America’s Walk of Shame

A long string of #vtpoli takes will follow later today. But first I’m invoking Blogger’s Privilege to turn my attention to the national results.

As of this writing, it looks like Joe Biden will eke out a narrow victory, unless Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett help Trump steal the thing. But even if Trump loses and vacates the White House, this has to be seen as a victory for Trumpism and a big blow to those hoping for a decisive win for Democrats.

I mean, look: The guy botched a pandemic. That alone should have killed his chances for another term. But the base stayed loyal, and gave Republican politicians no grounds for abandoning Trumpism even if they wanted to. The conservative media ecosystem will continue to crank out the toxicity. There are plenty of Trump true believers in high office. The Republicans seem on track to hold the Senate. Its leadership has engaged in 10 years of hard-core obstructionism, and they’ll limit Biden’s ability to do anything positive. (Forget about court reform or voting rights, just for starters.)

In fact, progress in a Biden Administration will be limited to restoring the institutional damage done to the executive branch under Trump, and doing whatever he can by executive order. And if any liberal Supreme Court justices were pondering retirement (lookin’ at you, Breyer), they’d best do it quick. As Senate Judiciary chair Lindsey Graham said after declaring victory last night, “Here’s the message I got: People like what I’m doing, and I’m going to keep doing it.” If a seat opens up anytime after the summer of 2022, the Senate’s gonna play a long game of keep-away and hope for a Republican victory in 2024. Hell, they’ve already proven they’re shameless.

After the jump: our long sad history.

As it happens, I’m in the middle of a long read: “The Republic For Which It Stands,” Richard White’s exhaustive chronicle of the United States between the Civil War and the end of the 19th Century. (Well, 1895 actually.) It’s a goddamn depressing read, but it sheds a lot of light on the Age of Trump. Which could be called a second Gilded Age, for all the resemblance it bears to the decades of soulless, spiritless Republican rule of the Muttonchop Era. (Remember that “The Gilded Age” was coined by Mark Twain out of sarcasm.)

Well, except that today’s Democrats are trying to do something positive. In the 19th Century, they were equally complicit in a time of stupendous corruption and overt racism. Our leaders turned their backs on the newly freed Southern Blacks, and pursued a ruthless policy of ethnic cleansing in the Great Plains and the West.

But wait, there’s more! Republicans often fanned the flames of anti-Catholic sentiment as a way of preserving power. Immigrants from southern and central Europe were one step above people of color. Anti-Chinese racism dominated politics on the West Coast.

Frankly, it makes Trump look more like a continuation of American political tradition instead of an outlier. Let’s take it from the top, shall we?

America had a 150-year history of slavery and Native American displacement before it became a country. From the Declaration onward, our founding ideals have been, as Will Shakespeare put it, more honored in the breach than in the observance.

After the age of the Founders, we took a dark turn under Andrew Jackson, my nominee fro Most Racist President Ever (and the competition is quite stiff). We tried for decades to paper over the damage slavery was doing to our politics and our national character. The North won the Civil War, but the “freed” slaves were left to the tender mercies of the South’s white power structure for another 100 years. We tried to annihilate the Native Americans, and nearly succeeded. The early 20th Century brought the Eugenics movement and a fresh outburst of anti-immigrant fervor. The Thirties brought us FDR — but also the neo-Nazism of Charles Lindbergh, Father Coughlin and Huey Long. Our entry into World War II was far from a sure thing.

The Fifties, McCarthyism. The Sixties, a glimpse of sunlight shuttered by Richard Nixon.

I could write the same sad song about women’s rights, which didn’t exist until the 20th Century, didn’t exist beyond voting rights until the Sixties at the earliest, and are under active threat today.

There is a long, consistent undercurrent of racism, misogyny, and hatred of The Other running beneath our storied ideals, and it’s always ready to burst forth when given an opening. Donald Trump isn’t an exception, he’s just the latest in a long line of soulless men who gained political power by waving the bloody shirt.

I was hoping this election would provide a clean break with all this toxicity. I was wrong. And that’ll be true even if Joe Biden takes the White House. Yeah, not feeling too good this morning.


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