s corruption, not capitalism, which is the problem. If corruption *in every form* from simple wage theft to regulatory capture was both discouraged and punished, we wouldn’t even be having this exchange. What’s overtaken the White House is rampant corruption; what’s controlling the Senate is the same. It’s the reason why income inequality is so damned bad (see Piketty’s Capital). If we focused on corruption we might have a crack at a better narrative.

        • Sandwichman says:

          “First, we aren’t a true capitalist country.”

          Second, there is NO SUCH THING as a true capitalist country. Third, there is no such thing as a true socialist, communist or “mixed economy.” These are all abstractions. They are abstractions that might be used to open a conversation… or they might be used to close off a conversation.

          When I use the word capital-ism, I am quite aware that the “ism” didn’t appear until towards the end of the 19th century. Yet the analysis of CAPITAL preceded that ism by decades. Up to a certain point, there is nothing to complain about the social & moral effects of the accumulation of capital. Beyond that point the further accumulation of capital proceeds only with what you call “rampant corruption.”

          We are beyond that point.

          • Rayne says:

            If there’s no such thing as a “true capitalist country,” why are you yelling about capitalism alone? Back up, start at the beginning and check the definition of capital which underpins capitalism.

            As long as the current definition is accepted — capital as the means of production and construed to mean land or cash — that’s part of our problem. Those with control of land/cash are in a position of power (insert Lord Acton’s quote here) over those that don’t have it with little incentive to change the dynamic unless there is a steeply negative cost to doing otherwise (i.e., stiff checks on corruption). An economy based on knowledge places value on something every single human has in varying degrees, with the possibility it is unlimited. Land, raw materials, labor are worth little unless there is human knowledge to make something of them.

            Revisit what Adam Smith wrote about capital, “that part of man’s stock which he expects to afford him revenue,” and think about that in the context of human knowledge.

            And then figure out how to migrate from a very old land/cash-based economy to a true knowledge economy which is little d democratic. We can only address corruption until then to check power borne of land/cash.

            • Sandwichman says:

              “An economy based on knowledge places value on something every single human has in varying degrees…”

              Are you familiar at all with Elinor Ostrom’s work on common-pool resources? Your use of value sounds like “we really value your contribution.” It doesn’t cut it as an economic category. Of course knowledge “has value” — air has value, water has value, your opinions have value. But they don’t necessarily have economic value. That’s where exclusion comes in. If you can’t exclude others from using your valuable knowledge without paying you, your valuable knowledge has no economic value.

              There is a pamphlet published 200 years ago this coming February or March that analyzes capital much more systematically than Adam Smith did and much more consistently than David Ricardo. It is called “The Source and Remedy of the National Difficulties as Deduced from Principles of Political Economy in a Letter to Lord John Russell.”

              Karl Marx noticed this pamphlet and cited it at length with much approval in notebooks that were published posthumously. One of those citations occurs in a passage of the Grundrisse that became quite famous as the climax of the “fragment on machines.” The passage is about AN ECONOMY BASED ON KNOWLEDGE! So what you are trying to say has been well anticipated. The passage begins:

              “Capital itself is the moving contradiction, [in] that it presses to reduce labour time to a minimum, while it posits labour time, on the other side, as sole measure and source of wealth.”

              You can read the rest here.

              • Sandwichman says:

                Or here…

                “Capital itself is the moving contradiction, [in] that it presses to reduce labour time to a minimum, while it posits labour time, on the other side, as sole measure and source of wealth. Hence it diminishes labour time in the necessary form so as to increase it in the superfluous form; hence posits the superfluous in growing measure as a condition – question of life or death – for the necessary. On the one side, then, it calls to life all the powers of science and of nature, as of social combination and of social intercourse, in order to make the creation of wealth independent (relatively) of the labour time employed on it. On the other side, it wants to use labour time as the measuring rod for the giant social forces thereby created, and to confine them within the limits required to maintain the already created value as value. Forces of production and social relations – two different sides of the development of the social individual – appear to capital as mere means, and are merely means for it to produce on its limited foundation. In fact, however, they are the material conditions to blow this foundation sky-high. ‘Truly wealthy a nation, when the working day is 6 rather than 12 hours. Wealth is not command over surplus labour time’ (real wealth), ‘but rather, disposable time outside that needed in direct production, for every individual and the whole society.’ (The Source and Remedy etc. 1821, p. 6.)”

                See that “The Source and Remedy etc.” at the end?

                Why doesn’t (hardly) anyone follow up on footnotes??? What do they think the bloody footnotes are for? Ornament?

          • Mitch Neher says:

            The above is in response to Rayne’s comment about fighting corruption in lieu of overthrowing the capitalist system.

        • Sandwichman says:

          There are two kinds of wage theft: illegal wage theft and legal wage theft. What you call “simple wage theft” is presumably the illegal variety. There is more illegal wage theft in the U.S. each year than all other property crimes combined. How many employers are in prison for it?

          The LEGAL wage theft that occurs each year is incalculable. No statistics are kept because “it’s all good.” My estimate would be around 25% of labor income. That would be roughly two and half trillion dollars annually. But who’s counting? Nobody.

          So what if it’s less than half my estimate? “Only” a trillion a year in LEGAL wage theft. But never mind. Nothing to see here. Move along.

        • readerOfTeaLeaves says:

          …Second, it’s corruption, not capitalism, which is the problem. If corruption *in every form* from simple wage theft to regulatory capture was both discouraged and punished, we wouldn’t even be having this exchange.

          A thousand times, ‘yes!!!’

        • timbo says:

          We are an increasingly an exploited populace, increasingly being auto-opted-in to an obsequious and pernicious data chattelhood. The cynicism of our growing data enchattlement is a seeming component of growing exploitative legal arc in the US, pushed by an odd combination of ill-considered data-utopian idealism and bottomline ROI techno corpocrats bankrolled by Adwarian gravy trains. We are the coals that stokes the furnace of these trains, our rights slowly burned away year after year as our lives are invaded, dissected, and reconstructed and redirected in obvious and devious ways, an unseemly progression that continues down a rickety and dangerous track…

  8. Aging Peasant says:

    It is easy to fall into pessimism these days. I sometimes fall victim myself. But as I am old I remember other times and other struggles lost, times when the prospect of progressive success was even further away than it is today. One of the reasons the reaction of the right is as furious as it is today is because they are closer to losing than ever before. They know it, and will stop at nothing as a result. Structural change may not be possible now, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t possible ever. Events which create the conditions for change are random and unpredictable, like our current pandemic. We don’t even yet understand the full implications of this crisis. What could be next? Another pandemic, an environmental catastrophe, a war in the South China Sea? Something that turns Texas blue, for example – say an extended crushing drought – and all the calculations change.
    We do need a new story of America. I fervently hope we can create a better one. In the meantime, we must stay involved, fight the battles that arise, and look for our main chance, whenever it should occur.

    • coral says:

      One point here is that things that seem impossible today may well be possible tomorrow. For example, passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts in 1964 and 1965. Medicare, and, for all its flaws, Obamacare (ACA). The legalization and federal acceptance of same-sex marriage is also a huge change.

      So while I agree that there is much that is flawed in the US Constitution, I continue to be optimistic about the possibility of amending it–especially to get rid of the Electoral College.

      As for American Exceptionalism, I have always found that to be a poisonous concept, validation of a self-glorifying imperialism that resulted in nefarious repression of Central and South America, the Philippines, Southeast Asia, and beyond. So, please, if that is gone, thank the Lord.

      We do need a common unifying idea of America that encompasses all of us. I feel it is within sight and just beyond our grasp–basically a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people”. That is what Trump, and white nationalists and nativists have been at war against from the earliest days of nationhood. A vigorous pursuit of voting rights, and a vigorous attempt to abolish, in whatever way possible, the Electoral College are the necessary next steps toward getting closer to that vision.

      • timbo says:

        I’d settle for reining in exploitative usury in lending in the US. Just that alone would solve a few of the problems faced here. I strongly doubt Yellin is going to work hard to do that if she gets the nod for Treasury… so where is there hope for even minor victories such as this? No, it seems that the irresponsible and dangerous economic policies of recent might get some sort of makeover but they won’t be intrinsically different from the past two decades of growing debt serfdom for tens of millions of us that seems to be a large component of the US financial elite plan.

  9. Jeff Landale says:

    I’m surprised that someone who spent her grad school time with Deleuze puts so much stock in mythmaking and the representational aspects of storytelling!

    Beyond “that document and some fanciful notions about reason and Enlightenment” there was also the incredibly strong anti-Catholic sentiment that drove us to secede (Quebec Act of 1774), over 100 years of Whiggism, the brute financial facts of illegal land claims that needed to pay off and the war debts that were never going to be repaid until Hamilton and his buddies scooped them up for pennies, the Christian impulse that drove Winthrop and countless others like him to build model (patriarchal, theocratic) communities of small farmers, the story the farmers in Shay’s Rebellion told themselves, the story the Pennsylvanians in the Whiskey Rebellion told themselves, and the story George Washington told himself when he marched federal troops on them and forced oaths of loyalty to prisoners who spent weeks freezing in jail awaiting their threatened executions.

    My point is that even in the period you’re talking about, there were multiple competing, overlapping, irreconcilable, or convergent stories being told, some of which were forgotten over the next few centuries, some revived, and some which grew continuously in a living tradition, while new ones joined. The Civil War and the various rebellions and uprisings that have been violently put down show that revolutionary and reactionary violence are a normal, recurring part of this nation.

    For whatever it’s worth, the people who are keeping each other fed, housed, and safe despite the malice of Trump and our governors Republican and Democrat alike (shoutout to Mayor Bowser here in DC) are relearning a very old story about solidary and mutual aid that’s not tied to religion or family. But it’s a true story, based on what we’re living (and dying) through. Maybe I’m being uncharitable in my reading of this post, but mythmaking superimposed on top of our experiences rather than arising out of them is just pablum that WSJ and WaPo op-ed writers tell themselves to feel heightened and sophisticated.

    This is much narrower in focus, but what does need a new story/some mythmaking grounded in experience and analysis is about hacktivism (national and international), natsec dissidence, and anti-imperialism and their stance towards and relationship with authoritarianism…

    • Quinn Norton says:

      Mutual aid and solidarity have always relied on mythmaking and story telling, and they’ve used more mediums for it; not just written, but oral and artistic. Think of the songs of Joe Hill, and the murals of California and Mexico.

          • bmaz says:

            What a load of shit. It is the system we have, maybe you ought think about working to better it from within rather than wanting to blow it up for some ridiculous pie in the sky garbage that eliminates capitalism

            • Sandwichman says:

              My “pie in the sky” doesn’t involve blowing anything up. It involves working less. Literally, working less. What do I mean by working less? Shorter hours of… “BUT WE CAN’T AFFORD TO WORK LESS. THINK OF THE POORS.” Piffle. We work at Bullshit Jobs, to use the late, great David Graeber’s phrase. And most of us work more hours than is optimal for output, many more hours than is optimal for worker welfare. You want data? I got data. You want to make up straw men to attack? Do it in your bathroom where the rest of us don’t have to smell it.

            • Max404 says:

              If I had a penny for each time bmaz says “load of shit” I could stop worrying about the state of humanity and just kick back and enjoy my retirement. I just wonder, however, if he uses the expression while arguing before a judge, whose opinion actually does matter to him. “Your honor, that’s a load of shit. I rest my case.”

              • Sandwichman says:

                That’s one of the pillars of the deference system. The more deference one has to pay to one’s designated superiors, the more contempt one shows to one’s imagined inferiors.

        • emptywheel says:

          Now you’re just aggressively misreading anything Quinn says. You had your rant in her thread. This is about a different topic which she is on point for.

      • Jeff Landale says:

        Yeah, but the myths and stories don’t precede it, and they weren’t hegemonic/common/shared by a majority.

        • Sandwichman says:

          No. The “anti-communist” reflex is strong here as it is generally in the U.S. I doubt the people who patrol the boundaries of respectable discourse are aware of doing it and I suspect their anti-communism is defensive. One need not be a Communist (or a communist) to get picked up on this red-dar. There are certain terms and forms of analysis that are inherently suspect and earn immediate rebuke.

          It just so happens that those terms and forms of analysis are very pertinent to the situation we find ourselves in. As long as that kind of talk is quarantined it can remain easier to talk about the apocalypse and/or utopia than what to do about our predicament.

          Not to put too fine a point on it, “Joe Hill,” “solidarity,” “commodity fetish” and “capital” are “trigger” words.

          • Mitch Neher says:

            Now, now, now . . . Everything you’ve written thus far strongly suggests that you know full well that The Wobblies were not “communists.”

            Likewise, the old picket line song “Which Side Are You On” is not “communist” either.

    • Nehoa says:

      I like your point about multiple, competing stories. I think we have had such multiple, competing stories throughout our nation’s history, and that continues through today.
      We are a nation with many contributors. Each has something of value to give to the country, and a story to tell. I am not sure that we need “a” story, but rather we need to listen to more stories, particularly ones we are not familiar with. The silos of news and discussion need to have their walls opened up and more visitors from the outside.
      I grew up in a very diverse community, and through our differences, and our understanding of those differences, we became, at another level, one community.

      • P J Evans says:

        I’d go for “good stew” rather than “melting pot” as an analogy to work with. Stew doesn’t make the ingredients into something unrecognizable, but into something where all contribute to the result without disappearing completely.

  10. Kelly says:

    I agree that a common narrative is what is necessary – adding the adjective “accepted”; a common accepted story is what is necessary to not be a schizophrenic nightmare of a country.

    The accepted part requires some very different thinking, and doesn’t depend on legal structures like the constitution. It depends on people’s attitudes to change, in my opinion.

    For example, white christian evangelicals would have to accept the notion of equality with POC nones. There isn’t a bigger attitudinal mountain to climb in this country – we’re seeing it now. When the concept of “Christian Nation” is dead and discredited, there will be room for the new story.

    We might need a new story, but we’re not going to get it – any time soon.

    • bmaz says:

      Ah Kelly Kelly Kelly, it does indeed depend on the legal structures like the constitution. That is the framework through which people effect their “attitudes to change”.

        • bmaz says:

          That is ridiculous. The Constitution has been around from the start. It is literally what all government officers, and all members of the military swear allegiance to. It underpins all law. So, yeah, it is literally the framework for our republican form of democracy.

          • timbo says:

            The Articles of Confederation were around before that though. I know you’re aware of that, of course. And that the Convention Clause is in the current Constitution because it was thought best to have a legal basis to call another such Convention if thought wise, rather than try to pull another fast one like the Framers were accused of doing… until they seemed to be on the road to a potentially successful redo and reticent States sent delegations finally to participate.

            But, aye, that is the lesson, of course. The first Convention was called to make sure that all the States were able to pay off the debt for the Continental Congress’ war bond obligations from the essentially successful but costly Revolutionary War. And so, yep, precedent seems to indicate that another Constitutional Convention would likely be about economic affairs on a grand scale should they be in a right mess. Now there are reasons to believe that we are in a period of intellectual stagnation that prevents us from changing our thought processes towards an economy that does not breed so much rhetorical nonsense about “living wages” and “real jobs” in our increasingly roboto-industrial, ever more efficient economy… Conservatively, changing things Amendment by proposed Amendment is l likely the stabler way for going about things…but if those things cannot be done, won’t be done, then we may well be headed towards another civil war and/or societal warping of what individual and collective freedom and liberty within a commonwealth under a Constitution should be about.

  11. pdaly says:

    This Washington Post article looked at the leading variables that might explain the 2020 voting patterns.

    “ “Counties where voters feel better off today than four years ago swung toward Biden,” said James Chung, co-founder of StratoDem Analytics, which studies local economic trends. “Counties that declined over the past four years were more likely to shift even more to Trump.”

To be sure, Chung found that — as exit polls have shown — education and race most strongly explained voting patterns, but they were followed closely by a county’s economic performance. The economy often decides elections, but the surprise in this case was that good economic performance didn’t appear to favor the incumbent.”

    It doesn’t explain why counties with poor economic performance would continue to vote for more of the same.

    Seems that messaging is more important than reality to win the support of the rural blue collar areas.

    • emptywheel says:

      Yeah, that’s part of the issue. It was always true that for many voters it was more about tribe than anything else. But Trump’s resentment, victimization story is working with the people it should least of all. Until Dems start telling a better story–and it’s an uphill climb with the tribalism and death of local media–many will continue to vote agains self-interest.

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        Wholeheartedly agree. Establishment Dems took a “build it and they will come approach,” but failed to build anything. They sat on the bench and expected Trump to lose the game on his own. Their game plan worked out almost as well as their impeachment. Meanwhile, NYC is still counting votes.

        Establishment Dems abandoned politics for fundraising. Before they craft a better message, they’ll have to start doing politics again.

        Joe Biden’s win depended on people outside the power structure. It relied a hundred Stacey Abrams and Ocasio-Cortezes, and many thousands of local and state volunteers. Now they want inside. Biden would be a fool to hire familiar has beens, while keeping them out.

      • coral says:

        The media landscape is a big part of this search for a common story, that is the changes of the last 40 years after the end of the fairness doctrine, the rise of right-wing talk radio, Fox news, cable, and the internet. All this has led to the extreme polarization of the electorate and the two political parties. The problem is less of finding the right story, than of finding an avenue for popularizing that story across party/ideological lines.

        Whether people will hear, listen to, or accept a story depends more on who is telling it than on its actual content. Obama tried to tell a very unifying story (no red or blue states, just the United States), and look how the GOP just tore into that. Trump can literally say ANYTHING, and millions of people will adopt those views no matter how much they contradict what they were saying the day before.

          • timbo says:

            Hmm. That’s not the conclusion to draw from the report. Rather, the conclusion to draw is that the Supreme Court would likely apply strict scrutiny to Cable and Satellite broadcasters but still likely allow the Fairness Doctrine for OTA broadcasters. The paper points out though that the regulations themselves have been amended and current law likely would have to be changed back to earlier laws for the FCC to implement a new Fairness Doctrine on broadcasters.

      • Ruthie says:

        People often assume that Trump supporters who voted against their economic interests did so unknowingly, but I’m not so sure. I, myself, also vote against my economic interests- at least as narrowly understood – because I place a higher value on living in a fair and just society than on money. It’s entirely possible that lower income Trump voters are doing the same, although what they value more than money diverges wildly from what I do.

        • Ed Walker says:

          This is an excellent point. It’s difficult to imagine why abstract issues like abortion and guns and even racism carry so much weight for so many, but in a way, abstract issues like equality, fairness, justice and common purpose carry a lot of weight for me, even more than my economic interest narrowly understood.

      • readerOfTeaLeaves says:

        I can tell from listening to several acquaintance that ‘The Apprentice’ has had a huge, long term impact on their attitudes about business, and about Trump. (Which is why he is unique and no one can take his place.)

        Michael Deaver once said, “In the competition between the eye and the ear, the eye wins every time.”

        People who watched season after season of The Apprentice were affected by it. The ‘pictures in their heads’ still see ‘Trump as a successful business man…’ and they are not able to override those images. No matter what anyone tells them, their imagery of Trump is still of a strong, vibrant, successful business man. The GOP got lucky that millions of Americans got confused and mistook Trump for the GOP.

        Those of us who did not have a lot of imagery of Trump as successful in our brains have had a far easier time seeing him as a criminal.

        For all the punditry about speeches or debates or campaign strategies, IMVHO Biden was approachable and human because of two things:
        (1) his epic trolling, cycling with his family after Trump called him decrepit…. no need to engage in the gutter swill, just keep pedaling along with excellent balance, actions louder than words….
        (2) photos of Biden driving his classic …? Corvette? I can’t tell you the people that I know who do a double-take if they see a Corvette, especially a classic, especially well maintained. The males in my family pretty much turn to putty at the sight of a well maintained classic car. Anyone who has one, or owns one, or restores one, is obviously competent, interesting, and reasonably capable.

        Biden could get a lot more mileage with that Corvette explaining to Americans how its next version is going to be all electric: America can take power from the wind and sun, avoid foreign entanglements, and still have a kick-ass auto industry.

        It may be mundane and not all that constitutional or political.
        But Americans love cars.
        And the trauma of what’s happened to the car industry has savaged this nation.
        Biden needs to drive his Corvette and explain what the newest model will look like, where it will be manufactured, who will do the engineering, how it will be powered, and why when all that happens, every one of us wins.

    • MissingGeorgeCarlin says:

      “It doesn’t explain why counties with poor economic performance would continue to vote for more of the same.”

      Edmund Bergler’s “Psychological Masochism” would… and the fact that slitting their own throats is a small price to pay to ‘own the libs’, etc.

      • skua says:

        from N Hertz at ft.com
        “Arendt writes that for those characterised by “isolation and lack of normal social relationships . . . it is through surrendering their individual selves to ideology that [they] rediscover their purpose and self-respect”. Loneliness, or “the experience of not belonging to the world at all”, is, Arendt writes, “the essence of totalitarian government . . . the preparation of its executioners and victims”.

        (Though I’m thinking Arendt missed the mark with “self-respect”. “Self-inflation” might be closer to what happens.)

  12. pdaly says:

    From the same Washington Post article, this statistic surprised me:

    “In 2020, Biden won 490 counties that account for 70 percent of the U.S. economy, while Trump won 2,534 counties amounting to just shy of 30 percent of the economy, according to an analysis by Mark Muro, senior fellow at the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution, and his team.”

    Apparently the counties with the most economic power were more evenly divided in picking between George W Bush (45%) and Gore (55%) in the 2000 presidential election.

    Despite the GOP being a party of the billionaires, its base is increasingly the have-nots.

    • BobCon says:

      I think one thing people need to keep in mind is that the GOP isn’t a single tribe any more than Afghanistan is a single people. The GOP squeaked out a win in 2016 in large part because the GOP tribes united under a single mythmaker, but it didn’t work that way in 2008 or 2012.

      I think there will be a split between Trumpists and non-Trumpists now that he (knock on wood) will be out of office. How deep that split will be is unclear, but it is not hard to see a situation where one faction goes harder and harder toward NeoNazism in order to secure the right wing, another faction realizes that they can’t compete on those grounds and tries to push a Larry Hogan style message.

      There were a lot of failed comparisons between 1968 and 2020, but it is not inconceivable that we see a George Wallace third party run that splits the GOP. Or, it is possible that they find a compromise candidate who splits the difference but fails to ignite the same level of support.

      What happens with the Democrats is also up in the air. There may be a call to go for a low stakes grab for less conservative Republicans, as well as a push for a higher risk, bigger reward of moving toward being a people’s party. Of course like anything else, it will depend on the abilities of the people involved.

      • MissingGeorgeCarlin says:

        Don’t something like 80-90% of Republicans believe DJT had the election stolen from him? The Qanon BS is also wildly popular with them. I never understood the ‘cult of personality’ until 2015-20. I hope you’re right and some of them crawl back towards reality.

  13. Peacerme says:

    Wow! I missed a few weeks and have been catching up. I am sitting in profound gratitude for this site. The dialectical opportunity laid out so clearly in these posts.

    Yes, Marcy I believe we need a new story. But mostly we need the truth. The whole picture. Validity. It feels we are on the brink of a new paradigm. As a mental health therapist, I know I won’t live to see the flip, but it’s happening. It’s a race. Do we see the truth before the truth gets us? Because the truth is marching on regardless.

    The story must include an understanding of the underlying hidden, paradigm of power and control. Some of us see it and react to it on a macro level. This site as much as I love it, demonstrates my observations about this.

    Those using and benefitting from power and control are loathe to give it up. So they hide the story. Denial is a physiological reaction to shame. Shame is so dangerous because it is a sword that cuts the user as it cuts the victim. It perpetuates an endless cycle similar to addiction. Without the authoritarian or power and control paradigm humans thrive in harmony to a much higher degree. (Minoans and some American Indian tribes, African tribes for example)

    Power and control literally causes mental illness. See the massive research on trauma and the brain.

    We need a story that validates this fundamental truth, that violence harms the human brain and interferes with the brains capacity to learn and know reality. It hurts the whole human race. Not some of us but all of us.

    Mounds of research moving away from Hares work on sociopathy and psychopathy that minimized and denied this truth.

    What is invalidated over and over? What is the part we keep leaving out? What is the part that we will not tell. And why? Because we have all been wounded by the invalidation of it. And those at the top of privilege often the most wounded of all. The mental illness of privilege and power while simultaneously denying the wound.

    Hurt people hurt people. See Lewis on serial killers on death row. We finally realized that when you simply ask a killer if he has been abused he will say “no”. He may even claim an idyllic childhood. The more power and control, the more invalidation. (In the form of minimize, deny and blame).

    This invalidation technique erases the memory and distorts the truth. We cannot change what we don’t accept. So we sit here in an endless loop of denial. Those in power keep themselves safe by using micro level of power and control in relationships. It’s in our penal system, our schools, our commerce (slavery and oppression). It’s in our marriages, our child rearing, our entire story depended on it. And so yes, the truth sets us free.

    Power and control is the use of negative emotions like shame, fear, guilt, and disgust to control or persuade someone.

    Gottman’s research on marriage and family was able to collect 30 years of data that correlated and then predicted divorce with 94% accuracy. This is unheard of in social sciences. He calls it the 4 horseman. (Contempt, criticism, defensiveness and stonewalling). All of them power and control. He’s applied it now to families, as well. It results in the break down of intimacy and connection.

    Susan Johnson’s work on the neurobiology of love that shows that humans are hard wired in the brain to love and connect. It’s no wonder that power and control is so destructive to the human race. We are operating in a system that we cannot see is killing us. We control each other. We control the earth and the environment. AA,(the largest spiritual group on earth) proposes the solution along with dialectical behavior therapy, and trauma treatment, because it helps us face the truth and heal it. This trauma wound only heals through peace and love. (I sound like a hippie but what if it’s true? And notice how the power and control paradigm invalidates the power of love and connection??)

    There is distortion of truth in peace at any price (if the price is validity) just as there is distortion of truth in power and control. It is not an either/or solution but it must be a solution that includes truth and awareness. Right now our denial means we are flying blindly. We can’t and won’t handle the truth. If we do not face, accept band continue to change, we will self destruct in mental illness and the ability to see the truth.

    Violence, power and control on interpersonal and intrapersonal levels blinds us from the truth because invalidation is part of the injury that allows it to cycle.

    Yes, we need a new story and it must include the truth about power and control. Trumpers have internalized power and control so deeply that they cannot tell truth from emotion. They tend to be authoritarian and have higher levels of mental illness. The more we hurt each other the more the illness spreads.

    I love this site so much. Thank you Marcy for all your work. Hoping this will continue to be a lively and dialectical discussion. But what you laid out here feels fundamentally true to me. As to Quinn’s article I must admit I did not read it. Marcy’s synthesis struck a chord for me though.

    • AndTheSlithyToves says:

      Thank you and bless you, Peacerme!
      As a long-time aficionado of psychology/psychiatry, I’ve read most of Alice Miller’s books, and found her analysis of Hitler’s and Stalin’s terribly abusive childhoods–and how their maladaptation to it ultimately shaped their country’s histories–very illuminating.
      Also, if you haven’t read any of her writings, do check out Yale’s Dr. Bandy Lee. As an MD psychiatrist who is an expert on the connections between mental illness and violence, she went public in 2016 about Trump’s psychological unfitness for office and the danger he posed to the US.
      Since 2016, Lee has been working openly and diligently toward getting Trump removed from office, positing that his well-documented mental chaos will result in violence and destruction, and an undermining of democracy.

      • Peacerme says:

        Alice Miller was my first book that explained my parents to me. I work with many children of narcissists. Truly, I see that the bruises of my childhood actually kept me sane. I knew my dad was wrong. A child of a narcissist is always “wrong”. The narcissist defines reality by feelings. The child of a narcissist struggles to know truth. We see power and confuse it with strength. Power and control without truth is the equivalent to lemmings going over the cliff. So glad your son is getting good help. If we only understood and accepted that most mental illness is caused by the power and control of the past and present. Until we are living in the truth more fully we are destined to be “messy” as Bmaz noted. Another result of power and control is our intolerance to it. There is a middle ground.

        I don’t think we need to change THE constitution as much as we need to change OUR constitution as we approach the consequences of power and control.

    • posaune says:

      Thank you, Peacerme.

      Specifically: “This trauma wound only heals through peace and love.”
      I believe trauma, neglect, deprivation is healed through attachment and relationship, the learning of trust. Acknowledging the truth through attachment. In co-regulation, relationship, trauma and its truth can be expressed and released. It’s a continuous journey. but rewarding, and offers the very best view of life. I have seen this work — a slow miracle — in my adoptive son, dx with PTSD at age 4. Now 16, he knows when he needs to co-regulate, he is understanding his own trauma. He even said to me this week, “You know, Mom? someday I could be helping a MAGA person understand this.”

  14. skua says:

    Don’t know if it is the move but you are writing with almost frightening clarity Marcy.

    A founder of peace studies, Johan Galtung, points out that if we aren’t going to genocide our enemies then eventually we will start talking with them. Clearly talking politics with Trump believers isn’t going to work. But in as much as a Trump supporter has any freedom of thought left, there remain births, marriages and deaths to discuss. And creating and living the “we are not discussing politics” limit would create a respectable dynamic in many Dem-Trumper interactions.
    And yeah, the librarian-IT Proud Boy shows that there is nothing inevitably redeeming about having non-political interactions between Dems and Trump supporters.

  15. Burnt Music says:

    (Long time reader, first time commenter here. Thank you Marcy for the light you shine.)

    100% agree with the logic above regarding Trump’s unintended gift for focusing America’s attention on the embarrassing manifestations of our long-standing, self-delusional myth of exceptionalism.

    Trump’s heartless and catastrophic mishandling of the COVID pandemic comes at the same time a plurality of Americans support a sensible form of government-run healthcare for-all. (see this much cited Fox News/AP/Univ. of Chicago election survey: https://www.foxnews.com/elections/2020/general-results/voter-analysis). America has been embarrassingly “exceptional” amongst other Western Democracies for our brutally expensive and backwards healthcare system — one that has been perpetuated by private insurance funded politicians on both sides of the aisle. A new common story for America will include recognition that care for the sick and vulnerable is a basic governmental function.

    A new common story for America will also embrace the health of our shared planet. Trump’s greed-driven and vindictive roll-back of environmental protections — this business of bulldozing ancient Saguaro cactuses to feed ones ego — comes at a time when a plurality of Americas want more government spending on green and renewable forms of energy, and are worried about the effects of climate change.

    Similar trends emerge when we look closely at Trump’s misuse of the federal government to facilitate and encourage attacks on demonstrations for social justice, police reform, and against racism in our institutions. A majority of Americans acknowledge the pervasive problem of racism in their country and want to root out its rotting presence from our society and systems of governance. This struggle must be an essential part of our new common story.

    Look at Trump’s attacks on our Democracy — in this very moment he is advancing disinformation and conspiracy theories in a desperate attempt to delegitimatize our system of self-governance — with silent or outspoken complicity from many powerful right-wing politicians, who for decades have been fighting against enfranchisement and the ability for racial minorities to exercise their right to vote. Again, our misguided theories of exceptionalism prevent us from recognizing that the United States is backwards and isolated in scheduling our fundamental democratic civic act on a weekday, and one that is not a national holiday. A new common story of America must embrace the vote as a cause for celebration and expansion, and in doing so defend it from all that would seek to render it mute.

    The presidency of Donald J. Trump, as Marcy intuits above, has been the logical extension of a population misled by those desperately “clinging to the myth of American exceptionalism”. Trump did not just embrace his fellow tyrant “pariahs on the world stage”, but also a suite of domestic scum that design to punish the perceived enemies of their white, male, and nationalist consciousness.

    I hope we make it to January 20th and beyond, and I hope that task of creating a new common story of America begins. I hope it is led by those who have long warned about the dangers of embracing the self-deluding myth of American Exceptionalism and those who have been its victims — namely black, indigenous, people of color and the poor and vulnerable workers.

    [Hi Burnt Music, and welcome to the comments section. Please weigh in more often. However, we have a longtime very good friend that has commented here under the name Burnt since we started. I do not think the two of you are the same, so would it be possible to differentiate your screen name better? Also, checked out your music, and it is pretty cool. Thanks – bmaz]

  16. Chetnolian says:

    I’m almost reluctant to join in, as I didn’t with the previous discussion.

    But an outside view, such as that of Fintan O’Toole quoted earlier, might add some perspective. The USA (I refuse to call it America because my North American family lives in relatively sane Canada in what is geographically North America) has been my obsession for many many years and for a variety of reasons, latterly the friends and loved one who live in it. But actually Marcy you have tried, and failed, to bridge the gap between bmaz and Quinn. Both are right. The USA is a country with the amazingly complex and well-designed governing system called the Constitution which bmaz so admires. But currently it ain’t working and as bmaz possibly reluctantly admits, no one will let it.

    And yes it is partly the exceptionalism which you identify which causes the problem. As an outsider who has both loved visiting the USA and and getting really frustrated about the difficulties of doing business with it, and indeed once been on the receiving end of the obscenity that can be sanctions, But the other one is indeed the myths. I always pause when I hear the word immigrants in the US context.. The word has lost its meaning. Were not Donald’s family German and Scottish? Essentially everyone except Native Americans is an immigrant, voluntary or otherwise. If the USA started to think of itself as a big, generally well-functioning and prosperous country where people from all over the Globe choose to live together, instead of a “great” Country, whatever that means, progress would be made. I will stop here but I have lots more if anyone is interested.

    • emptywheel says:


      I think that last paragraph is sort of where I was going. There is something to the melting pot idea, and it is the source of what made the US distinct for a long time (though less so, she says, from her remarkably diverse Irish estate). That’s ought to be a start, and with newfound humility that Trump will have forced on us, a place to go from here.

      But the material condition of middle class Americans is going to have to improve. Bc that’s a good way to break down the tribalism.

      • bmaz says:

        Now that I agree with, as well as his last paragraph. A discussion Chet and I have had before, and I think had consensus on.

      • Molly Pitcher says:

        I actually think America has been in a similar position before and the last 65 years we have coasted in response to the common enemy. If you think back to the labor strikes of the 30’s and the anxiety about socialism, we pulled out of that period by uniting against the common enemy, Hitler.

        We followed that with the common enemy of the Soviet Union. I have long held that the worst thing for this country was the end of the USSR. All of the neurotic Right swung from hating the Nazis to the Russian Commies to hating the Commie loving anti-Viet Nam War demonstrators. That was when the rural/fly over parts of the country started wrapping themselves in the flag. That part of the country has never recovered from that jingoism.

        Take away the USSR and all that is left to hate is the ‘liberal elite’ on the coasts.

        I fear that the Trump supporting part of the electorate is not reflective enough to be satisfied with a new narrative as a uniting factor. They respond to more pugilistic, red meat patriotism. That was why Trump’s insane rallies were so important to his success.

        For this country to come together, the right is going to need a common enemy. It can either be an exterior one, or they will continue to turn on their fellow citizens. They will not be convinced into a posture that does not allow them to beat their chests and chant USA.

  17. JanesJoyce says:


    “All we had is that document and some fanciful notions about reason and Enlightenment.”

    “Impositions” based on one’s “unreasoned absolutes” become more unenlightened impositions.

    Those impositions should be “highlighted” and called out…

    Senator Sumner was caned.


    Discrimination was ugly then, as it is now.

    “Never Again,” takes many forms.

    Much Speech!
    Much Debate!

    Once the connection is made progress for many many ensue. There are no guarantees as we see…

    “Remarkably, that may present a useful opportunity for us to rethink America’s role in the world, one where we’ll have to earn any claim to lead, much less to lead from some vision of exceptionalism.“

    Actually the “vision” is right there in your blind spot America 🇺🇸.

    Eisenhower gave US a “Interstate Highway System,” and more.

    “Trump” is driving US into a bridge abutment to protect monopoly.

    “Trump” wants everybody’s “butt” to back of the bus while he sits alone in the bus driver’s seat, “High” on “Trump.”

    Trump needs to be tossed off the bus 🚌 and viewed only from a rear view mirror in a cloud of “Bus Dust.”

    No moderating needed here.

    Trump’s in need of moderation.

  18. PeterS says:

    A comment above tells us this: “in 2020, Biden won 490 counties that account for 70 percent of the U.S. economy, while Trump won 2,534 counties amounting to just shy of 30 percent of the economy”. This is I think just a continuation of a trend, the Republicans relying on the less well off.*

    To get to my point, what has the myth of American exceptionalism got to do with Trump’s appeal? The statistic above reinforces the idea that most voters are driven by emotion when they vote. Do most white working class Trump voters care deeply about American exceptionalism, which surely implies a view of the rest of the world of which America is a part; do these voters expend emotional energy considering America’s place in the wider world? Or is the driving emotion just to do with THEIR place in America?

    * the only conspiracy theory I believe in is the one that has poor people consistently voting for political parties that will keep them poor.

    • Chetnolian says:

      Oh yes they do. The whole MAGA story is that their lack of prosperity is because evil foreigners have stolen what is rightfully America’s. And that their distant Government has either allowed this to happen or indeed aided and abetted it. They never ask if these foreigners are in any way entitled to do so. Trump truly believes that. He is not just saying it for effect.

      • PeterS says:

        I think that’s conflating two different things. An antipathy to certain (but definitely not all) foreigners is better described as xenophobia/racism than exceptionalism. Surely there are plenty of countries that have xenophobia but don’t think they’re top of the ladder (just higher up than certain other countries).

      • Epicurus says:

        Trump doesn’t “believe” anything he says. In fact he doesn’t “believe” anything, except Donald Trump of the moment. Everything is designed to attain or increase his power. Nothing else matters and he will say anything to do so. Anyone outside of Trump would be foolish to think of otherwise.

  19. John Langston says:

    I’ve never understood this perversion of “American Exceptionalism” whenever the shining city on the hill became synonymous with the white man’s burden for maintaining an empire.

    The IDEAL of American Exceptionalism is a place where everyone is equal under the law and has freedom to enjoy life and liberty and has the opportunities to go as far as talent and hard work can take him. Where no one is benefited or encumbered by birthright, ethnicity, creed or race.

  20. Rapier says:

    I’ll make a broad statement. That is that Liberals never bought into American’s myths of America. Myths founded on as de Tocqueville can be said to have proposed, the uniquely combined dual concepts of religion and liberty. For the most part those of us now called Liberals surely downplay religion, beyond the freedom to practice it.

    Johnathan Edwards’ Sinners at the hands of an angry God made plain that even before there was an American nation its inhabitants embraced the idea that God himself chose America to have a central place in His plan. Ultimately this is the underlying message of current American Conservatism and it is in perfect parallel the old myths.

    New myths cannot simply be manufactured. Especially since the old myths are so relentlessly proclaimed polished and expanded on via ever more all encompassing means and methods of modern communications technologies. Then too the embrace of those myths is ever more overtly the central part of the lives of the willing targets of those communications which additionally offer entre’ into a tribe and an identify.

    de Tocqueville was bemused, if that’s the right word, that universally Americans, unbidden, loudly and insistently declared America the greatest county in the world, then currently or had ever been. No myth excluding that is going to pass muster.

  21. dannyboy says:

    Better to start with the understanding that is a misfortune to be born in America.

    Then reflect on the fact that democracy doesn’t work.

    • P J Evans says:

      It works better when everyone who wants can participate, not when the decisions are left to the powerful (any usually rich) mostly-white men.

      • dannyboy says:

        Does “everyone who wants can participate” exist in the U.S.?

        Is the only alternative to that myth, is that “the decisions are left to the powerful (any usually rich) mostly-white men.”?

  22. Charles says:

    There is an interesting (very much minority) interpretation of the Old Testament to the effect that the word “Hebrews” means something like “rabble” or “outcasts.”

    And so, God’s Chosen People are the despised of the earth.

    There’s a parallel between that and who we Americans are. We are the Pilgrims whose religion was suspect. We are the Irish, who were regarded as animals too unimportant to feed. We are the Jews who Hitler tried to exterminate and the Hispanic crypto-Jews who fled the Inquisition. We are refugees from the Central American Wars and from Vietnam. We are the Africans who were despised, treated worse than animals, enslaved, and even after gaining freedom pronounced so unimportant that they had no rights that white men were bound to respect. We are the Native Americans for whom national policy was genocide even up until the 1960s. We are the Japanese who stayed here even after being placed in concentration camps, and the Chinese who braved the Exclusion Act. We are those who have been rejected by our home country and perhaps again by the country we fled to, were dragged to, or were annexed into by conquest.

    This should have taught us compassion. Some of us, it has. Others learned the opposite lesson: that to avoid being bullied, one must be the bully.

    The story of Exodus is one of winnowing the Hebrews into the Israelites. The term “Hebrew” stops being used in Exodus when they are finally cast out of Egypt.

    Maybe America is the process of winnowing the hardhearted from those whose hearts respond to human suffering.
    Added, I see that Quinn quoted Langston Hughes’ Let America be America Again, in which he swears that America will be. I share her feeling that America has in some sense died, though I would date that to the 2000 election, not 2020 where the courts have so far not committed judicial abomination. But perhaps America is a process of becoming.

    • P J Evans says:

      The Pilgrims’ religion was suspect because they preached that *everyone else* was wrong in what they believed. They came because they couldn’t get what they wanted in England (and in Holland). Plymouth colony was notoriously narrow-minded, even more than Massachusetts Bay.
      Recommended reading: “Albion’s Seed”.

      • Charles says:

        England had a long history of religious intolerance. The emigrants were not capable of coercing others to adopt their religion, so their emigration cannot be said to have been caused by them or their beliefs any more than we would say that people fleeing from ISIS (whatever their beliefs) were responsible for being forced to leave.

        They also did face penalties, including fines and imprisonment, for violation of the Act of Uniformity: https://history.hanover.edu/texts/engref/er80.html

        So, sure, the Pilgrims were intolerant, but so was England as a whole. The descendants of the Puritans were the most religiously tolerant of all US Christian denominations, since it is they who founded the UCC and the Unitarians. It was this Puritan heritage that fueled Abolition, the first real attempt in the US to recognize the humanity of the despised.

        • P J Evans says:

          IIRC, it took a couple of centuries, and they got to deism/theism first. Rhode Island was the local answer, and they weren’t exactly tolerant, though they were a lot better at it. (Names to know: George Wheelwright, Anne Marbury Hutchinson, Roger Williams, Mary Dyer.)

    • Stacey says:

      Charles, I am reminded by your comments that I once suggested to my ex-husband who was a preacher that his Exodus sermon might explore the notion that “it did not take 40 years to get the Israelites out of Egypt but that it took 40 years to get ‘Egypt’ (i.e., slavery) out of the Israelites.”

      I think many many peoples of the earth have a story of themselves both in shadow and direct light that are horrifying (what was done to or by them) and the fact that our beacon has attracted maybe a higher percentage of them to the US than to most other nations perhaps—not to mention the horrors we have home grown—is an interesting thing to notice and to have to reconcile. Unfortunately we have such a bad track record of the type of pulling our shit out of the closet and dealing with it that we make for a terrible psychic stew when it boils up in us like it frequently does. It would be wonderful if we could be a demonstration project for the world in how to heal, but we are kind of not that.

      • Charles says:

        Your statement of it (40 years to get slavery out of the Israelites) is perfect, Stacey. And this interpretation changes how one reads the entire Bible.

        As much as I criticize the United States, I keep in mind that the real disease is the imbalance of power between oppressor and oppressed.An interesting read is the website of the late professor Rummel of the University of Hawaii, who produced a comprehensive compilation of democide: https://www.hawaii.edu/powerkills/MURDER.HTM

        The United States, even with the mass murder of African captives and of Native Americans is far from unique. As Rummel says, power kills.

  23. Ken Muldrew says:

    I think before finding a new common story, Americans have to first find an agreement about what constitutes a “fact”. By fact, I mean a statement that everyone believes to be objectively true.

    We have a few mechanisms for establishing reliable knowledge: empirical experiment in science being the best, but only useful for physical reality. Economic markets can give us reliable knowledge of how effectively we have organized people to produce stuff, but that knowledge is hopelessly entwined with social choice, fads, persuasion, and even the connectedness of human networks. Elections and plebiscites can give reliable knowledge of how people stand on particular issues at specific times, but everyone knows how many ways that knowledge can be corrupted.

    Social reality is constructed by someone declaring a state of affairs to exist, and by declaring it making it so. But this only works if everyone believes that the person making the declaration has the status to do so, and that status is given by the people. The circular issues of trust required to do this are unique to us as a hypersocial species. So we need institutions that can “manufacture consent” among not just a bare majority of people, but a supermajority–enough that dissenters cannot find a community in which to escape the social reality that is created. It is true that these institutions can be captured by the elite to impose their own ideas of what should be consented to (and indeed they have done so for the entirety of human history), but you still need the institutions.

    The adversarial nature of institutional consent-making in the US today has destroyed the common understanding of basic facts that underlie any trust relation between individuals. Even facts about physical reality, demonstrably true through experiments that anyone can replicate, are open to being dismissed on ideological grounds. There can be no useful cooperation, nor even productive communication, without some shared belief in what constitutes reality. And without that, I cannot see how a shared common story is even possible.

    • harpie says:

      There can be no useful cooperation, nor even productive communication, without some shared belief in what constitutes reality. And without that, I cannot see how a shared common story is even possible.

      A shared knowledge/understanding/belief is foundational, as in:

      We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed […]

      There are now millions of us who know/believe things the rest of us do not.

      • Ken Muldrew says:

        A bit off topic, but since you brought it up I wonder if I could ask a question about this. It’s probably something that every American learns in kindergarten, but I’m not American.
        Did Jefferson change Locke’s “property” to “the pursuit of happiness” in order to dodge the King’s claim to North America, or because of human property inherent in slavery, or was it something else?

        • Epicurus says:

          Jefferson didn’t “change” Locke’s “property” to “pursuit of happiness”. Jefferson was a self-characterized Epicurean and his concept of happiness was an Epicurean, not a Lockean, concept: “I am an Epicurean. I consider the genuine (not the imputed) doctrines of Epicurus as containing everything rational in moral philosophy which Greek and Roman leave to us.” One would have to understand Epicurus to understand what Jefferson meant. It would be lost on most Americans, especially the evangelical right.

  24. Lex says:

    Thank you. Both the original and the response tell truths. The original, however, is less reliant on the myth of American exceptionalism. The biggest myth of our exceptionalism is that we’re somehow immune to political and economic entropy. Our diversity offers some protection against entropy but it gets dragged down by the undertow of the reality that’s always been: our exceptionalism was nothing more than exceptional luck (a country that could be self sufficient in the modern world) and our mythology. That part about how all the evil done to make the nation was really for the best in the long run. Imperialism blessed by the Enlightenment.

    It’s over because half of America is completely in the thrall of the dark underbelly of American exceptionalism and at least half of the remainder still believes. For as long as they do, we won’t be able to build what comes next. There is no such thing as the perpetual empire. We are not exceptional enough to disprove the rule.

    • JamesJoyce says:

      “ There is no such thing as the perpetual empire. We are not exceptional enough to disprove the rule.”

      Enlightened folks know how little they know.

      Shultz was enlightened and spoke truth to Col. Hogan.


      Arrogance consumes as a drunk gets drunker, if that is possible for inanimate humans?

      “Going Clovis!”

      We were not the first. We won’t be the last before the “Great Consumption,” via Heliosphere Hydrogen depletion…..

      A true end to our day..

  25. earlofhuntingdon says:

    The founding myths were largely exploitative. We need new ones that are not.

    Manifest Destiny, for example, a later, 19th century addition, with its Christian overtones of god-given rights, was an invention to utilize the many migrants invited to the US to fill up the plains and factories. They found jobs, at steelworks in Johnstown and Pittsburgh, coal mining in Kentucky, and slaughterhouses in Chicago. But few were safe or paid well, and there was no undisputed land to own or work. (A problem that preceded MD: see, the Whiskey Rebellion.)

    They were used to push the American frontier to the Pacific, which led to dispossession and genocide of Native Americans. When the idea’s work was done, it was repurposed to justify overt American imperialism outside of North America, starting with the conquest of Cuba and the Philippines.

    There is much work to be done closer to home. A good start could be made by mining the work of MLK and Langston Hughes about how to turn aspirations into reality for more people. Universal health care and the Green New Deal might be programs that fit that purpose. They would also be a counterpoint to the unrestrained giveaways of public resources, promoted by Trump and the GOP, which is helping to doom the planet.

    • Molly Pitcher says:

      Manifest Destiny and the rest of the American Exceptionalism myths from the beginning of this country were appropriate for who was coming here and the time. With the exception of the Puritans, the majority of people who came to the New World were second sons who were not going to inherit anything in the home country; they were people who didn’t fit in at home. They had to be people of self motivated courage and little self-reflection to be able to pack up everything they owned and take a grueling sea voyage to an unknown and likely dangerous destination.

      As Bill Murray said playing John Winger in “Stripes” : “… hell’s the matter with you? Stupid! We’re all very different people…We’re Americans, with a capital ‘A’, huh? You know what that means? Do ya? That means that our forefathers were kicked out of every decent country in the world. We are the wretched refuse.We’re the underdog. We’re mutts! ”

      If life had been all that great in the old country, people wouldn’t have left. It took people who could screw up their courage and face the unknown. That is the genesis for the fable of American Exceptionalism. That is why the justification of Manifest Destiny allowed people to run roughshod over the indigenous peoples. You could not be someone who held enlightened views of humanity and make it coming here in the first 150 +/- years ago.

      I think a lot of the chest beating Trumpers are the descendants of this type of person. But they are frightened and insecure about their place in society and their continued existence. They are not analytical. They do not feel comfortable with information that doesn’t reinforce what they already believe. Their response to the threats of a changing world is to repeat the catechism that has gotten them thru life thus far, “we’re number one !!” “USA,USA” . They have a hammer and every issue is a nail.

      People who are existing by whistling past the cemetary are not going to adopt a new, inclusive vision of America. Trump appealed to them because he talked about the return to the past, the place where they were the top dog. These are no longer first or second generation Americans. These are the lucky inheritors of the results of their ancestors courage, not their own. They have to make themselves feel brave with guns and rooting for the home team and playing first person shooter video games and Blue Lives Matter flags.

      That is why those current first generation citizens are such a threat to them. The new ones are the brave people who screwed up their courage.

      We do need new myths, a new ethos, but I don’t see how you get the 73,000,000+ who voted for Trump to agree to that, or to believe in them. Think about the people at the rallies.

  26. gmoke says:

    Always thought that the USAmerican story was that we, each of us as citizens, agree to a more or less explicit social contract as idealized in the preamble to the Declaration of Independence and provided by the rules set up by the Constitution. That was what made us exceptional and unusual and original. People came here to participate in that social contract and that made us all equal under the law.

    It was always imperfect because humans are imperfect but it was also always the goal and the aim. Not no more.

    A few years ago, during the Tea Party foofaraw, Larry Lessig put together a conference at Harvard Law on the possibility of an Article V Constitutional Convention. As with Lessig, it consisted of a wide swath of opinions from two different strains of the Tea Party all the way over to almost liberal Democrats (Lessig is politically myopic although a very fine teacher). That weekend convinced me that calling for a Constitutional Convention would be a total and unmitigatable disaster.

    Don’t know if this adds or subtracts from this discussion but it’s my 2¢ and worth each penny. I await my ritual abuse for expressing my thoughts.

  27. Peterr says:

    When I think about the changing notion of the common story of this nation, Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address (quoted in the blockquote from Rayne in the post) plays a huge role in shifting how this nation thought about itself. It’s important to remember that Lincoln spoke not after the war was over, but while it was very much in doubt, and much blood was yet to be spilled. He pushed the narrative not with the legal document of the Constitution (over which the war was being fought) but with the Declaration of Independence. He closes by tying it to the Constitution, but not the legal language as much as the aspirational words of the preamble.

    In other words, in the midst of great social and political strife, Lincoln was doing what Marcy is calling for here: recasting the American story that takes into account the debates and divisions of his day.

    The 1619 Project is a contemporary attempt to recast our national story in a way that acknowledges flaws that many would like to not know about. By “many,” of course, I mean “many of the privileged” – which is why it touched such a nerve with Trump and the Rightwing.

    Our national storytelling is growing, because that’s what happens with national stories. In 1969, with the first lunar explorations, some told the story of Neil Armstrong as the logical next step to American Manifest Destiny. Others picked up on the photos looking back at the earth – the big blue marble – and wove concern for the planet and the absence of boundaries (no lines between the countries on that photo) to the stories of women’s rights, racial equality, gay rights, and care of the environment.

    We’re still fighting the battle between those stories.

    One of Biden’s gifts as a candidate is that he has a strong sense of how stories connect us with each other. When he talks about his own stutter, he knows it give hope to the kid in school who gets teased (or worse) for his own stutter. When he talks about COVID-19 and the medical system, and the need for equal and better access to health care, he ties his own experience of the medical system which allows his hearers to do the same.

    The GOP’s fallback of “Dems=Socialists=Chavez=Hitler” is their own attempt to rewrite the story. While it speaks loudly and successfully to the racists and xenophobes, its power is limited beyond that. What will be interesting to me is what happens to the GOP version of the story in 2021. The Lincoln Project is pushing one version of the GOP story, while the Trumpers and their enablers are pushing another that is the polar opposite.

    Marcy is right: we need a strong story to heal the broken relationships in this nation. More than that, we need strong storytellers – not simply politicians, but the ordinary friend to friend, parent to child, grizzled elder to wide-eye kid storytellers.

    • P J Evans says:

      I think most people know what potlucks are – they forget that that’s socialism. (There are other examples, some older and some newer. But that one hits nearly every part of the country and crosses all the dividing lines.)

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Plutocrats love socialism, but only for themselves. Examples are legion: Ivy League secret societies, legacy admissions, reciprocal nepotism, expansive immunities in the corporate law to run businesses without personal liability, corporate and personal tax subsidies, immunities from prosecution, soft touch white collar crime enforcement.

      What they object to is allowing anyone else to practice them, just as they object to anyone else organizing to get what they want or need. Amish barn building events? Scrap them. Social Security and Medicare? An outrageous giveaway of the tax dollars they don’t pay.

      The hypocrisy, not the socialism, needs to be subjected to searing criticism. Group efforts need to be lauded and supported.

  28. Kcrowz says:

    The cousin of American exceptionalism – rugged individualism – is the pebble under the mattress of the American story. For every shirtless Reagan or Goldwater, there’s a shirtless Putin or shoeless Khrushchev; autocrats can be rugged, too. IMO, the American story could use a dose of “it takes a village,” which in fact has underpinned the American story for 75 years, but doesn’t get a credit in the final cut. The Constitution can do many things, but it can’t control the way we think of ourselves.

    • timbo says:

      That does not appear to be as true as you seem to expound here. that is, it appears that many GOP members have decided to side with the Constitution over party when it comes to honoring the will of the people. This has been true in a couple of key instances during the count/recount of votes in several key states over the past few weeks. (and hopefully the whole thing holds together until after Dec 15, of course!) So, I submit to you that the Constitution does control how many of us think of ourselves, even if some of us won’t see that as an operative reality. In the case of Twitler, he doesn’t even care much about the document per se. But some of his nonsense has been stopped because there is still adherence to principles above party.

      • skua says:

        Any adherence appears amongst Repub Senators who voted down impeachment on party lines but now face the false choice between being drawn into some clown’s attempted coup or recognizing, in a very quiet voice, the done-deal of Biden’s election.

        I’m thinking that self-interest is about 50 times more important than principles to many of these people.

  29. Drew says:

    I think that Marcy is right, that the necessary thing is to get to a national story or mythos that transcends and puts in the past “American Exceptionalism” which really did drive both American idealism and American cynicism for a very long time. Growing up in the 50s-60s it really did form my idea of what was possible-i.e. that it was possible to be a just, fair, and free country and we could and did do it. As time went by, of course, cracks in that theory opened up as uncomfortable facts came to light – and both sides of the political spectrum had very different perceptions of the implications and obligations of that Exceptionalism. Now it’s no longer operative: the left rejects it as propaganda and the right holds it cynically as an authoritarian bludgeon, using it to deny the facts.

    Thing is, as I remember it, the key of why America was supposed to be so special was Freedom. This excellent article from the Boston Review clarified things for me that I hadn’t quite been able to enunciate before.

    I summarized part of it and interpreted in my sermon this morning:

    “My preoccupation this week with what’s happening in politics this week caused me to see a lot of it going on in all the rhetoric about whose votes count and whose votes don’t. And frankly, as a white American who grew up in Idaho and pays a lot of attention to what happens in the Red States and in evangelical religion, it is disturbingly familiar and yet, something I couldn’t quite put my finger on. I ran across a very helpful article that clarified it a lot for me. It is about the American rhetoric of liberty and freedom. The insight that struck me was that there are three aspects to the way Americans talk about freedom that sound like a chord in music. The first note is freedom as the absence of constraints on one’s ability to act. The second note is “civic freedom,” the ability to take part in the governance of the community—to vote and speak out to influence decisions and laws that get made. Those are pretty clear and most people understand and hold to them.

    But there’s a third, darker note. The third note might be called “sovereign freedom.” It’s the freedom to control things and dominate things and persons in your sphere of influence. I seldom think of this as freedom, but when I look at those who are outraged at the result of the presidential election and worried about “the loss of their freedoms” whenever Congress acts to do something to alleviate poverty, or grant freedom and opportunity to oppressed groups, it is this freedom they are talking about. Often deeply and intensely. Defending their “rights” and their “religious freedom,” though it is not about freedom to worship God or to speak and act without unreasonable constraint. This kind of thinking about freedom is deeply ingrained in America; it was the rationale for maintaining slavery, it’s the rationale for ever-increasing income inequality and limiting labor unions by changing the laws, it’s the rationale for segregation in its many guises. What it is not—is it is not a value of Jesus or of traditional Christianity. We are called to compassion, not selfishness. We are not called to dominion over others, to control over the bodies of others and to punish and intimidate anyone weaker than ourselves. Those were the values of the Romans—the people who crucified Jesus.”

    So the word “Freedom” is both the fundamental shared value carrying concept AND the point of difference between the sides. The motivations of the Right are very much around the “Sovereign Freedom” elements of its meaning, even when people don’t realize that’s what they are doing.

    Any new story has to begin by understanding this, and facing it directly. Pivoting perhaps from fantasies of uncomplicated freedom to “national thriving” or some such (it’s not up to some committee to decide this, least of all me, but concepts and arguments have to be made to stick and in some way to transcend partisanship). Freedom is important, but we need to know what we’re talking about. An identity of Americans as thriving, connected, equal, compassionate and mutually supportive is possible, but right now it feels so disrupted as to be out of reach, at least in the short term.

    (apologies to the non-religious here for inserting so much religious imagery here-this is stuff I had to say this morning in the south Bronx and it seemed to hit home there)

    [FYI, I’ve offset the excerpt of your sermon with blockquote tags for ease of reading. /~Rayne]

    • emptywheel says:

      Thanks for sharing. No need to apologize for the religious imagery. That’s what, for much of America, works as far as story-telling.

      • Peterr says:

        It’s not that long ago that the notion of having a SCOTUS with 2 Jews and 6 or 7 Roman Catholics* was not just unheard-of but unimaginable. Religion and the lack thereof has been part of the US story and will continue to be so.

        And from one preacher to another, nice stuff!

        *Per wiki, Gorsuch was raised RC and has attended the Episcopal church as an adult, but they don’t know how he would describe his religious affiliation.

    • Stacey says:

      That’s how projection works, by calling my imagined right to dominate you a ‘freedom’ I lose if you gain equality. It’s always directly the mirror image of the thing I’m yelling in my projected state. I think of it as we, all of us, more of the time than we want to think, imagine that we are looking through a window at something out there, something happening maybe to us or about to happen to us, when in reality, we are looking in a mirror. What we are so upset because we think is happening to us, or is about to, is actually what we are doing, have done, or clearly about to do to another! If we have a bunch of heated energy behind it, all the more likely.

      I remember being the forever outcast outsider in Spokane, WA, and learning 5 years in that Hangman’s Creek had a story behind it that involved the white military of the day calling a Powwow of the 12 tribes of the Spokane River Valley together to discuss cohabitating in the region. One tribal leader got suspicious and didn’t attend. The other 11 were hung!

      It wasn’t until I was telling someone this story some years after leaving and as I lamented that I could not understand why the people who were the newcomers then—their descendants—felt so fearful of newcomers now when it was they who had done the harm to the natives…the whole picture went into slow motion Tetris shapes, twisted around as it descended and dropped right into place, and I understood how projection works!

      We project onto others what we know on some level is shameless in ourselves. We have two options at that point and lacking self-awareness we usually go for the double-down option to push our shame further away from us and more onto the other. Rinse and repeat until some rise in consciousness occurs and we can untangle ourselves.

  30. GKJames says:

    Haven’t two contrasting strands of the national DNA been part of the place since the beginning? The cyclical question, it seems, is who’s up and who’s down at a particular point in a country of two halves.

    The current — and widely prevailing — narrative was formed in the mid-70s; it took concrete shape with Reagan’s election in 1980: government itself was deemed illegitimate. The post-1945 liberal democracy idea got tired. Recall Democratic candidates who fled from the “tax-and-spend liberal” epithet, refusing to defend the many (if imperfect) achievements of liberalism.

    And, of the course, an aging population shifted right, taking the Republicans’ culture wars bait by obsessing about gay people and abortion, and not paying attention to corporations’ (i) hijacking the legislative process (see the Lewis Powell memo and, of course, Buckley v. Valeo); and (ii) hollowing out the country’ manufacturing base while branding a “socialist” anyone who questioned the wisdom of doing that.

    Forty years on, might we see a change, a generational shift as the youngsters come of age and political consciousness? This election gives off hopeful signs, but the climb will be steep. That someone like Trump, with a demonstrated record of criminal sociopathy, can get 72 million votes, suggests a mental health crisis, not a difference of political views or a problem with narratives.

    Certainly, the Democrats’ narrative can use improvement. But they’re always going to be at a disadvantage, primarily because they acknowledge nuance and complexity. Republicans, simplifiers that they are, don’t have that problem. Whatever they come up with, though, Democrats need to figure out a story line that accommodates the local nature of down-ticket races and the national one; what plays well in Brooklyn, just doesn’t in Wichita.

    And they better figure it out soon because until Democrats hold the White House AND the Senate, the country will remain at the mercy of six guardians of the Rule Book who won’t hesitate to be as activist as they need to be to cement in place the reactionary agenda that’s been in the works for four decades.

    • BD Mac says:

      Amos, reborn, GK

      Six guardians of the Rule Book — GET UR SELF A BILL OF FUCKING RIGHTS – So saith BD an old Celt in tandem – OR NOT!

      All the BEST (with either choice)!!!

  31. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Disrupt, deny, generate chaos, win. The MSM recognizes the first three of those, but not the fourth. But it can’t imagine why Trump relies on them. FFS. That’s been Donald Trump’s worldview for fifty years.

    Trump is not going to change now. He’s going to double down. It’s always worked before, regardless of how many norms and how much reality he had to deny to get there. Trump is a buffoon and a charlatan, a liar of epic proportions, and a vindictive SOB. But he remains dangerous, and will be, even after he leaves office.

  32. earlofhuntingdon says:

    On that Covid thing, the vaunted Cleveland Clinic, which controls either a majority or large plurality of health care services in the metropolitan area – Ohio’s second largest – has 1000 staff out with Covid-related illnesses. A few thoughts on what that means without better government, borrowed from the first stanza of Yeats’s, The Second Coming:

    “Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed and everywhere,
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.”

  33. Wm. Boyce says:

    A good discussion that involves intelligent people – do you realize how rare that’s become? The readers of this blog are not typical Americans. I’m sorry to say I think the country has been in steep decline for some time, and the fact of Trump’s getting close enough in 2016 to steal the election is just a recent example. The educational system here has become a joke, and diploma mills are the order of the day. Add in the decline of capitalism and tens of millions of people falling behind economically and you have a formula for a complete fool to become president and run the country as a reality TV show. Apparently, tens of millions can’t tell the difference.

  34. WilliamOckham says:

    Maybe I’m here today just to prove I can do more than go spelunking into PDF files. Or maybe I just want to tell you all that you are wrong. And that’s ok, I’m wrong too. What George Box said about statistical models is true of our mental models as well. All models are wrong, some models are useful. I’d like to propose a few ways of adjusting our mental models to make them more useful. In general, a useful model illuminates and emphasizes the most important causes and effects.

    Here’s where my mental model for dealing with Trumpism starts – American authoritarianism didn’t start with Donald Trump. Like William Gibson said about the future, authoritarianism is already here, it’s just unevenly distributed. The real American story has to include the ebb and flow of American authoritarianism. We need to grapple with the fact that human rights story we tell ourselves, the one of continual progress (We got rid of slavery, women got the right to vote, the civil rights movement, same sex marriage…) is, well, total bullshit. Not that those things didn’t happen. There’s just a lot more to the story and it’s not enough to throw in a few “bumps along the way” (you know, Japanese internment camps, oops).

    Authoritarianism has infected every aspect of American life and we’re in a continual struggle to set ourselves free. Why? Why is it that we have to fight so hard just to keep what little freedom we have? The most direct answer to that is that authoritarianism meets some folks needs. And I’m not talking about the authoritarian leaders. I mean the followers. The Trump voters. The people who would rather have a group to hate than get free health care. What the actual fuck is up with that?

    Well, peacerme (see their comments up thread) is on to something. Authoritarianism is the ultimate domination system (to use Walter Wink’s phrase). By and large, the authoritarian followers (who make up 30ish percent of the US adult population, so 60ish percent of Trump’s base) are formed by a specific family and cultural dynamic. See Bob Altemayer’s work for the best explanation I’ve found. In the US, that’s usually a fundamentalist Protestant or a rigid Catholic upbringing. “Sinners in the hands of an angry God” is an archetypal representation. A stern father figure with unquestioned authority, a strong fear/hate of the “Other”. And it really doesn’t matter who the “Other” is. It can be switched at a moment’s notice by the authoritarian leader. Fear is the activating factor. Side note: I think the pandemic helped Donald Trump. It was scary and when things get scary, these folks will put blind trust in their leader. It really doesn’t matter that everything he said was nonsense, he said it authoritatively with the “only I can save you” attitude that these folks need to hear.

    How do we fight that? It turns out that the right-wing nut jobs were right. It’s a culture war. They realized, long before we did, that “Heather has two mommies” is an existential threat to the authoritarian mindset. We need to tell truthful stories that show solidarity is how we win. People need to know, not only that the other isn’t scary, they aren’t even other.

    I have a lot more to say about this. I’m just out of time for now.

    • Peterr says:

      You are spot on with “Heather Has Two Mommies” and you can add damn near anything by Dr. Seuss to the Right’s fear of threats to the authoritarian mindset. “The Cat in the Hat” advocates disobeying your parents and lying about it when they get home! “The Lorax” attacks capitalism at its root. “Yertle the Turtle” is a powerful attack on egotistical, self-centered authoritarian leaders.

      Why yes, subversive children’s literature *did* play a non-trivial part of my dissertation work. Why do you ask?

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        I gather that Donald Duck’s history in Latin America was nothing to write home about to Walt, either.

    • MB says:

      Yes, it’s a “culture war”, but if it’s framed in terms of “mono-culture” vs. “multi-culture”, the one less based in reality is also likely the one that’s motivated to fight harder. There’s got to be smarter way out of this dilemma.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Warren Buffett said that the class war between the haves and have-nots was over – his side won easily – before the other side knew they were in a fight. I think the same might be true for the culture war you describe.

    • Epicurus says:

      I would argue authoritarianism is a hard wired conditioning situation. It is appealing in the way “System One” thinking and predisposition is hard wired in all of us as described in Daniel Kahnemann’s “Thinking Fast and Slow”. As a consequence it is easily exploited in all areas of life, especially in the political arena. How do we fight it? With education, personal, family, and societal, like most things in life. Most of Trump’s supporters have never left System One. For people like Trump, people in System One thinking are like the Maltese Falcon. It is the stuff that political dreams are made of.

    • BD Mac says:

      “I’m just out of time for now”. But Occam [sic] continues on your behalf. TY. And I’m most certain “they will”.

  35. graham firchlis says:

    Thank you Ms Wheeler for a cogent, compassionate, integrative and inspiring essay. More like this please, and less poo-flinging hystrionic commentary thanks in advance.

    Oh and, if this little contretemps is truly “as big a spat” as has ever occured in these pages, you all have lived a remarkably undisturbed existence. Judging by the large number and variety of opinions offered for these three intelligent and provocative essays, perhaps more frequent tipping of sacred cows will benefit everyone’s thinking.

      • graham firchlis says:

        Life on the farm gets dull after dark. Cow tipping is as exciting as it gets. The harmless thud is satisfying, but the following outraged bellow is the best.

        • vvv says:

          On a side note, I recall being in college in the late ’70’s in the corn fields of IL where the farm boys wanted to get drunk and go cow-tipping, and the city boys thought that was just “wrong”.

          I think we (the city boys) got drunk and played cards and then went to the bars and got drunker and failed to connect with any girls.

          In the incident I speak of, the farm boys got caught and at least one was arrested.

          There may be some wisdom here, “horse to water”, “stranger in a a strange land”, something about projection or ensuing projectile vomiting, but it escapes me, other than to note that maybe you do what you know, and that we too often repeat our sins, and that other perspectives are valuable.

          Anyway, great thread and comments (except this one).

      • Molly Pitcher says:

        Well, you could, but you would be fired as a writer for the movie. The producers would say it is too unbelievable.

    • rosalind says:

      apropos of absolutely freakin’ nothing, am reminded of working my first NYE run backstage, Huey Lewis & The News with a multi-night run at Oakland Coliseum. me walking past Huey introducing his wife to someone “This is Sidney, spelled S-I-D-N-E-Y, like a lawyer”.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      I am mildly amused at what Rudy G. avoided saying in his announcement. He talks about the consequence that Sidney Powell was fired – she’s practicing law on her own, she’s not the president’s personal lawyer – but he refuses to say how that came about. Did Rudy fire her, or Donald, or was it the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come?

        • timbo says:

          Martians. It was the Martians. Communists from the Red Planet. Or, possibly, that guy from The Apprentice. I mean, both the Martians and that guy from The Apprentice hate someone who can’t even get their conspiracies straight.

  36. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Joe Biden won a historic victory. Never in the field of human conflict has a candidate for president beaten the incumbent by six million votes, during a pandemic and economic depression, amid frightful efforts to suppress the vote, and despite unprecedented challenges to counting and certifying the vote by a sore loser, outgoing president.

    Never has the Republican Party been so devoid of responsible leadership, been so supine in following an incompetent, criminal boss, and so willing to destroy democracy for another brief hold on power.

    But NBC’s take is that state and local losses make for “A Huge Catastrophe” for Democrats: “Biden’s win obscures deeper problems that have left the party with an uncertain future.” With ledes like that, NBC should be more worried about its own future than the Democrats’.


    • jonf says:

      Meanwhile in Florida it appears the tricky repubs ran some phony candidates including one guy with the same surname as the dem senate candidate and more, reported on CNN. I thought the dems were the best at this sort of shit.

  37. yogarhythms says:

    Thank you for this essential thread. The intangible aspiration of kindness is necessary for Dems to govern. Trump’s wrecking ball’s may fail to perpetuate his first term. A new story to replace toxic US Exceptionalism delivered beneath a mask will reach an audience if authentic.
    I hope with honesty and courage we can help heal our collective grief from year one of three year pandemic; if 1918 US three year pandemic history repeats. I’m a working RN and PPE and epidemiology are equally important. Most important is public health education. US infectious disease history 1900-5 Tuberculosis was one of the leading causes of death. 95% incidence decline of this infectious communicable disease by 1942. Why? Public health education. NOTE Antibiotics invented 1943.
    Survivor grief counseling is a story we all need to share with each other as we approach half a million US citizens death from Covid 19 by Jan 21 2021.

    • posaune says:

      The need for mental health care after (and during) the pandemic will be overwhelming. Half the country will have some form of trauma or PTSD!
      The need for therapists and medication management will soar. Hospitals have already closed psych units to convert to covid units. Psych pts. in NYC were discharged to the streets! The homeless population on the east coast is rapidly increasing, and it’s not winter yet. Homeless camps are all over Washington DC and growing by numbers. There needs to be massive amounts of help for people: housing, health care, subsidies, utilities, food, psych help.

      • greengiant says:

        Yes. The profit in chaos team is salivating at jacking interest rates on another 10 to 20 million people in the US alone with no jobs, no benefits and soon no housing. Remember the 11 million illegal aliens in the US and their families did not get the Trump letter in the mail because they did not get the check.

  38. Molly Pitcher says:

    Biden to nominate Antony Blinken as Secretary of State and Linda Thomas-Greenfield as his nominee for ambassador to the United Nations.

    from WaPo:

    “Thomas-Greenfield’s confirmation would place the former career Foreign Service officer, who is African American, in one of the most high-profile diplomatic posts in government. Thomas-Greenfield served as the top U.S. diplomat to Africa under President Barack Obama, an assistant secretary job that capped her 35-year career in the Foreign Service

    Blinken served as deputy secretary of state and deputy national security adviser under President Barack Obama and as a national security adviser during the Clinton administration. He has advised Biden dating back to his role on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and served as Biden’s national security adviser during the Obama administration.”

    “Jake Sullivan, another top Biden adviser, is expected to be named as national security adviser.”

  39. Eureka says:

    There are parallel, unmarked tensions between Quinn’s and Rayne’s posts, between founding and turning-point documents/stories and the people who live them, and between culture as Big C and little c, that risk getting washed here. Plucking them out might aid the project going forward.

    The most difficult and painful of topics is [any subdivision of the question] “What is culture?”. It’s useful to decommingle some scales of what we mean by that, to make explicit and differentiated some of what is implicit throughout the posts and comments.

    As background: I arrived here on election day to see that there had been a major social event. However, I didn’t finish reading Quinn’s and Rayne’s posts and comments until several days later, after the election had been called and comments closed. So I may have been reading with less ‘heat.’

    The main sticking point I had about Quinn’s post and commentary was repeating the phrase (about keeping), “the culture”. What is that? [And how would you do that, while making a new constitution, and with the large number of dishonest actors (a significant practical problem).]

    A few saws I’m relying on: First is the scalar difference between Big C Culture (which I am calling things like our founding and turning-point documents and myths), and little c culture as in the daily habits, practices, agreements-by-behavior by which any such broader culture is or might be remade. It’s a helpful (and some might say necessary) distinction; lots of comments are about those minutes of daily life, such as loving thy neighbor with a meal or a shared laugh, and the tension between the scales of some overarching ideal versus how we go about living is important to seeing (and repairing, or being realistic about) the next item. (I read Quinn’s and Marcy’s posts as more Big C centered, and Rayne’s as on the little c.)

    Second, ethnographers make their bread on the differences between what people say they do, and what they do (or say they believe, and what they “believe” through practice, etc.). (I return to this below.)

    Third, locks keep honest people honest. (This is the first, commonest, and last thought to mind while reading these posts: any rule of law or ideal — Constitution or origin myth — relies on the good will of the people, or enough people, to work.)

    As to the second item (in interaction with the others):

    The devil is in the inconsistencies — to which none of us is immune, true (and faithfulness is not so much the point as a bellwether of what’s up) — for which we might say that we are currently in a crisis of what we say we do, versus what we do, as Americans.

    Quinn’s point was that that was always the case as to Big C; Rayne’s point about the aspirational nature of our country is that we — especially the ‘wes’ deprived of that origin myth — have always been in the process of constructing that C, through all the hard work of little c.

    The floridly extreme, now openly celebrated hypocrisy of Trumpian GOPers comes to mind as off-the-charts, incompatibly inconsistent with our supposedly shared ideals.

    By their behavior, those folks have already made a new culture. It’s done.

    The other day, when commenting about how somebody needs to love the Trumpers, I omitted a remark about how we were lucky for the days of implicit racism because outside this context it might have appeared flippant. But the welcome of explicit supremacies of all types — behaving like racists, sexists, all-the-ists — truly is meaningfully toxic. And that’s also where a loss of American exceptionalism brings those offshored tendencies home, such that now political affiliation bears a latently genocidal ingroup-outgroup vehemence.

    So arriving at Marcy’s post about making a new pan-American story — which would be a culture change — I think we foremost need to behave our way forward in all the small ways, every day, keeping tethered (to the extent not harmful) to any Trumpers that we know. It seems that any new legend would need to be as aspirational as the first, us vs. our past instead of us vs. the world, taking our own account. It needs to be about ideals seeded with what we have accomplished, that makes enough of America feel welcome that they can join and succeed. If it’s true that Americans prefer stories of triumph, they also love a hard-working underdog who makes good. A story could be told about us, together, working to overcome our sins including omissions of care for the humanity of our fellows.

    One problem is the acknowledgement part: when it gets put like real talk — we “were” a pack of sexist-racist +/- heedlessly selfish heathens who’ve made a lot of mistakes at home and abroad, but we’re working on it — different people will (and do) feel unwelcome depending on the language and the messenger(s), which begat some subset of the Trump-curious in the first place. Overcoming Trumpism, unlike defeating King George, would have to include them, enough of them, if this is not to be a bitartite America. All while the number of Americans feeling comfort in their dishonesty grows by the day. It’s a bit paradoxical.

    • Eureka says:

      Nested in the what we say we do/actually do problem, and another reason I think we have to keep focusing now on doing the little c (and in the company of strangers): we have a problem wrt mediators of the sociolinguistic division of labor. It’s not just the so-called demise of expertise, but the willing embrace of manipulative new actors, and old familiars turned, as experts. There’d be no Sidney Powell without the bridging authority — device — of a Lindsey Graham.

      So words like: rights, freedom, constitutional, American, America, etc. are all reappropriated to create victim/savior identities. It’s not new, but wildly exacerbated in tone and spread.

      The most disgusting, recurrent thing about this election cycle is the cooption of all of the language of the civil rights movement. I mean, come on!

      They are mediating the meanings of these words with their actions, which often take the form of “fighting for” all of those things on behalf of their audience while they are actually obstructing America’s laws and promise. Some of the audience knows this is all wink-nod performance, but a lot take it in earnestly or at face value. We can go a long way ourselves by making those ideals with our own actions. People naive to some thing learn most by observing, interacting — let them watch us do it.

      I don’t recall where, but someone said they had a detente on politics with their (Trumper) relatives (to be fair, this is a common refrain). Fine for the “politics”, I guess (though there are non-confrontational ways to engage, and I think it’s an error to draw that line unless you must), but be sure that when you talk about your day &c, you share conversationally how you went about mail voting, or registering new voters, or getting food to the pantry/bank, or practicalities around masking/ distancing.*

      Reclaim the topics they are trying to “pollute” as constituting friction-laden, off-limits “politics”.

      *Months ago — I think it was for the VMAs — Ariana Grande did the huge public service of hiking up her mask over her nose at the end of her performance (with Lady Gaga, IIRC). Thing is, her mask was already over her nose. But everybody noticed that punctuation, during a time I recall as plagued by youths, especially, refusing to cover their noses. It was a “thing”.

      ^ 1133p *bipartite

    • Nehoa says:

      I try to say something complimentary and I get comments like this. I have been following this group since the FireDogLake days so ___ you.

        • Nehoa says:

          Thanks, I thought they were trolls, but I have had so many trolls, death threatens and real death threats in my life. I am living and most of them are not (mostly through old age). You have to stand tall to all of them to see who is really dangerous. Thank you for your vigilance. I too am vigilent on a personal level, and for my family. But note that I travel in dangerous places and deal with murderous assholes on a regular basis. No guns. Knives if I can. Hands if I must. The best defense is to tolerate no BS upfront. People respect that.

            • bmaz says:

              Listen jackass, you waltzed in here and, mostly lately, occupied like you own the place. You do not. Stop trolling us and our commenters.

              • Nehoa says:

                bmaz: you are correct. I have my issues. I will not get into them here. I respect what goes on this site. I do not want do detract from that.
                My apologies.

  40. SC says:

    This is just a footnote to this remarkable thread (and the Rayne and Quinn threads) but I’d like to note that . . . there is a recent macro history of the US, by contemporary US historian, Jill Lepore, These Truths, that is, IMO, the most significant attempt this century to explicate and redefine the American Experiment. Yes, it’s nearly a thousand pages long and, yes, it’s a history book but Lepore has thought through what’s been going wrong and why. (Her work on the Tea Party, for example, is foundational to understanding the Tea Party. She has done significant work on Colonial US history and her most recent book is about political polling and the first use of computers to predict and then run elections.) Lepore addresses, contextualizes, and traces the roots of nearly every topic discussed in these threads. (Rayne’s comments come closest to Lepore’s overall thrust, I think.)

    Lepore untangles our history alongside looking at our ever-changing national story and while she’s not exactly hopeful, she does address, in detail, how what we think of ourselves changes the ways in which we interact with each other. She culls through which national stories have worked (and for who and where and how) in the past and which have not. In various essays written after the publication of These Truths, she addresses the fresh origin stories for their countries created by Putin, Orban, and various other recent populists and suggests that we are in danger of similar false/manipulative/fascist origin stories taking hold here, beyond the Tea Party and, say, D’Souza and Bannon’s movies. The right’s reaction to the 1619 project and the GOP’s attempts to reboot grade school history aren’t the first time the right in the US has been focused on redefining the reasons for our nation state.

    Anyways, the shorter is that if you are interested in the history of the American Experiment and interested in thinking about how we can/should/must redefine ourselves, I highly recommend getting a copy of These Truths (and maybe take a look at Lepore’s various articles/books about the topic). If nothing else, it’s a beautifully written, deeply researched, and heart-opening history of the US, worth reading if you are thinking about our future.


  41. FiestyBlueBird says:

    Lot’s of smart discussion here today. I’m not trying to screw it up by seeming to be too flip, but I can’t help but think of lines in Lou Reed’s 1993 album New York.

    Caught between the twisted stars the plotted lines the faulty map
    that brought Columbus to New York

    More Lou:
    Give me your hungry, your tired your poor I’ll piss on ’em
    That’s what the statue of bigotry says
    Your poor huddled masses, let’s club ’em to death
    And get it over with and just dump ’em on the boulevard

    my God Lou
    How do you do
    What you do
    In song from beyond
    Not far wrong
    Was that dream
    It would seem
    A time capsuled madness
    What you do…
    How DO you do?
    my God Lou

    Here’s the fever dream lyrics from Lou in New York, 27 years before Trump goes to hospital with Covid, that triggered my words above:

    They say the bad makes the good
    and there’s something to be learned
    in every human experience
    Well I know one thing that really is true
    This here’s a zoo and the keeper ain’t you
    And I’m sick of it, I’m Sick of You
    They ordained the Trumps
    and then he got the mumps
    and died being treated at Mt. Sinai
    And my best friend Bill
    died from a poison pill
    some wired doctor prescribed for stress
    My arms and legs are shrunk
    the food all has lumps
    They discovered some animal no one’s ever seen
    It was an inside trader eating a rubber tire
    after running over Rudy Giuliani
    They say the President’s dead
    but no one can find his head
    It’s been missing now for weeks
    But no one noticed it
    he has seemed so fit
    and I’m Sick of it

    And back at the Wilshire, Pedro sits there dreaming
    He’s found a book on magic in a garbage can
    He looks at the pictures and stares at the cracked ceiling
    “At the count of three” he says, “I hope I can disappear”
    And fly fly away, from this dirty boulevard
    I want to fly, from dirty boulevard
    I want to fly, from dirty boulevard
    I want to fly, fly, fly, fly, from dirty boulevard
    I want to fly away
    I want to fly
    Fly, fly away
    I want to fly
    Fly, fly away
    Fly, fly, fly
    Fly, fly away
    Fly away

    • BD Mac says:


      I assure U.

      We’ve flown away. But not to lead astray. Wut more can we say?


      She’s takes care of us ALL (tired, poor, et al)

      27 years R NOTHING!

      We’re surely not sick of U!

      Bill is the rest of still. Has thy rest they will?

      A burden is the flesh; cannot the rest see all such a pest

      No one has seen; an animal that belongs unto thee.
      Such a tire does not, nor ever will belong to thee.

      Dead or alive, a President shall not reside. Weeks, months or years. Let us shed no tears BROTHER.

      SOME HAVE NOTICED “IT”. You fail 2 C the PIT HE has fallen into IT. I’m OH SO HEALTHY TO WITNESS SUCH SHIT [wink-wink]

      Lou and ME:

      In 1993, I knew the bad make me good….,

      I never wanted 2 cage U, THE ZOO KEEPER IS U!

      It is, but it’s of your making.

      The Trumps got the Mumps (ordained or not), BUT I didn’t die at WALTER REED HOSPITAL

      Bill can still see that it’s not the pill that killed him.

      Your arms and legs are still your arms and legs, do you wanteth me to beg?


      An animal that many have seen; R U being obscene?

      [Insider] Trader’s (of any kind) don’t mess around with such unattractive waders [shallow swamp protections] of any KIND.

      They DON’T SAY THE PRESIDENT’S DEAD, he still has his head (on the outside , but U and I know otherwise on the inside)

      It has been missing now for weeks, AND U AND I NOTICED IT, AND HE DIDN’T SEEM FIT, AND WE’RE ALL SICK OF IT

      Lou and Me:

      Pedro’s always had a book on MAGIC,

      Flying is not necessary; when ONE HAS THE RECIPE!

  42. John Campion says:

    The need for a new story is obvious–but what kind? Clearly the constitution is an institutional straight jacket, racist, sexist, and unequal by design. It’s architecture keeps the presidency (via the electoral college), the legislature (via the un-democratic Senate and gerrymandered House) & the judiciary (packed by the president and senate) tightly controlled not by the principle of one person one vote, but by the one percent—those, the first chief justice John Jay clarified, who own the country and ought thereby to run it. A better constitution is clearly needed (either in whole or in large part. But it is likewise true that a new constitution might well produce one with all or most of the defects and none of the guarantees of individual rights. Even so, the last 8 elections have demonstrated that we ought to try to do this—patience and hard work are looking like failure. So I’m with those who are willing to take the risk. But what kind? Certainly a constitution that articulates principles of equality, liberty, and fraternity from the get go and relies further upon one person one vote might well lead to a more perfect union.

    But I insist on coming back to the question: what is our new story to be about. I’d say that merely achieving a document that the founders (a few of them) only pretended to want is not really a new story. The new story must begin here, but a truly new story must be prepared to fully involve the rights of the earth itself. The new story must demonstrate that human culture is a part of the fields of forces of the planet itself, not its apex by any means. We are going to have to give up a lot of romantic (and naïve) views about human individuation and about intelligence too. Cogito ergo sum is part of the old story that must go. The new story must be filled with the intelligence of swarms of bees and the inwoven mind of a forest of trees—replete with their companion networkers the bacteria, the archaea, the fungi, the air the elements leaching through the tell. I have never been more serious. Co-evolution is the consensual truth arrived at through the ongoing truth procedures of all the living and non-living entities. We live in and are environments; we are symbionts and live as our symbionts allow. Yes the new story must include a sense of the co-extensive immanent world. The individuated, transcendent one is kaput. A constitution built upon real principles of equality (not reliant upon a romanticism that dreams things will turn out okay as is or fearfully holds that we better not try cause wickedness is afoot) is a platform for a new story—an embodied piece of a plateau perhaps, but it is not the story, not the medicine our sickness needs. That needs to take into account all the participants.

  43. Mitch Neher says:

    Reputedly the first reference to exceptionalism excerpted below from “Democracy in America” by Alexis de Tocqueville:

    The position of the Americans is therefore quite exceptional, and it may be believed that no democratic people will ever be placed in a similar one. Their strictly Puritanical origin, their exclusively commercial habits, even the country they inhabit, which seems to divert their minds from the pursuit of science, literature, and the arts, the proximity of Europe, which allows them to neglect these pursuits without relapsing into barbarism, a thousand special causes, of which I have only been able to point out the most important, have singularly concurred to fix the mind of the American upon purely practical objects. His passions, his wants, his education, and everything about him seem to unite in drawing the native of the United States earthward; his religion alone bids him turn, from time to time, a transient and distracted glance to heaven. Let us cease, then, to view all democratic nations under the example of the American people.

    [end excerpt]

    If I’m not entirely mistaken, the above was a Frenchman excepting the rest of the democratic nations of the world from any causal connection to the American people as the initiators of the historical process of decolonization that our forefathers had in fact initiated on The Fourth of July, 1776. Hoorah!

    P. S. It’s entirely possible that the historical process of decolonization has already been mostly completed despite the many instances of unfinished business left over.

    • dude says:

      I have a good friend who for years has contended that Americans just don’t want to be bothered by government (at any scale). Under normal conditions, he says, we just endure it because it is “part of the overhead of life”, nothing more. “Just don’t bother me–I have enough to contend with”. My friend grew up in a working class Catholic family. His Dad worked the shop floor of a GM plant. When I read your excerpt from de Tocqueville, I thought he was describing the America of my friend and his parents–in other words, the America of 1940 to the present.

  44. Badger Robert says:

    The fall of the Soviet Union deprived the Republicans of one of their primary attacks on Democratic proposals to modify the sorting effects of capitalism.
    Without a foreign enemy, the USA is back to predicament of 1846-1861. Including South Carolina and Georgia in the original 13, and now having the states that grew out of their expansion leaves two different nations within one country.

    • Max404 says:

      Without a foreign enemy, the authoritarians in the America of today are in a predicament. One described by the Nazi philosopher Carl Schmitt in “The Concept of the Political”. Our friend Wikipedia elucidates:

      Schmitt, in perhaps his best-known formulation, bases his conceptual realm of state sovereignty and autonomy upon the distinction between friend and enemy. This distinction is to be determined “existentially”, which is to say that the enemy is whoever is “in a specially intense way, existentially something different and alien, so that in the extreme case conflicts with him are possible.” Such an enemy need not even be based on nationality: so long as the conflict is potentially intense enough to become a violent one between political entities, the actual substance of enmity may be anything.

      We laughed as the socialist bogeyman reared his ugly head in the waning weeks of the last presidential campaign. Big mistake laughing, because that particular bogeyman has a long and storied history in the US going back to about the time of the Russian revolution, and the immigration of somewhat radical Italians and Jews into the US in the 20’s. It worked then, it worked in the 50’s, and amazingly to those of us who thought there was some progress (we had a black President, for chrissake), it worked in 2020.

      That is my contribution to the political theory part of this discussion. On the historical part of this discussion I can contribute the following. It is true that the foundation of the US was an exceptional event in human history, at the time. Even old Toqueville had to make the trek and travel around a couple of years on horseback trying to figure it out, to explain things to his bewildered friends in the French intelligentsia.

      That was then. In the meantime, really alot of people in the world now live in parliamentary democracies and enjoy freedom and life and liberty and they pursue happiness and they are neither US citizens nor residents. Not the majority of the world’s inhabitants, perhaps, but lots of people. And thanks, in some part to the American experiment. But it would make it easier for everyone if Americans would come down to earth for a while and realise that they are not the only ones.

      And lots of places accept immigrants, with more or less problems of integration and stories of success and failure. Migration happens all over the place. It is messy, it causes reactions and it provides hope. All of the above. A nation of immigrants, yes, but so are many places, in their own ways.

      In other words, Americans could get off the high horse once in a while. After 4 years of Trump, I can tell you people here in Germany are really tired of hearing about American exceptionalism. Really tired of it.

  45. gnokgnoh says:

    New stories are not crafted by one person or one speech. The Gettysburg address was followed by the end of reconstruction and a century of Jim Crow laws. Our seminal documents and speeches have always been aspirational. The Declaration of Independence had lofty ideals, “all men are created equal,” that were not realized in the Constitution. All of the amendments to the Constitution have evolved through case law into a richer, sometimes more constricted and narrow understanding of how they play out in our lives.

    This comment thread has not much explored the shift in self-awareness and access to information that has resulted from the Internet. This is a very recent phenomenon (two plus decades) that has accelerated the critique of our leaders and institutions and the banding together of people into ideological and tribal compounds. Cynicism about our institutions, about politicians, religion, schools, medicine, sports, business, the justice system, and their leaders and managers is caused by revelations about how flawed they are, about how little they speak to our ideals. Nothing is sacred.

    The resulting liberal cynicism* is focused on the flaws and betrayals of our “third way” politicians in the messy work of governance and compromise and the evolution of our laws and regulations (or lack of them). It’s a strangely narrow view. Fortunately, the new generation of younger left politicians has moved on from navel-gazing and self-critique and begun to focus on how to govern in a way that honors those original ideals. They are creating and demanding a new story, not crafted out of a new Constitution, but out of the ideals of the original declaration and the ideals of our Constitution and its many amendments. We may not be able to pass an amendment in the current moment, because of our tremendous divide, but they are not sweating that.

    It is an amazing gift to recognize and clearly see the flaws in our government, our institutions, our leaders, and ourselves and to still strive to build up better, stronger institutions and laws and to aim to govern and serve with more integrity.

    *By contrast, on the right, no stories are believed, none. Trumpism is not a story, it is simply tribalism and deep insecurity, lashing out, because everything and everyone is like us. The aggregate body politic is us, and we might as well wallow in it. The caravans of pickup trucks with flags and banners is the performance of Marvel comics or Mad Max characters.

    • Rugger9 says:

      Aha. Well, I do know that general officers are a bit different, but perhaps that only applies to guys like Omar Bradley (General of the Armies) who cannot retire. That constraint doesn’t apply to Flynn.

      However, I would think if it is discovered that Flynn engaged in footsie before he retired that might come into play, especially with respect to Turkey. It’s a pretty small chance though. Damn.

      • Raven Eye says:

        Over a period of years in a very, very large office building, the cubicle next to mine was occupied by a JAG officer (they reviewed operationally oriented directives, orders, and policies). Naturally, there was discussion back and forth over the divider on matters military, including legal stuff. One thing I learned (at least from my fellow cube hamsters) was that the military is often reluctant to reach back to retirees because the burden of the punishment may fall just as heavily on spouses and other family members.

        On the other hand, the final retirement rank (and pay) falls under “Retirement in Highest Grade Held Satisfactorily” (10 USC 69). There are time in grade requirements, different based on the rank achieved, but there is also language such as…

        “When an officer is under investigation for alleged misconduct at the time of retirement, the Secretary concerned may conditionally determine the highest grade of satisfactory service of the officer pending completion of the investigation. Such grade is subject to resolution under subsection (b)(3).”

        But even if the officer retires at a certain grade – as in…”(f) Finality of Retired Grade Determinations.—(1) Except as otherwise provided by law, a determination or certification of the retired grade of an officer pursuant to this section is administratively final on the day the officer is retired, and may not be reopened.” it may not be final.

        There are several situations that allow “(2) A determination or certification of the retired grade of an officer may be reopened as follows:” — followed by (A) through (E), and additional requirements after that.

        This seems to speak to the availability of administrative procedures for decisions by SECDEF and the service secretaries, rather than just criminal procedures.

        (Discussions were also influenced by two of those cube-mates who were reserve officers and whose “day jobs” were as federal prosecutors.)

  46. Pete T says:

    Is it possible to have a representative democracy – one that strives over the long haul to achieve a more perfect union through laws and constitutional amendments of a flawed document (I am not portraying the Constitution necessarily as a bad thing or something that needs to be thrown out) while, at the same time, having a “free market capitalist” economy morphed into a fascist-like system where debt fueled infinite growth and enrichment of the few (capitalists, many politicians, and other elites) seems to be the impossible goal?

    It seems to me that the socio economic “system” in place is a root cause of many of our woes.

    It also seems to me that those who have earned demonization wrap themselves in the Bible and probably have not actually read it or understood it – or more likely twist it to suit there points of view. If they had read and understood it there might not be the level of social strife that there is today. I mean Jesus Christ (literally) and God are portrayed as WHITE MEN when IN FACT – Jesus whether he was the son of (a) god or not was a man of color as were his mother Mary and her husband Joseph.

    • Sandwichman says:

      “It seems to me that the socio economic “system” in place is a root cause of many of our woes.”

      Yep. Which is not to say that every woe can be reduced to economic factors or that transforming the socio-economy will solve all problems. To believe that would be a technocratic form of theodicy.

      But what is the purpose of ignoring the role of the dream of unlimited capital accumulation in generating a regime of plutocratic cronyism other than legitimizing the latter regime? The present “constitutional crisis” cannot be resolved constitutionally and it cannot be resolved by writing a better constitution.

      But is it a constitutional crisis or a crisis of capitalism. It seems to me that the one thing MAGAs get right is that they view any genuine attempt to solve contemporary social problems as “socialistic.”

      A specter is haunting America…

  47. Don Utter says:

    Thanks for the fascinating discussion on this thread following Marcy’s excellent article.

    A lifetime of trying to make sense of what is going on has led to this source:

    “The hypothesis [of this book] is that we can understand nothing about the politics of the last 50 years if we do not put the question of climate change and its denial front and center. Without the idea that we have entered into a New Climatic Regime, we cannot understand the explosion of inequalities, the scope of deregulation, the critique of globalization, or, most importantly, the panicky desire to return to the old protections of the nation-state—a desire that is identified, quite inaccurately, with the ‘rise of populism.’”

    – Bruno Latour, Down to Earth (2018; original French edition 2017)

    This is the opening of a book review by Bernard Harcourt of Columbia University who in the last paragraph looks forward to hosting a seminar on Marcuse indicates his larger work.

    The important dialogue going on right now here is an attempt to grapple with the loss of common ground with far reaching implications.

    The broad scope of the poly math Bruno Latour are introduced in this article which leaves out an important element, namely the need to bring non humans into politics.

    More from the review.

    It is here that Latour articulates his current position on facticity and truth. Whatever may have come before—and Lord knows he has been accused by many for having relativized facts and truth—Latour here argues that global climate change is “true” but not believed because truth requires trust.

    Latour argues that it all boils down to correct epistemology. A true fact cannot stand on its own, autonomously, independent of social relations, of who tells it, or finds it, or proves it—and where and how it is established. There may well be facticity, but in order for facts to stick, they have to properly form part of social life. And when our shared social life has been scarred by betrayal and exploitation, it will no longer be fertile ground for the trust necessary to maintain truths.


    • Sandwichman says:

      Thank you. Another thing the MAGAs get right: when they go out in their flotillas and trumpck trains, their banners flap in the breeze of their exhaust fumes. They intuitively sense is no longer enough for them to simply deny climate change — so they flaunt greenhouse gas emission as retribution.

  48. greengiant says:

    Doesn’t the US needs thousands of more bmazs. To defend against the kinds of abuse that Quinn suffered. I don’t know if there even is such a thing as a public defender when someone is called in for an FBI interrogation? Seems to be the go to for dealing with single moms. What is going to happen to your children during your upcoming ordeal.

  49. John Lehman says:

    Great forum,…”from the clash of different opinions comes the spark of truth.”
    Myth making? Isn’t myth making based on truths, semi-truths and fiction needed to support the spirit and pride of a nation or people?

    Our country’s myth Is living….evolutionary and at times revolutionary….pieces and parts (true and false) added and subtracted as the country has grown and matured.
    The material advances in communication, transportation and scientific knowledge achieved by humanity in the past two centuries are far beyond the wildest imaginations of our ancestors. Yet in spite of this, in the in the twentieth century we’ve had the two most horribly destructive wars in human history.

    Born from these two apocalyptic events were first the League of Nations highly idealist but woefully weak, unable to significantly override any country’s will and ultimately perishing as irrelevant in the flames of WW2.

    Second the more noble United Nations, a much stronger and diplomatically respected international institution given limited powers to help keep world peace.

    The UN is being mentioned in this discussion as nomination for a possible inclusion to a revamp of our country’s myth.
    After all the UN was born in San Francisco and convenes in New York City.
    The point being, not excessive pride that we’re better than anyone else (America exceptionalism) but simply and proudly that we’ve provided the birth place (San Francisco) and physical shelter (New York City) where the UN can grow and develop peacefully.

    Of coarse it’s going to take awhile for the knuckle draggers to accept this.

  50. Joe says:

    Great discussion. My take is that the premise of the article is impossible.
    Unfortunately, it is going to take too long to revise the American myth. When is the American Indian genocide museum going to be built in DC; how large will it be; and where will it be in relation to the other monuments? My guess is maybe one hundred years from now a proper museum might be built.
    Trump was/is an authoritarian because many Americans have an authoritarian mind-sets, which cannot be reprogrammed with empathy, understanding, logic, or myth-busting. What you need is a better authoritarian argument. For example, Biden might point out that Trump’s endangered the country with his dereliction of duty to respond to the virus. The glutton golfed while people died. Trump’s response leaves our country weakened and vulnerable to a biological attack in the form of a second virus. Under Trump, the greatest country in the world had death rates higher than all the shit-hole countries in the world. We were winning by being the number one worst country in virus response . . .
    Until you have a higher level of eduction in the country that can accommodate a non-simplistic myth, we will have to stick to the whips and carrots of the authoritarian mind-set. This will take more than a generation.

  51. Philip Jacobson says:

    I don’t think what is being discussed is about myths but rather about ideals and convictions. Myths are history and morality lessons that read like stories that tell us about ourselves, not always in a good way. I think what’s being discussed here aren’t myths but rather convictions; who we think we are at a core level and what are the ideals we hope all aspire to emulate. The gradual (and in many ways, intentional) dissolution of our ideals has been ongoing for perhaps 40 or 50 years and it came to its logical conclusion with the Trump era – a time of unmitigated grift, corruption, selfishness, and especially the flaunting of law with the exercise of raw power. We became a land whenre the Law of Rule has replaced the Rule of Law. There’s no need now to go into the history of how that happened, but we have to recognize that it did happen because our kids all know it happened. They’re growing up watching our cynicism and our hypocrisy and feeling completely betrayed becuase they see everything they were told about ourselves to be tragically false.

    it’s possible to for national convictions about the social fabric to be misused, appropriated, and used against such convictions to the point of making them meaningless. And that defines the very word nihilism – the utter lack of conviction – the sense that nothing matters so it’s OK to do or say anything, believe anything, or pretend to believe anything that will put me in a higher place than you. The concept of “collective good” is virtually meaningless in this country now, and it is what made us exceptional, until it was confiscated and used against us. I think the ultimate expression of this was earlier this year when hundreds of billions in coronavirus relief openly created a $500 billion slush fund sewer for wealthy companies and individuals to literally reach into the national Treasury and extract whatever they could get their hands on, no questions asked. No that’s not the price we needed to pay – it was the price we were willing to pay because it’s all be normalized. The way out of this? I think it’s got to be a rededication to the things that did make us great, and other things that will make us even greater. Education, immigration, support of refugees, commitment to civil rights, rememberance that civil rights was always about protecting abused minorities, not aggrieved majorities. We let these solid, exceptional, convictions become politicized beyond all recognitition… to become an “agenda” rather than a collective aspiration or way of life and thinking. We’ve let such thinking become a sign of weakness – and of rootlessness and hopelessness – because some think they can benefit In fact it’s what made us exceptional and we need to bring strength, oratory skill, and ultimately, convictions back into vogue, so these values once again become how we differ positively as a people and a nation. Getting money out of politics would be only the first of many steps to start the process.

  52. Skilly says:


    Nice thread. This one will be with me for a while. I am headed into my library for my Bill Campbell books on the Power of Myth. I have the strange sense I need to relearn a thing or two.


  53. Epicurus says:

    I would suggest people read the book The Crisis of the Middle Class Constitution by Ganesh Sitaraman. People would find it as thought provoking as this posting and related comments.

    My two cents is the Constitution has a fatal flaw. It presumes those elected and subject to its oath will be faithful to the Constitution’s intent first and to personal and party (majority faction) agendas second. The reality is personal and party agendas come first in priority and elected officials (and many times the bureaucracy itself) use the Constitution’s format in much the same way Donald Trump uses the law. The Constitution becomes not ultimately the path to justice and ideals for the country and its citizens but rather a mechanism for control over people. That is the essence of the Supreme Court appointment process as an example.

    I can’t think of a system of governance that controls personal and party agendas of those in charge, elected or otherwise. Our Constitution does have an amending provision that can address some of these issues but my instinct is the ingrained and evermore conditioned application of personal/party agendas and power severely limits its effectiveness. My hope and faith is we will muddle through. Casting out Trump and his administration is a good example of muddling through.

    • bmaz says:

      Yes. I have said that for a long time, though I phrase it as “it depends on the good faith of those elected to govern”. And that has degraded significantly for a long time. I very much fear it would all get geometrically worse if a “new constitution” was crafted by the people and powers that would undoubtedly be in charge of creating it. Times change slow. It took a good long while to get to this place today, and it will take a good long while, and maybe continued demographic change, to get the momentum reversed to a better place. And, absolutely, ousting Trump is a good start, but not much more than that. Going to take a lot from there still.

      • Epicurus says:

        I ran (loose term) marathons for awhile. People used to ask “How can you run 26 miles?” I always replied “I can’t. I can only run one mile but I do it 26 times.” I muddled through. We have you and all the others on this blog. I have complete faith we will run one mile 26 times together and muddle through.

  54. georgeh says:

    Any Constitutional Ammendment must be ratified by 3/4 of the states, or 38 out of 50 states. Therefore the 13 least-populated states containing approximately 15.1 million people hold veto power over the other 37 states containing 312.4 million people.

    Bottom line: 4.6% of the population in 13 states have veto power of any Constitutional Amendment over the remaining 95.4% of the population in 37 states.

    And that 4.6% is disporoportionately white compared to the other 95.4% of America.

    The Constitution was designed by wealthy white men, mostly slave holders, to keep wealthy white men in power. It has accomplished that mission completely for the entire existence of the United States.

    And now as we barrel toward the Sixth Mass Extinction, the obsolete Constitution IS a suicide pact. The numbers don’t lie.

    • Rayne says:

      LOL if only that was accurate. The 13 least-populated states aren’t necessarily one party or the other at any given time; the 13 states with the least population are nearly 50/50 GOP vs Democratic. It’s the polarization of partisanship regardless of the states’ size which is the concern though rural states tend to be GOP.

      As for the rest it’s blah-blah-blah white dude going on about racism and calling the Constitution dead. The solution is 1) white dudes actually caring about the racism and becoming actively anti-racist instead of going on about their merry privileged way while giving lip service, and 2) adding two more states from the territories which have been denied adequate and equitable representation especially because they are majority minority entities — ex. Washington DC and Puerto Rico.

      And then suddenly there are four more not-white Senators and at least that many new House members who are also likely to be persons of color. The 50/50 deadlock in the Senate would be busted up, the complexion of the SCOTUS changed going forward, and voting rights restored.

      All by adding one more amendment instead of burning down the entire Constitution.

      Peddle your anarchy elsewhere when you’re not willing to make the genuine effort to pick low hanging fruit.

        • Rayne says:

          True, but I have a suspicion if the filibuster remains we’ll have difficulty that route and it could as easily be undone by legislation. If we have to deal with the filibuster we might as well bite the bullet and make it more permanent if we can muster the Senate majority and address the issue of representation for the remaining territories at the same time we add DC and PR, spelling out more clearly that all persons on U.S. soil whether states or territories can vote for president and have equal protection including representation in both Houses of Congress, and that they are likewise to be counted on all future Censuses.

      • georgeh says:

        Of course, it is accurate, and it speaks to how the Constitution enshrines control of any changes to the Constitution to a tiny minority of the population. It doesn’t have to be those 13 states; it can be any combination of 13 sparsely-populated states.

        And I have been working on picking low-hanging and high-hanging fruit my whole adult life.

  55. greengiant says:

    I am disappointed at this crowd source exercise. There has to be change in the white male privilege and control of others as blessed by their taliban like credos. We need a Teddy Roosevelt trust buster to confront the kleptocracy of monopolies and 3 trillion a year health care godzilla.
    Everyone seems to be in denial about their role. I remember 5 years ago talking to a congress persons staffer. The concept of mortgage servicer and mortgage broker fraud did not seem to have a place in their mind. “the people who over extended lost their equity ” was their line. The boomers who have gotten out of the Ponzi tend not to think about they benefited from restricting competition for their pay stubs. The ones with big pensions are like cargo cultists. They say what me pay more taxes? They are fine with regressive taxation.

  56. georgeh says:

    How many deaths will Wednesday’s SCOTUS decision cause?

    The obsolete Constitution is a truly suicide pact, and Wednesday’s ruling is just another confirmation of that sad truth.

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