Lessons from Anacostia
Linda Tirado looks at a broken America. “I don’t call for unity. There can be no unity with people who oppose your existence.” Follow her @killermartinis and here.
I wasn’t planning to vote at first. Not in the presidential race. I think of the federal races as rich-person Kabuki for the most part. We rarely learn anything of value. We do not discuss philosophy. At no point during your average House race will you learn more than which faction of the party a candidate’s friends and financial backers occupy. But they can be wildly entertaining and even bizarre, and we all spend money on tickets and souvenirs and discuss last night’s presentation excitedly with each other.
Before Trump transformed reality TV into plain reality, we all thought for a minute it might be JEB! Which meant a Bush-Clinton matchup. Again. The Presidency in recent decades would have been: Bush Clinton Clinton Bush Bush Obama Obama Clinton/Bush and while a few commenters noted that was awkward during a time in which we are publicly discussing the increasing concentration of resources in the hands of a relatively very few people, it didn’t seem to really bother most people who actually do politics for a living.
I have rarely in my adult life known an American politics without someone from one of two ruling families in power. I think about that a bit more than someone in their fifties, maybe.
It is unfair to Hillary that she was not born later. She would arguably make a better President than Bill ever did. She should have had her shot, unsullied by the Bush family and her own previous life in the White House. Still she did not, so she and her surrogates spent most of the year screaming sexism at anyone who didn’t already think her glorious instead of ever once admitting what’s clear to basically every voter in America: this whole system is broken, and if the only qualified people we can find to run are related to people who’ve already been President then it’s possible everything is worse than we thought.
“…she and her surrogates spent most of the year screaming sexism at anyone who didn’t already think her glorious instead of ever once admitting what’s clear to basically every voter in America: this whole system is broken, and if the only qualified people we can find to run are related to people who’ve already been President then it’s possible everything is worse than we thought”
Democratic partisans are falling all over themselves to find absolution: the trouble is people didn’t vote, or if they did they voted for the wrong candidate. Anything, as long as they don’t have to admit their failures. They ape their own talking points; they’re the party of the little guy, they say, but the little guy must have an understanding for the sophisticated dance of DC politics which means that there will be banking reform later, we’ll strengthen unions later, we’ll send water to Flint later. We’ll fix the infrastructure, we’ll get prison reform, we’ll punish companies who offshore profits, we’ll get national broadband and a living wage – later. Once the Dems have consolidated enough power they’ll be able to act, so you see we must support them now and have faith that they’ll get there eventually.
Republicans are in the awkward position of having to answer to the authority of a person they were calling a dangerous madman not a week ago. They’ve showed such stellar moral fiber that the Speaker of the House of Representatives wouldn’t endorse him, but encouraged people to vote for him. While the KKK marches in celebration, resumes from all over the GOP are beginning to trickle into Trumpland from people who in some cases are now retracting their retraction of endorsement. Which is good, as the President-elect had apparently been unaware he would need a staff at all, and has refused so far to meet with the State, Justice, or Defense departments.
Trump’s swamp-draining lasted for exactly two days and now he’s appointing anyone with offices on K street to his administration. His children, whom we are told run his business affairs, are on the transition team which for any other President-elect but this one would be a giant scandal. We don’t really pay much attention, though, because we are already used to the President-elect ignoring law and precedent. Recently he tried to have his fraud trial dismissed on the strength of the fact that he is now far too busy to stand trial.
“Trump’s swamp-draining lasted for exactly two days and now he’s appointing anyone with offices on K street to his administration.”
There’s a neighborhood called Anacostia in DC. Buildings there can be demolished but facades must by law remain standing, which is how it came to be that when you take MLK over the bridge from Washington you see a line of brick buildings where there are none.
We have taken the wrong lesson from the story of Potemkin.
I wrestled earlier this year with the notion of participation. In the Declaration of Independence there is a phrase – deriving their just powers with the consent of the governed. Arguably Democrats have policies I generally prefer but slightly better policies don’t solve my problem, which is that the way we do politics is taking us down a dark path which I simply cannot give my consent to. This position is unpopular with partisans, who cannot imagine a world different than this increasingly hate-filled binary. In fact, that awareness happens a few lines later in the Declaration: Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.
It’s not about the candidates really. It’s about power, and who wields it, and when we as a nation have a responsibility to deny them our consent. Because just going with the system while the country devolves into a finger-pointing scapegoating mass of fear and division has historically gone poorly for other nations, and is in fact how we wound up with Donald Trump, a megalomaniacal wannabe statesman who accuses his opponent of witchcraft, advocates war crimes, threatens to jail dissidents, is openly racist, and is fundamentally incapable of communicating except through lies and propaganda. His team is already struggling to figure out how to keep him in cheering crowds, as he enjoys the adulation of rallies and has announced he’ll keep having them once in office.
We have passed the part where we can stop ourselves becoming Weimar. We live in a country where men wear shirts calling Hillary Clinton a cunt, where a political party can elect as its standard-bearer a thug who barks from podiums about the dangers of certain races and religions, where white supremacy is on a visible rise, where we decide which rape victims we believe based on how much we admire the men they’ve accused, where advocates of weaponry intimidate and harass their countrymen and everyone in the country knows there’s a problem, it’s just that we can’t agree on what to do.
The trouble with most long-simmering wars is the calcification. Each party involved treasures their scars, tracing them lovingly and recounting the stories behind them like catechism and giving no quarter. As communication breaks down resolution becomes increasingly impossible; when there is no chance for understanding there’s no shot of negotiating. It will be war until one side wins, which is defined as the obliteration of the other.
There is no political system that cannot be used both for great good and great evil, and you usually only find out you’ve gone from one to the other in hindsight.
We have to decide whether we are Americans first, or whether we are certain kinds of Americans. The red state/blue state thing has actually only been around a few years, though we forget that. It’s possible that the country is too fractured, has gone too far to heal. But we’re at pussy-grabbing and white nationalism and people are pretending to not understand why black people are taking a knee at football games and leftists are making arguments that there are just masses of people not even worth bothering with as if they’re not human, and if we’re not all going to honestly try to fix this we’d be better off declaring the grand experiment a failure and forming a new federation of commonwealths so that we can each live in a country that doesn’t make us fearful and isolated, because we’re already killing each other and it will get worse.
If we are to be Americans, we have to buy in. The United States has an ugly history, and many people have legitimate complaint, both current and ancestral. There is nobody in this whole big country that isn’t guilty of minimizing a historical plight, of turning away from an important issue as not their fight, of telling someone to just get over it already.
America has no right to demand its citizens trust it, and we have good reason not to. But at one point in history, a bunch of people got together and created a beautiful, messy, wonderful dream: a country that while never perfect would undergo constant perfection, whose citizens would together hold it accountable, whose laws would flex and change and grow to suit its populace. A country that could reinvent itself periodically so that it would continue to serve its people and not faraway masters whose despotism might ruin lives.
It is time to imagine a country in which everybody has the right to exist. We have never had that, though we’ve told ourselves otherwise. We have always built our prosperity and security on the backs of people ranked by skin color and genitalia and class and those who have won the lottery of birth are rewarded accordingly.
I don’t call for unity. There can be no unity with people who oppose your existence. I call for massive reform in those systems that are too broken to deal with obvious problems. For electoral redistricting in neutral fashion, for full enfranchisement, for campaign finance reform as a start. Our institutions do not represent us and that’s led to this dysfunction – both sides believe that to be true.
“I don’t call for unity. There can be no unity with people who oppose your existence.”
We can’t blame Trump for becoming what he has. We created him, the toxic tribalism of blind hate and dehumanization his path towards support, the more dangerous parts of the human emotional spectrum celebrated and worn as a badge of honor. As a political figure he carries the banner of the enraged and the unreasonable, the fearful culmination of centuries of propaganda and hate honed to fine purpose.
Our leaders have proven themselves incapable of shepherding us into the future, much less reckoning with the past. They concern themselves with stability, but they keep a narrow definition of the word. The markets must stay healthy and power must transfer with as little impoliteness as possible – and if that means half the country gets run over, well, that’s just life. Nasty, brutish, and short.
It is possible that I am a naif, a wild-eyed radical, entirely unsophisticated and incapable of understanding the complex systems that rule and govern us. I have been accused of as much and sometimes it’s been true. But the Left has become everything it hates and the Right’s moving farther into authoritarianism and while we dither about what to do there are millions of lives on the line.
The next line in the Declaration after the one about how people are reluctant to make waves as long as things aren’t their absolute worst is the one I’m focusing on now: “But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”
If Trump has done one good thing for America, it’s that he’s thrown our divisions into sharp relief. This won’t be easy. But we have an chance to do the real work of reform. It is our right, and our duty.