American Identity: From the Supreme Court to Racism to Gun Control to Our Political Parties, the United States in 2018 is Mired in a Self-Imposed, Nihilistic Stress Test…but Don’t Despair…There Is Hope
*You might enjoy reading this while listening to Mary Lattimore’s At the Dam. Press play and begin.
“People have always been good at imagining the end of the world, which is much easier to picture than the strange sidelong paths of change in a world without end.”
― Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Dark
Have you ever been driving and suddenly noticed your windshield is cracked? It is quite a jarring sensation. The idea of it shattering in your lap causes the heart to race and anxiety to bubble in your gut.
Some things that break are obvious. When the windshield suddenly sprouted a growing crack, for example. A stray jagged rock must have bounced up off the freeway and met the glass at an odd angle. There wasn’t one specific moment I remember it happening, but suddenly it was clear through the spidery lines: we needed a new windshield. Other things that break are less obvious.
Take the Supreme Court’s role as an objective institution that exists as one of three branches of the American government, as taught in U.S. History and Civics classrooms for many decades. One might argue that no judge is objective, that humans are inherently subjective, but before Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed to fill the seat vacated by justice Anthony Kennedy, it was widely regarded that the Supreme Court was an unaffiliated institution, which generally sought to protect the rights of individual Americans rather than to fortify the power of current politicians. Kavanaugh’s views on the rights of Presidential power are not typical. The man who nominated him for that seat wanted further protections from the hot water of the ongoing (seemingly endless) investigation into Russian collusion in the 2016 election. Hence: the Supreme Court can not currently be called objective in its own power as an institution.
What else is slowly crumbling? I’m glad you asked. Our economy’s underlying foundation has been destabilizing according to most economic experts. A corporate debt bubble, an impending trade war, and an end to a fiscal stimulus package are three main possible causes for what seems likely to be an impending recession. Though a recession would be bad for most of us in the short term, it may lead to regulation that begins building a new American middle class, which has been hollowed out over the last 50 years. Read George Packer’s The Unwinding.
Some would argue Facebook is broken, though it’s hard to say of it was ever working correctly. Certainly, the social media behemoth’s veil of innocence has finally been lifted. The public reaction to Facebook’s outright denials of responsibility for the way it has been used as a tool for political manipulation has been clear and their stock has plummeted, in addition to the privacy issues, the NY Times investigation of their orchestrated smear campaign against other tech giants was another blow to their reputation. All of it points toward real regulation at some point, likely led by European pressure.
In a broad sense, the Pre-Trump Republican Party (see 2016 and 2018 elections), as well as the mainstream-Centrist strain of the Democratic Party (see 2018 Midterm elections) have also been breaking down in fundamental ways. People are no longer so naive as to think voting once every four years is enough to maintain a democracy (see voter turnout in the midterms).
In many states, people are gradually recognizing that the white male hold on political power will take the form of thinly-veiled, hate-based campaigns and overtly racist voter suppression (see demographic change, midterm races with Beto O’Rourke, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Andrew Gillum, and Stacey Abrams). The blue wave many expected actually came true in many respects, despite the framing of cable news pundits. We live in an era of hyperbolic bullshit where everything seems outrageously awful or shockingly awesome in order to capture more and more of our attention. Don’t let people tell you there wasn’t a genuine victory for democracy in the Midterms. But don’t forget, it means nothing without the follow-through over the next two years and again in November 2020.
The Democratic majority in the House of Representatives is a genuine threat to this administration’s policy goals and serves as a path toward governmental stability in an unstable time.
And what about our Earth, you ask? Yes, the environment has been breaking in more obvious ways as well. We witness bigger fires and longer droughts, stronger hurricanes with heavier rain, leading to more devastating floods, and there’s the constantly melting sea ice. While some scientists fear we’ve reached an environmental tipping point, here’s a positive development: cities around the world are committing to a cleaner, more sustainable future.
Don’t let your fear or worry consume you. Restore yourself with music and nature and awareness, then continue your commitment to making things better.
Here is the flip-side to all of that disintegration and volatility. With all that is breaking, some things are heading toward improvement in 2019.
Our awareness of the need for collective involvement in the democratic process in order to maintain a democracy is growing.
Women of color are winning elections and our representatives are beginning to resemble more of the American people.
The 2020 Democratic primaries will indeed be riveting. Beto is a legitimate threat the the Democratic establishment.
As mentioned above, climate justice has become the unifying issue for the world’s younger generation. The question becomes: How will this generation wrestle power away from corporations in order to enact change?
Though we wish it would have happened after Columbine, or Sandy Hood, or any of the other horrific mass shootings in the last twenty years, reasonable gun control laws are somewhere on the horizon with youth-led movements like those from Parkland.
The #MeToo movement has ushered forth a newfound awareness and public discourse around just how abusive, regressive, and straight-up criminal the behavior of many powerful men has been. The young men and women that are being raised in the United States today have seen a shifting educational dynamic in which females are more likely than males to attend college and marriage is less likely than ever before. If these heterosexual young men want to find a life partner with ambitions and opportunities, they will have to treat these young women better than previous generations.
They tell us it all goes in cycles. That the election of Trump was a reaction to Obama. I can’t wait for the full-fledged reaction to this current moment, though, at our current rate, who knows how long this planet will be around for us humans to see it?
A brief version of this essay appeared at Splice Today.