Weird politics 2

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

The President’s bizarre behavior and statements during the first 2020 Presidential debate on Tuesday amplified political weirdness. Many people are concerned that he could seriously impair or destroy the integrity of the elections. Americans are living in separate realities right now, each with its own “alternative facts.” If we can’t agree on basic realities, it is inevitable that public debate is going to degenerate, and the President has certainly accelerated this process.

Don’t panic yet: the smart money is on democracy to win in November, and the debate seemed to help the challenger. But what are the issues over which we are potentially ripping the country apart? If you stop to think about it a moment, it’s hard to be specific about this. You could point to Roe v. Wade, but there doesn’t seem to be much money involved in this issue, so I am skeptical that it is the real problem. It’s deeper than a single deranged individual, because the President still has his base which is largely intact. We seem to be in a situation more closely analogous to the lead-up to the First World War than the lead-up to the American Civil War, in which a tangle of alliances, misunderstandings, and sheer stupidity led to a European conflagration. The relatively best answer is that we live in separate epistemological realities, each with its own set of alternative facts — something I call “weird politics.”

The basic source of political weirdness is limits to growth. Limits to growth means that the economy can’t get any bigger due to environmental issues. And there’s no politically viable way of dealing with it. That’s the problem and that is what is driving the weirdness of politics.

Robin Hood and Maid Marian (19th century poster, public domain image). They are probably reviewing the details of their new economic policy for Sherwood Forest.

Since Mother Nature has ruled out economic growth, the only real way to solve the social inequality problem is through wealth redistribution, using the Robin Hood method: take from the rich and give to the poor. I don’t see the elites accepting that right now.

The only real way to solve the environmental crisis, including global warming, is by consuming less: reduce consumption, aim for a smaller population, and drastically reduce or eliminate livestock agriculture. I don’t see anyone talking in this vein, either.

Political discussion is not completely bankrupt. There is growing consciousness of specific limits, the most famous one being global warming. Some are talking about a “Green New Deal”; and some (Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and others) have suggested eliminating factory farming. All of these are worthy of further discussion, but our problem is deeper than just a single problem, even a planet-threatening problem like climate change.

Earth seen from Apollo 17 – public domain image

We are facing limits to growth. Even if the Green New Deal works like a charm (which is highly debatable), it only deals with one limit. All the others, including peak oil, soil erosion, mineral extraction, and species extinction, remain firmly in place. People are hoping that we can save the environment and keep our ever-expanding economy. It won’t work; there are just too many limits. At best we can print some more money and shuffle the limits around, which is what has been happening for the last two decades and at best only postpones the day of reckoning.

If we want democracy, we need to face the truth. Since our politics has ruled out discussion of limits to growth or anything like it, we are left grasping at half-truths to justify any political conclusions. We do not have a common shared reality: a set of generally agreed-upon facts within which political debate can happen. Instead, we have “weird politics.”

Weird politics is here to stay. Democracy is worth (nonviolently) fighting for, and getting through the election crisis would give us a breather before the next round of weirdness sets in. But regardless of who’s in office and how they get there, we still have climate change, peak oil, species extinction, pandemics, and groundwater depletion. Until limits to growth is dealt with, politics will continue to be weird.

9 thoughts on “Weird politics 2

  1. Drew Hensley

    What Keith said!

    But I would stress the point that just because certain people on both sides of the political spectrum (progressive/liberal vs conservative/right centrist divide) live in different interpretive bubbles, this doesn’t mean both sides are equally at fault or equally dismissive of science or equally believe in silly conspiracy theories.

    Reply
  2. Drew Hensley

    As for whether we could be headed for CW2 or WW3, what we have now is a historically unique situation with competing news networks and social media facilitating atomization, so to speak, combined with a President stoking the fires of bigotry and hatred … and literally implying that he could turn his most radical supporters into mercenaries for his cause. This is really very different than any situation we have ever faced before. The potential is there for widespread violence that could be widespread and brutal enough to be called warfare.

    Reply
    1. Keith Akers Post author

      It certainly is unique over the last 100 years. Now that the President seems to have COVID-19, my gut feeling is that this dampens the potential for violence, at least for the current election cycle.

      Reply
      1. Jonathan Wade Maxson

        My prayers for a swift and complete recovery of the President, the First Lady and everyone with Covid-19 on the President’s Team, in this nation and worldwide. Also prayers and gratitude for the global healthcare sector.

        You packed a lot in this post and in your comment. Smart money is on smart political discussion and we can see that on both sides in the US. Which side (left/right) and kind (eg unborn/future generations, human/animal, national/international) of violence is your gut telling you Trump’s Covid-19 illness will reduce, and in what way?

        Reply
        1. Keith Akers Post author

          I was referring to human-on-human violence. Peter Turchin raises this issue which I discussed in “Are we headed towards a civil war?” And this blog was pre-pandemic and pre-wildfires!

          My “gut feeling” is somewhat supported because one of the factors Turchin cites is “intra-elite conflict.” Both Trump and Biden are members of the elite and represent others of the elite class; Trump’s illness reflects a misfortune happening to a prominent member of the elite, and the same thing will happen, doubled, if Biden comes down with COVID-19. Turchin’s idea is that it is elites competing with each other, not elites oppressing the common people, that creates the greatest immediate potential for violence.

          I don’t fully understand Turchin’s point, and the effect may be psychological, but in my brain I see elites jostling with each other for power. If one very prominent elite person (or several of them) are incapacitated or have difficulties, the other elites have more room to maneuver and are less threatened.

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          1. Jonathan Wade Maxson

            Thank you for a very insightful and helpful comment.

            Your post on Turchin’s “four horsemen” was indeed worthy of review. It has been reverberating in my brain alongside Trump’s short Twitter speech from Walter Reed last night, which I thought was really quite remarkable and well done.

            I tend to see this in terms of outliers testing the limits of a civil service status quo – a civilizational establishment – in which the truly meritorious compete in good works while struggling to keep up with internal and external threats to integrated personal and collective security. These outliers may represent the bottom fifth and the top fifth of a wealth distribution. They may test civilizational boundaries within or outside of the formal civil service system. By this definition, Trump is one outlier. I am another. Are they the best or worst of human social performance? Do they lead us, elevate us and humanize us, or do they exploit us, demean us and dehumanize us? When and how should they be made more average…more normal?

            I do sense a great deal of concern among Democrats and Republicans about the national security implications of Trump’s Covid-19 diagnosis, the health risks to Biden, and succession planning across the board. Republicans are so focused on Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation they risk carelessness for the safety of Vice President Pence and their own Senate members, including on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Democrats seem more likely to support rigorous campaign safety protocols moving forward, but risk under-equipping SCOTUS precisely when it most needs nine justices.

    1. Keith Akers Post author

      “Election Stress Disorder” is now a thing. Breathe. Remain calm.

      In this scenario, Keith Akers will sip some tea and wait for Joe Biden to make his move. If Biden says, “let’s have mass demonstrations!” then I will probably show up for a mass demonstration, especially if we have good weather. If Biden and Kamala are arrested or incapacitated in some way, then the person who I’d look to for leadership defaults to the most prominent Democrat (Bernie Sanders? Nancy Pelosi? Jared Polis?). I don’t see any reasonable scenario in which prominent Democrats remain at large, but in which I would act in a way seriously contrary to what they suggest. If very worst comes to the very worst, then we rethink everything and come up with a plan, probably some sort of nonviolent resistance. We’re not alone. You have to believe that there will be tens of millions of Americans who will be seriously upset if anything remotely like this happens, so it’s not just going to be us and the other followers of this blog.

      But also, I don’t think this will happen. If the President tries something funny, the most likely scenario is that our President finds out that most prominent Republicans (or enough prominent Republicans) do not support any coup efforts that clearly contradict the election evidence, no matter what the law is or what parliamentary tactics are still at his disposal. He’ll come to his senses and concede, or flee the country, or wait for the police to evict him.

      I’m not saying the situation isn’t bad, but that it doesn’t make sense, right now, to get agitated about everything. If we remain calm, we can remain confident that we can do the very best that we can to rectify the situation.

      Reply

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