How Bad is America?

If You Hate America, You Might Want to Reconsider

Written by Bebe Nicholson and published in Medium.com 6/09/2022

The United States has problems, but that’s not the whole picture

Photo by author

The United States is in trouble. Like other countries, we have problems. A big one these days is the political divide that prevents us from addressing issues like crime, abortion, and gun violence.

I’ve read a lot of articles lately by people who are ashamed to be an American and want to leave the United States. Other writers blast our capitalist economic system, or believe we are a country that subscribes to white supremacy and racism.

People from other countries say we’re arrogant and rude. Going all the way back to 1958, The Ugly American described the bungling of the U.S. diplomatic corps because of arrogance and failure to understand local culture.

Newsweek even published an article saying the United States was ranked among the world’s worst places to move to.

But are we more arrogant, racist and rude than people from anywhere else?

In my travels to Western Europe, the Nordic countries, Africa, Canada, Russia, and Mexico, people seemed much the same everywhere. Some were kind. Some were rude. Some were racist and some weren’t.

I found this to be true when I worked at a charity, too. We helped people re-locate to the United States from Haiti, Nigeria, Mexico, Portugal, Brazil, Russia, Ukraine, Syria, and many other countries. Some were warm, generous-hearted and kind. Others were dishonest, arrogant and prejudiced. It didn’t matter what country they came from.

When I kept hearing negative opinions about the United States, yet saw so many people leaving everything behind to move here, I thought, “If we’re so bad, why do so many people want to live here?”

“A simple way to take the measure of a country is to look at how many want in… And how many want out.” Tony Blair

I’m realistic about our country’s problems and hope we can do something to solve gun violence, racial unrest, divisiveness and incivility. But there are many positives that people either don’t know about or choose to ignore.

If you tend to view the United States and Americans negatively, maybe this additional information will broaden your perspective and brighten your outlook. Discovering these facts confirmed my feeling that there is still a lot to like about America.

Photo by Nitish Meena on Unsplash

We welcome Immigrants

Did you know that more people immigrate to America than to any other country? According to a report put together by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, the United States “far and away” leads the world in total immigrant population, with more than 46 million total immigrants. The country with the second largest number is Germany, with 7 million.

According to the American Immigration Council, “Migrants make up significant shares of the U.S. workforce in a range of industries, accounting for over two-fifths of all farming, fishing, and forestry workers — as well as one quarter of those working in computer and math sciences.”

We Are Diverse

The U.S. Census released its race-ethnic population estimates, with data indicating a more diverse nation than was previously expected. According to new estimates, nearly 4 of 10 Americans identify with a race or ethnic group other than White.

This is especially true of the younger population. In 2019, more than half of the nation’s population under age 16 identified as a racial or ethnic minority. Latino and Black residents together made up nearly 40% of this population. Diversity enriches us, or as Angelina Jolie said, “Our diversity is our strength. What a dull and pointless life it would be if everyone was the same.”

We Are Still a Land of Opportunity

Minorities are still way under-represented when it comes to extreme wealth. But even so, there are about 1.79 million African American millionaires in the country and about 1.57 million Hispanic millionaires.

According to Forbes, There are only 15 Black billionaires in a world of 2,668 billionaires around the globe, but 9 of those 15 are Americans. Since the initial article, Forbes has added one more Black American billionaire, Lebron James, to the list.

There is opportunity here for immigrants. In 2018, more than 2.6 million immigrants, including 314,000 refugees, were employed as health-care workers, with 1.5 million of them working as doctors, registered nurses, and pharmacists.

Food, Foreign Assistance, and Generosity

Did you know the United States exports more food than any other country in the world? And not only do we export a lot of food. Taxpayers in the United States have been generous to foreign countries. According to Forbes, between 2013 and 2018, nearly $300 billion in U.S. taxpayer money flowed as aid to countries outside the United States.

Each year, the U.S. spends about $47 billion in aid, with half of it going to Africa and the Middle East.

Americans give around 3 percent of our collective income to charity — more than the citizens of any other country, according to Giving USA. And its individual Americans, not the government, who are generating the biggest share of contributions.

According to the National Philanthropic Trust, the vast majority of U.S. citizens donate to charity.

Health Care for Low Income Households

There are 8 million Americans without health care, and this isn’t good news. But did you know that Medicaid is a government health care program for our low-income citizens?

When my daughter was pregnant with her first child and didn’t have a job or health insurance, Medicaid covered all her pregnancy and delivery expenses.

I’ve been fortunate to have good health care because of my husband’s job as a schoolteacher. One of my friends, a single mother, likes her job in the school cafeteria because of the health care benefits.

Now that I’m over 65, I have Medicare. Another friend, not old enough for Medicare, says Obamacare finally enabled her to get health insurance. My sister-in-law has been satisfied with Med-Share, a health care sharing ministry.

Progressive Tax Rates

This may or may not be considered a plus, depending on your outlook, but according to the Tax Policy Center, the share of Americans who pay no federal income taxes has been hovering around 44% for most of the last decade.

The top 20% of taxpayers paid 78% of federal income taxes in 2020, up from 68% in 2019. The top 1% of taxpayers paid 28% of taxes in 2020, up from 25% in 2019.

Taxes vary some by state. In South Carolina, where I reside, federal and state taxes shrink a $100,000 a year salary to $69,806. According to an article in USA Today, “Americans will shell out an average of $525,037 each in taxes throughout the course of their lives.”

For 2021, Congress increased the size of the child tax credit, the earned income tax credit, and the child and the dependent care tax credit — all of which erased the federal taxes owed for millions of American families, reported CNBC.

Why am I including tax rates as a positive? Because I’ve seen so many articles about Americans avoiding taxes, and I wanted to correct the assumption that our poorest citizens bear the brunt of our tax burden.

Do we need to improve in all the areas I’ve mentioned? Of course! Is the situation as dire as some people paint it to be? I don’t think so.

Other Things You Might Not Know

Here are some other interesting facts about The United States.

The National Park System encompasses 423 national park sites in the United States. Over 650 million acres, nearly one-third of all land, is federally owned.

We are home to less than 5% of the world’s population but produce 25% of the global economic output.

We are the only country with all of earth’s five climate zones.

The U.S. has the world’s strongest higher education system and draws over a million international students a year, the most of any country.

Much of the music the world listens to comes out of the United States, and the U.S. film industry is the largest and most profitable film industry in the world.

The Clean Air Act of 1970 quickly made an impact on the quality of the air Americans breathed. Today, on average, the pollution that Americans are exposed to is only about one-third what it was in 1970.

One of our greatest exports might not be what you think it is. The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed in 1990 to create more access for people with disabilities. Since then, 181 countries have passed disability civil rights laws inspired by the ADA, according to the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund.

Mentioning a few positive aspects of life in the United States doesn’t mean I’m naive about our challenges. I agree with some of the criticisms, and I cry tears of anguish over crime, corruption, and the politicization of every issue. But I love my country and cling to the hope that we can do better.

I believe our young people are hearing so much negative news that they are becoming pessimistic and despondent about the direction of their lives. But they need to know they have the hope and opportunity for a good life.

As Barack Obama said, “In the face of impossible odds, people who love their country can change it.”

Going our separate ways

Welcome To The Autonomous States of America

Written by Herb Bowie and published in Medium.com 5/5/2022

Poster map of United States of America with state names
Image Credit: iStock / FoxysGraphic

Based on a recently leaked draft majority opinion, it now seems virtually certain that Roe v. Wade will be overturned by the US Supreme Court sometime this summer.

I say this because the arguments contained in the leaked draft really leave no room for ambiguity or doubt or equivocation: they unflinchingly lambast the original Roe v. Wade decision as deeply flawed, and without a single redeeming judicial characteristic.

And so, with one breath, the house of cards holding up universal abortion access in America appears about to fall.

Instead, every state will once again be empowered to set its own rules on abortion, and we will have taken one more step away from the United States of America, and towards the disjointed, discombobulated, and largely autonomous fifty states of middle North America.

In many ways, this should not be surprising.

We know that a drive for autonomy is one of the key motivators for all humans. And we know that local autonomy is one of the Core Design Principles for the Efficacy of Groups, even as group sizes scale to larger populations. And so, quite naturally, each of our fifty states wants to assert and express its independence from our federal government.

And we know that, as a country, the US is riven by vast differences between its various parts. Consider:

  • We have two states that are not part of the contiguous, continental US at all, with one, Alaska, being close to polar, and the other, Hawaii, being close to equatorial.
  • Even within the contiguous 48 states, we have a number of separate regions that are very different from each other in significant ways: the Pacific coast, the Southwest, the Western plains, the Midwest, the Northeast and the Southeast, just to name the obvious ones. Differences in climate, history, culture, economics and degrees of urbanization are just some of the ways in which these regions differ from one another.
  • We have a number of states with significant coastlines, along one of two different oceans, with many of these states containing at least one major seaport, and one international airport, providing easy and regular access for goods and people entering and leaving the country.
  • On the other hand, we have a number of inland states that are landlocked, and harder to access, especially for international commerce and travel.
  • We have a number of highly populous urban areas — generally close to oceans, or to our Great Lakes, and/or to our national borders — but much of our country consists of vast tracts that are still sparsely populated.

Looking back on our US history, we can also see that some of the phenomena that once brought us together as a nation have been on the decline for some time now. Consider:

  • When the US was attacked by Japan at Pearl Harbor, we came together as a nation to defeat fascism in WW II.
  • During the Cold War, and the race to land a man on the moon, fears of communism brought us together as a nation.
  • Broadcast TV news, as presented on our three major networks, helped to bring us together as a nation, as we all viewed the same images, with largely congruent commentary, at virtually the same time.

For the last several decades, however:

  • Technology has fragmented and fractured our news media.
  • Globalization has diluted our national identity, without providing any sort of cohesive new larger identity capable of serving as a suitable replacement.
  • Starting with the election of Ronald Reagan in 1981, our federal government has often been seen as bloated, unhelpful, ineffective, bureaucratic and guilty of massive overreach.

On top of all this, we have the anthropological phenomenon of schismogenesis going on, which I have recently learned about through the book The Dawn of Everything, by Davids Graeber and Wengrow. This book presents multiple instances in early human times when two different societies in close proximity to one another, and fully aware of each other, seemed to develop in contrarian ways that can only be explained by their innate urges to just be different from those other folks.

And so, when we look at what we think of as the partisan divide in our country, we at some point may have to accept that this is not a temporary aberration — some deviation from the historical norm that is bound to diminish over time simply through a regression toward the mean — but a more-or-less permanent feature of our national identity.

What then?

  • We may see more US citizens and companies voting with their feet, to move to one state or another, based on differences in things like abortion access.
  • The Democratic party, in particular, may find itself challenged to refocus its efforts to target governorships and state legislatures rather than placing so many of its eggs in the federal basket.
  • The forces of aggrievement that increasingly seem to power our politics may well swing in the direction of more progressive interests: overturning Roe v. Wade might well take the wind out of Republican sails, and start to fill Democratic equivalents, as women are denied abortions and forced by the state to bear unwanted children.
  • Republicans may well find that they should have been more careful about what they wished for, as their governors and legislatures become freed to do more truly stupid and terrible things, and their citizens begin to take a harder look at the realities their votes have engendered, and begin to experience buyer’s remorse.

Many of us may not like what this brave new world of disarray will look like, but at least for now, there may not be much we can do to hold it back.

Rick Scott’s 11 Point Plan to Rescue America

I read it so you wouldn’t have to. Here’s my report.

Written by Caren White and published in Medium.com 2/23/2022

Leave it to Beaver circa 1960 courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

So while Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) is busy releasing his plans for his anticipated Republican House majority after the midterms, over in the Senate, Rick Scott (R-Fla.), chairman of the National Republican Senatorial committee, has come up with an 11 point plan for his anticipated Republican Senate majority after the midterms.

It’s a doozy. Sort of Leave it to Beaver meets the culture wars. You can read it for yourself here.

If you don’t want to read it, I’m providing a summary of it here. Along with my inimitable commentary.

Warning. Sarcasm ahead.

The format is as follows: Title of numbered point, Scott’s summary of the numbered point, then my summary of the details of the point.

Think this is long? The original runs 30 pages.

  1. Education — “We will inspire patriotism and stop teaching the revisionist history of the radical left; our kids will learn about the wisdom of the US Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the founding fathers. Public schools will focus on the 3 R’s, not indoctrinate children with critical race theory or any other political ideology.”

Yup, you guessed it. This is the anti-CRT point. And the “get rid of the Department of Education” point.

He also wants to get rid of tenure for teachers. I know quite a few teachers. The best way to piss-off teachers and teacher unions is to threaten to eliminate tenure.

Bring it on, educators. This guy needs to go to the principle’s office for a good paddling.

2. Color Blind Equality —“Government will never again ask American citizens to disclose their race, ethnicity, or skin color on any government forms. We are going to eliminate racial politics in America. No government policy will be based on race. People ‘will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.’ We are all made in the image of God; to judge a person on the color of their epidermis is immoral”.

I didn’t even have to look at the details. It’s screamingly obvious that this is the anti-Affirmative Action point.

Colleges and Universities who use Affirmative Action in their admissions will lose federal funding and their tax-exempt status.

He even drags the military into it forbidding any diversity training, CRT indoctrination or “any woke ideological indoctrination that divides our troops.”

I think that he should call point 2 “White Men Rule America.”

3. Safety and Crime — “The soft-on-crime days of coddling criminal behavior will end. We will re-fund and respect the police because, they, not the criminals, are the good guys.” We will enforce our laws, all of them, and increase penalties for theft and violent crime. “We will clean up our cities and stop pretending that crime is OK. We have zero tolerance for “mostly peaceful protests” that attack police officers, loot businesses, and burn down our cities.”

This is the anti-BLM point giving police free rein to enforce the law. It strengthens qualified immunity to protect the police from us. Then there’s that little matter of the mandatory sentences.

And don’t forget the Second Amendment which he promises will be defended “at all costs.”

Let’s call this one the “Arm the police and White people to defend against the Black and brown people” point.

4. Immigration — “We will secure our border, finish building the wall, and name it after President Donald Trump. Nations have borders. We should give that a try. President Trump’s plan to build a wall was right. We welcome those who want to join us in building the American dream, immigrants who want to be Americans, not change America. We are a stronger nation because we are a nation of immigrants, but immigration without assimilation makes us weaker. Politicians from both parties talk big about border security and do nothing. We are done with that.”

I don’t have to tell you that this is the anti-immigrant point, do I? No welfare for illegal immigrants and no federal dollars for sanctuary cities.

And no “cultural segregation.” Melting pot only. Is this a thinly veiled attempt at making English the official language of the US?

No more multi-lingual signs? No more “press one for English, para Espanol oprima dos?”

Last time I checked, unless you are Native American, you are an immigrant. Some of us came legally. Some of us came illegally. But none of us really belong here.

5. Growth/Economy — “We will grow America’s economy, starve Washington’s economy, and stop Socialism. Socialism is un-American and always leads to poverty and oppression. We will stop it. We will shrink the federal government, reduce the government workforce by 25% in 5 years, sell government buildings and assets, and get rid of the old, slow, closed, top-down, government-run-everything system we have today.”

Republicans just love to shrink the government. Make the states do everything. But without federal funding.

Balance the budget.

Is it just me or is the last time the budget balanced, a Democrat sat in the Oval Office?

Just sayin’.

And make everybody pay taxes, including the ones at the bottom of the income scale who currently pay nothing and therefore have no “skin in the game.”

Everybody? Good, let’s start with the billionaires and big corporations.

6. Government Reform and Debt — “We will eliminate all federal programs that can be done locally, and enact term limits for federal bureaucrats and Congress. Many government agencies should be either moved out of Washington or shuttered entirely. Yesterday’s old government is fundamentally incompatible with the digital era. The permanent ruling class in Washington is bankrupting us with inflation and debt, so they must be removed. For you to have more, Washington must have less.”

He wants term limits! 12 years in Congress and you are out. So I checked. This is his first term in the Senate. He was elected in 2018. Wait until he’s been in DC for a while with all the perks. He’ll be singing a different tune.

Simplify the tax code. Cut IRS funding and workforce by 50%

Wait, doesn’t this contradict point #5 where he wants more people to pay taxes which will necessitate more IRS employees to process the returns and audit the cheats?

7. Fair Fraud-Free Elections — “We will protect the integrity of American Democracy and stop left-wing efforts to rig elections. Today’s Democrat Party is trying to rig elections and pack the courts because they have given up on Democracy. They don’t believe they can win based on their ideas, so they want to game the system and legalize voter fraud to stay in power. In true Orwellian fashion, Democrats refer to their election rigging plans as “voting rights”. We won’t allow the radical left to destroy our democracy by institutionalizing dishonesty and fraud.”

Wow, talk about projection. Substitute “Republican” for “Democrat” in the above and you have the perfect description of how elections work today.

In-person voting only, no ballot boxes, no votes counted that arrive after the polls close.

It’s Trump’s dream election scenario.

8. Family — “The nuclear family is crucial to civilization, it is God’s design for humanity, and it must be protected and celebrated. To say otherwise is to deny science. The fanatical left seeks to devalue and redefine the traditional family, as they undermine parents and attempt to replace them with government programs. We will not allow Socialism to place the needs of the state ahead of the family.”

Everyone has to be married. No one can get abortions. Faith-based adoption agencies are best.

I’m humming the Leave it to Beaver theme.

Scott is 70 years old. He is longing for his childhood back in the 50s.

If I had my way, he wouldn’t even be in the Senate because of mandatory retirement ages that I would like to see enacted for Congress, the president and SCOTUS.

9. Gender, Life, Science — “Men and women are biologically different, ‘male and female He created them.’ Modern technology has confirmed that abortion takes a human life. Facts are facts, the earth is round, the sun is hot, there are two genders, and abortion stops a beating heart. To say otherwise is to deny science.”

This is the “no transgender people in women’s sports” point.

No transitioning before 18. There are only two genders according to science.

And no “biological males” on women’s sports teams.

This is what happens when you elect old people to office.

Rick, sweetie, they have updated the textbooks since you were in school. Science now recognizes that there is no clear demarcation between male and female. Some people fall in between.

10. Religious Liberty and Big Tech — “Americans will be free to welcome God into all aspects of our lives, and we will stop all government efforts to deny our religious freedom and freedom of speech. The Democrat Party and their Big Tech allies are not merely secular; they have virtually created a new religion of wokeness that is increasingly hostile toward people of faith, particularly Christians and Jews. They are determined to drive all mention of God out of public view. We will not be silenced, canceled, or told what words to use by the politically correct crowd.”

This is the “Christians shouldn’t be forced to bake wedding cakes for same sex weddings” point.

It has the usual litany of complaints about Christians having to adhere to the same laws as the rest of us outside of the privacy of their homes and churches.

Interestingly enough, there’s a paragraph condemning Section 230 which allows internet companies to ban users who post objectionable content.

Trump tried to get rid of it. Now he is trying to use it to ban users from his new social networking site who post anything critical of him or the site.

Not so interesting is the veiled threat of using the Second Amendment to enforce the First Amendment.

I’m not impressed. Cowards hide behind guns.

11. America First — “We are Americans, not globalists. America will be dependent on NO other country. We will conduct no trade that takes away jobs or displaces American workers. Countries who oppose us at the UN will get zero financial help from us. We will be energy-independent and build supply chains that never rely on our adversaries. We will only help countries that are willing to defend themselves, like Israel.”

This is real 50s shit. Monroe Doctrine. America as the world’s police. Keeping our sphere of influence in our hemisphere. Keeping everyone else out.

Somebody please tell Scott that the Cold War is over.

Then educate him about economics. In today’s interconnected world, it is impossible to build supply chains that don’t include any other countries. Raw materials sometimes have to come from other countries because they are not found here.

I think Scott’s 11 point plan should be mandatory reading for all voters before they vote in the midterms. They should know exactly what they are voting for.

And then read it again in 2024 cuz Scott has been mentioned as a possible presidential candidate and this document would make a great platform.

How Civilizations Collapse — And Ours is Beginning To

This Is Why the World Is Spinning Out of Control

Photo from Unsplash

Written by Umair Haque and published in Medium.com 2/21/2022

You and I woke up to a terrifying new world today. War in Europe is now all but a reality again, after a lifetime of peace. War by a major military power, seemingly bent on Nazi style dominance and aggression.

That was only the second relevant fact of the day. The first?

Our governments have basically given up on Covid — to the desperate pleas of doctors and scientists, all of whom know that doing so will only prolong the pandemic, and make it much worse. We are as little as nine letters of DNA away from a truly terrible variant — one that makes Delta look like a walk in the park. That’s what science knows — not politics says.

What is really going on here? If you feel that all this is deeply frightening, chilling, that’s because it is. You are probably, like most of us, consumed with dread, which is the “freeze” part of the trauma response. That’s psychology. But the more urgent question is about our world.

So what happens from here?

In every great collapse, there are roughly three stages. We might call them something like neglect, decadence, and implosion. Sure, I’m oversimplifying — but all models do that. We are just trying to explain the present and predict the future a little bit, its general contours, its shape and weight.

Where we’ve been is cycling through the first two stages of collapse, neglect and decadence. And now we are approaching the event horizon of implosion. That is the last and final stage of collapse.

What happens in the “implosion” stage of collapse? Things spin out of control. They reach a point where they can no longer be managed. The conventional systems and orthodoxies and paradigms stop working. Tipping points are hit, and dynamics accelerate into implosive trajectories, which, by and large, become unstoppable.

Does it feel like the world is spinning out of control right about now? That is because we are at the edge of the “implosion” stage of collapse. We are dancing right at its verge. That is the point at which control is well and truly lost, and then things really go to hell.

I know that sounds dire. Please take a moment to hear me. I don’t tell you these things because I want to “doomsay,” which I’m often accused of. My motivations are always under question and attack. Do you know why that is? Because they hard to understand under our capitalist system and its values. I warn you because I genuinely care about you. That’s baffling to most because in our system, it’s not supposed to happen. People are supposed to do what’s profitable, not what’s right. Listen. I walked away from a lucrative career being a typical pundit because I couldn’t bear it. The good matters to me. I never want any being — you, a little animal, anyone — to suffer. I warn you because I care. That is totally incomprehensible to pundits, within the capitalist system, and that is why they constantly attack me with ad hominems.

I digress because I really want you to understand my motivations at this point in our relationship. I value our trust and community a very, very great deal. It is a wonderful and beautiful thing to experience every day.

We have built a community here that is pure of heart and rich in caring, intellect, wisdom, truth, goodness. But in that way, it is completely different from the corrupt and malicious world which surrounds us.

That world is now spinning out of control. And that loss of control is the hallmark of the “implosion” stage of collapse.

Let’s do a couple of examples to bring this little framework — three stages of collapse — home. Think of the canonical example, Rome. My little framework is very much along the lines of Toynbee, the great scholar of Roman collapse. Rome fell through, first, neglect. Its great public goods were underinvested in — whether aqueducts or fountains or squares and temples. People grew poor as a result. And finally, democracy collapsed. Caesar crossed the Rubicon, and took over, in a desperate, misguided attempt to become Rome’s saviour — and tyrant. He failed — thanks to Brutus and the Senate. But then nobody saved Rome — and the negligence only continued. Augustus became its first emperor, as democracy waned.

So then, because the negligence never ended, came the period of decadence. A hundred short years after Caesar crossed the Rubicon, Caligula was emperor. And his corruption, his orgies, his horse in the Senate — all these have become the stuff of legend. Fifteen year later came Nero, and his fiddle.

Negligence bred decadence. Instead of deciding to address the negligence which was bringing Rome to the point of ruin — leaving people impoverished, desperate, the empire crumbling at the edges — inequality had now spiralled to the point where Rome’s elites simply stopped caring at all. They preferred their orgies and wine and villas to trying to restore order and justice and prosperity. Who cared if their civilization was crumbling? Surely it would last another millennium or five anyways.

And decadence bred, at last, implosion. The empire flew apart. Its enemies marched and attacked it. Cults grew. The average person lost faith in it. Its once proud democracy was now a distant memory. Its armies could not keep the peace, or even secure its borders. Bang. A century after Nero came Commodus — the witless fool under whom Roman implosion has become the stuff of legend.

Why am I going through this retelling of history with you? Imagine life at each of these three stages. In the period of neglect, life wasn’t too bad. Sure, maybe your local aqueduct didn’t work very well, or your town square was in need of maintenance. But society’s basic systems — security, food, water, medicine, democracy — they all still worked.

Nobody much, in that era, would have predicted the ugliness and sordid humiliation of what was to come just a few short decades later, under Caligula and Nero. That Caligula would try to put his horse in the Senate, to drive the point home that Roman democracy was a joke. That basic systems like democracy, food, water, security, medicine would all have begun to break down. That Rome itself would burn, while its emperor fiddled. Life in that age? The age of decadence? It was brutal and desperate and ugly, for the average person. It was beginning to become a desperate battle for self-preservation and survival, while elites mostly laughed and partied and ate fine desserts.

But even then, few could have predicted what was to come next. The age of implosion. What was life like then? Society as Romans once knew it had basically stopped existing. The most basic guarantees — rights, security, stability, systems for food and water and money, had simply stopped working. You didn’t know when your village might be invaded, when life might simply fall apart into shattering violence and brutality and irrevocable ruin.

Life at each of these stages got worse — in special ways. Dramatically worse. Worse in ways that the last stage didn’t predict, and largely laughed at the warning of. And so much worse, by the end of it, that everything was out of control. By Commodus’s era, Rome could not manage its problems. Its mechanisms of order didn’t work anymore. It couldn’t impose control. Its armies were shattered. Its fields were barren. Its great waterways were crumbling ruins. And so on. Everything had spun out of control.

Now. Maybe you begin to see where we really are as a world. We have gone way, way past the age of neglect. Past the age of decadence. Now we are at the edge of the age of implosion.

Let me walk you — quickly — through how each of those stages played out for us. The age of neglect for us? We had a chance, my friends. We could have spent the surplus of our civilization doing things that genuinely expanded the human good. Like educating every single child on the planet, and giving every adult a thorough education, too — inoculating ourselves against fascism. Like giving every life on the planet healthcare — preventing today’s pandemics. Like creating a democracy that genuinely worked for the globe — not just ones that were still contested by fanatics globally — a democracy that let the world’s once abundant resources be shared fairly, and thus used wisely. Such a democracy would have prevented the economies of the richest nations, like America, from being based solely on overconsumption.

We had a century or more to do that. But we didn’t do that. And so we entered the age of decadence. That age was when the entire global economy’s point was to supply goods and services for Americans to overconsume. Our consumption ratio as a civilization is far, far too high: 80% of our economy is consumption. Any farmer can tell you: you can’t reap 80% and only plant 20% and hope to have a harvest for very long. But the entire global economy was predicated on this. China and India became labour centers which basically supplied Americans with huge cars and cheap steel and pointless gadgets and so on. Walmart and Amazon became the way station of this economy.

This age of decadence is best exemplified by the American McMansion. By the 90s, American culture had become a quest for a certain kind of life — a McMansion and a fleet of huge cars, in some giant suburb, at the end of some giant highway. Who really needed to live like this? If everyone in America was going to live like a king — then the truth was that it was costing the planet. Democracy. Life on it.

Instead of investing those resources in educating the planet or giving it healthcare or rights or freedoms…the entire point of global political economy became to let Americans live the lifestyles of mindless ultra-consumption. The very ones for which they became scorned and mocked around the globe as selfish, thoughtless idiots. Could any civilization like this really last? Americans numbered 300 million people or so — and the resources of an entire planet, from its raw materials to its labour, were basically pressed into service so they could live like kings.

Decadence. In Rome, in any civilization, the age of decadence is about a kind of corrosive inequality. How was it fair that if you were in 90% of the world, you’d be consigned to a life of poverty and poor education and illness…while America took all the world’s gains and goods, in a way that was about excess, greed, selfishness, narcissism?

The opposite of decadence is intellect, goodness, truth, justice, equality. We didn’t build a world like that. We built one where Americans could live flashy lifestyles of complete and utter excess — huge houses, multiples of huge cars, multiple air conditioners, huge debts — while the entire rest of the world was neglected. And so, ultimately, was America itself.

The next stage of decadence was American elites growing rich while its own working and middle class fell into penury. Remember how Roman elites partied and were fed grapes and had orgies while their citizens fell into poverty, unable to find work, feed themselves, educate their kids? That was more or less exactly what was happening in America. Go to Manhattan or DC or San Francisco, and you’d see huge, huge mansions or penthouses in the sky rising — by the hundreds. But go to any town or smaller city, and you’d see devastation, poverty, drug addiction, despair, and blight. Decadence had spread from America versus the world, to American elites versus their own average citizens.

And now we are at the stage of implosion. Things are spinning out of control. Precisely because we underinvested for so long. We didn’t give every life on earth healthcare — from poor people to animals — and so we are getting pandemics. And because our leaders cannot find a way to manage them, we are simply giving up. War is breaking out in Europe again, as demagoguery rises — the very same demagogue starting that war is the one who destabilised America, too. Not a coincidence. Decadence. Neglect. Breeding implosion.

I could go on with plenty of examples. We’ve barely bothered to do anything about climate change — and within a decade now, swathes of the planet will be uninhabitable. The consequences will make Covid’s lockdown look like cakewalks. People won’t have homes to be locked down in. Economies will have to bear the immense costs of cities sinking, regions burning, provinces turning into Fire or Flood Belts, refugees fleeing, businesses closing for good, harvests failing.

That’s not even the big one. Then comes mass extinction — life on this planet beginning to die off at the species level. It is happening now, but we will feel it when one species critical to a certain chain is gone — and bang, that chain suddenly stops working. There goes our food. Water. Medicine. There go our oceans, rivers, forests, fields. The world as we know it no longer exists then. Remember not being able to get stuff on the shelves when Covid hit? Now imagine that, but permanent. That is the future we’re heading into.

I need to warn you about this. And you need to plan for itI don’t mean that you should turn into Glenn from the Yukon on that one survival show I like to watch. Run for the hills! You can if you want, but the truth is that isn’t going to work for most of us. We need to exist in collectives and communities — not just as rugged individuals.

You need to begin thinking all this through nowHow will I survive the age of implosion? How will I educate my kids? Where will my income come from? Where will I put my savings? Do I have a way to feed my family, if things fail for a time? I even mean simple things like wearing masks, because yes, they work, even cloth ones, and a worse variant is coming. Or simpler things, too, like saving more and spending less, because lean times are coming.

I can’t tell you what your plan should be. But I can tell you that you are going to need one, now. It could involved leaving a failing state — like moving out of America, if you have the resources. That is a very wise thing to do. It could mean thinking of a new career altogether. It could mean retiring, and building a more independent life in a working country, even if your kids don’t understand why yet. Or it could mean listening to your kids, who are often far more attuned to all this than we adults are, and asking them for their answers.

We are going to have to make these plans. And share them. So that we become communities and collectives. It only works that way. Yes, you can survive in a shack by yourself with a gun and knife — not a problem. But we are talking about something bigger. Not just surviving, but retaining some aspect of civilization. Surviving with goodness, grace, truth, nobility. With art and science and literature and culture and society intact. We cannot do that as individuals.

So we need to, in my opinion, begin making plans and sharing them. This is how I’m going to deal with implosion. This is how I’m going to. Oh, that’s a great idea. I didn’t think of that before! Thank you. May I join you? Sure you can — let’s join hands and do it together. You bring the art, I’ll bring the science. We are stronger together.

Our future, my friends, is in community. Communities which let civilisation survive a dark age. We need to start building them now. It’s not going to be easy, and I don’t have a magic wand. We just have something even stronger. Each other.

America Will Be Twelve Countries Very Soon

It’s inevitable and here’s why

A map of the USA, re-imagined as 12 nations.

Written by Jared Brock and published in Medium.com 11/16/2021

Have you been following the situation in Ethiopia?

Of course you haven’t.

No one has the time or mental fortitude to endure the unending amount of conflict that happens between human beings on planet earth.

The only reason I keep up with Ethiopia is that’s where my wife grew up.

Briefly: Colonialists left Africa in a terrible state, in which various tribes were smashed together into single nations, while others sought to grab new territory in the wake of colonial retrenchment.

Ethiopia is one of those latter places (but also was kinda-sorta colonized by Italy, which is why it still has such great pasta. It’s complicated.)

Home to five official languages and eighty different ethnic groups, Ethiopia is a powder keg for conflict with a growing population and depleting resources. One people group has already managed to splinter off: Eritrea’s independence from Ethiopia came at the high price of 250,000 people dead.

Now, essentially two tribes in Ethiopia — Tigray in the north, Oromo in the south — are trying to destroy each other. The Tigrayans are an ancient Spartan-style warrior tribe, and they’re so desperate for self-rule that they’ve started killing Ethiopian citizens. Things have gotten so bad that the Prime Minister of Ethiopia has ordered all military to protect the capital from falling, and is sending in Turkish combat drones. In twenty years, we might look back on the conflict and call it the next Rwanda.

It makes you wonder:

Maybe Ethiopia would be better off as two, ten, or even eighty smaller nations.

It’s the same all over the world:

  • Spain’s arcane monarchy oppresses several nations including Andalusia, Aragon, Asturias, Basque Country, Castile, Catalonia, Galicia, León, Navarre, Valencia, and Aran Valley.
  • Anglophone Canada just celebrated its 150th anniversary a few years ago, but it rules over a French-speaking nation that’s 400 years old.
  • A certain 1.45 billion-person Eastern nation that cannot be named rules over at least four other countries with brutal authoritarian force.
  • Want peace in the Middle East? Try a nine-state solution.
  • The United Kingdom is a laughable misnomer. The Welsh hate the English. The Scottish hate the English. The Cornish hate the English. Half the Northern Irish just call themselves Irish. The United Kingdom contains at least five countries, and all are essentially colonies of the City of London Corporation.
  • There are more than five thousand Indigenous nations across the globe, totaling nearly half a billion people.

The gig is up

Young people are waking up to an obvious fact that many older folks (especially those who murdered people who carried a different team flag) simply cannot fathom:

Nations are legal fictions.

Just bits of paper and a bunch of people who agree to play by the paper’s rules.

Yes, there are some benefits to nationalism.

There are also heavy costs.

People are rightly starting to question the value of nation-states as they are currently arranged.

What is the purpose of a nation?

To preserve a unique culture?
To express a political ideology?
To propagate a religion?
To organize an economy?

At the end of the day, I believe every nation is just an experiment in what it means to live well.

And currently, almost every nation on earth is on a downward trajectory, if not failing miserably.

The end of big countries

Large nations are unwieldy.

The bureaucracy it takes to run a 300+ million person nation proves economically inefficient in the extreme.

Democracy crumbles because it’s hard to get real representation at scale.

And there are so many disparate opinions that disagreements become intractable.

When working together inevitably fails, one party dominates through coercion, violence, or worse.

In a nuclear age where going to war will destroy everyone and everything, there’s no longer a need to have a vast population to defend your borders.

We just don’t need big countries anymore.

An introduction to Tinyism

“Tinyism is a political philosophy that believes current empires and nations should be fractured, shattered, and dissolved into thousands of independent micro-states and city-states. This action would vastly improve democracy and enhance economies — recent statistics indicate small nations are usually the happiestwealthiest, and most peaceful.” — Hank Pellissier

Here’s my prediction:

Within one hundred years, there will be at least one hundred new nations on planet earth.

But there could be plenty more.

After all, there are 650 major ethnic groups, about 9,800 cultural-ethno-linguistic groups, and up to 24,000 unimax groups.

(Plus there are 108,000 publicly-listed corporations, all of which will be chomping for a private domain in the years ahead… and not one should get it.)

Why shouldn’t ethnic groups have the right to self-sovereignty, especially for the hundreds who’ve had their sovereignty stolen? Isn’t it inherently racist for one ethnicity to impose its will on another ethnic group?

After a major disruptive event — a colossal economic depression, a cyberwar or solar flare that knocks out the grid for a year or more, or a supervolcano that causes years of winter — we could see the emergence of tens of thousands of new sovereignties.

And that would be a very good thing.

In praise of tiny

When you have a smaller population, you can have a smaller bureaucracy.

When you have a smaller population, you can have more representation and democracy.

When you have a smaller population, you can avoid getting pushed around by groups that don’t share your values.

When you have a smaller population, you can better preserve unique cultures, races, religions, economic systems, histories, societal structures, and experiments in what it means to live well.

When you have a smaller population, you can have fewer rules, fewer laws, and more freedom.

And if you don’t like your tiny country, you now have far more other options to choose from.

“But what about national defense?!”

It’s a legitimate fear, but it’s worth noting that small nations are some of the safest nations on earth.

And luckily, returns to violence are drastically decreasing in the digital economy. There’s just less stuff to steal and fewer resources to exploit.

Quite paradoxically, being more “vulnerable” makes you learn to get along. New sovereignties will do well to form an alliance with hundreds of other city-states. Like NATO, attacking one would be like attacking all. Plus, new sovereignties will move swiftly to ink trade deals with hundreds of other nations to further increase the cost of war and the value of peace.

Pretty soon, everyone will get along because there’s no other choice.

The return of the city-state

The world is urbanizing and power is accruing to cities. Already in America, we’re seeing mayors defy state and national mandates in order to protect and defend their citizens (or just rebel for political reasons, depending on your point of view.)

There’s no reason to think that many cities won’t eventually just become laws unto themselves.

I’m excited for this to happen. After all, some of the most beautiful places on earth started out as tiny little cities, and their historic urban cores are still beautiful all these centuries later:

  • Paris was 25 acres.
  • Athens was 35 acres.
  • Lille was 60 acres.
  • Vatican City is 109 acres.
  • Oxford was 115 acres.
  • Old Jerusalem is 225 acres.
  • The City of London is 330 acres.
  • Monaco is 499 acres.
  • Rome was 608 acres.
  • The walls of Avila, one of the most gorgeous sights on earth, surround just 77 acres.

What will become of America?

Nearly half of all Americans want to secede from the union in one direction or another.

And that’s perfectly within their rights as human beings.

Others protest loudly that the union must be preserved at all costs. But they never seem to answer the all-important question:

What are we actually trying to preserve?

Our lack of shared values?
The sham of democracy?
McDonald’s and apple pie and baseball?

Think long and hard about this question — no matter what conclusion you reach, you’ll find that it simply doesn’t resonate with the majority of Americans.

And what’s preferable: A few dozen independent countries, or another civil war?

(31% of Americans think a civil war is likely within the next five years, with Democrats thinking it’s more likely.)

So why not take the bloated carcass that is the American corporatocracy and carve it up into a handful of actual democracies?

With any luck, we could see some pretty amazing things come out of the USA:

  • Washington and Oregon will become Cascadia and rebuild the rainforest.
  • Utah will rename itself Deseret and grab a chunk of Nevada.
  • New England will be the world’s purveyor of blueberries, maple syrup, and winter skiing adventures.
  • 32% of Californians already support Calexit, which will make it the fifth-biggest economy in the world (ahead of the UK, France, Italy, India, and hundreds more.)
  • The Plains Nation will continue to feed the world as a giant agrarian commune, likely swarmed with bitcoin-loving libertarian “sovereign individuals.”
  • Texas (or rather, the Hispanic-majority República de Tejas) will have the eleventh largest military on earth, the tenth-largest economy, its own power grid, and enough solar and wind power to be a net clean energy exporter.
  • Las Vegas will obviously become the American Amsterdam.
  • Minorities will pour out of Dixie, plunging the Deep South into social chaos and economic depression — and perhaps the Confederacy will finally learn the lessons they were supposed to learn from the Civil War. (Or maybe it becomes New Afrika and all the whites head for Florida.)
  • New York City CorpTM (12th-largest economy) will become the first city-state with skyscrapers to be fully underwater due to rising sea levels.

What’s compelling about Tinyism is that the more experiments we run, the more we’ll discover what works and doesn’t work. Clearly, Sweden is better than North Korea. But is the Texan way better than the California way? With Tinyism, we’ll know pretty quickly. In that sense, Tinyism is almost free-market, with the political “market” being democracy itself.

“But it’s unconstitutional!”

So?

Tinyism is inevitable

Have you noticed that society is fracturing?

Do you think that extreme left wokies are ever going to find common ground with ultra-right Q-Anoners?

It’s just not going to happen.

There will come a day when the USA falls apart.
Will it be a massive economic depression?
The Yellowstone Caldera finally erupting?
Donald Trump becoming President whether he’s elected or not?

Even without a mega-event, there’s an unstoppable tide that all but guarantees a breakdown of these united states: Individualism.

Individualism, by its very nature, is an anti-culture.

As Russ Linton put it:

“Decentralization and blockchain tech will ensure this happens. Fiat currencies will be worthless and with that, the power of a nation-state largely evaporates. DAO communities, both digitally and geographically-bound, are what the future holds.”

We in the rich West have enjoyed a lifetime of unlimited selection, and this atomization mentality will eventually seep its way into politics. As the speed of change escalates, it could happen far sooner than we think.

And that’s okay.

I believe in the unconditional right of cultural and communal (but not corporate) sovereignty, and support all independence efforts toward Tinyism, so long as the leaving party takes their fair portion of the national debt and repays all federal infrastructure investment.

The key will be to have some kind of pre-agreed-upon sorting/transition process, like a peaceful version of the Hindustan breakup into India and Pakistan, followed by hopefully-less-dysfunctional EU (but without a shared currency) so the states all get along as the founding fathers intended.

Obviously, none of this is going to happen. The corporate predator elites who control the USA have a vested interest in keeping America together so they can wield its collective might overseas. Tinyism in America will only work once Tinyism sets in everywhere (especially in Ch!na.) We need a huge drop in returns to violence before unique cultures can become sovereign nations. Only then will smaller countries be allowed to flourish. And do you know what? It’s going to seem impossible until the very moment it seems obvious. Change is a long time coming and then it happens overnight.)

(But let’s be honest: It’s probably just as likely that we’ll all be dead from climate change, nuclear winter, or widespread “free”market-induced poverty.)

Still, Tinyism could create a great leap forward in human innovation, creativity, and culture-making, as real democracies create real diversity, reversing our long and boring descent into multinational sameness.

I’m cheering for a twenty-nation America and a 10,000-nation earth.

It’s either that, or we become a corporate-controlled one-nation earth where everyone conforms or gets crushed.

And no one wants that.

Does America Have a Future?

Review of Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt’s book, How Democracies Die

Reviewed by Joseph Langen

It would be comforting to think that our American experiment in democracy can survive its current dangers as it has in the face of past threats. Yet our survival is not assured in today’s socially and politically turbulent climate.

How Democracies Die places our current challenge into the context of previous and more

current democracies which failed or at least struggled with their own crises. The authors report that in the past, democracies have collapsed in the face of violent attack.

More recently, democracies have crumbled due to insidious challenges from within. They see America as facing the second type of challenge.

They point out that the Constitution gives us basic rules to support the US democracy. Our society is further bolstered by unwritten norms, the most important being mutual toleration of rivals as a legitimate part of our society and restraint from attacking those with rival approaches to managing our society.

They note that American factions coexisted fairly well before the Civil War. Our country broke into open conflict during the Civil War and remained in conflict until the end of Reconstruction. After that we had another period of relative cooperation until the 1960’s Civil Rights Act. Cooperation has been declining since then, leaving us with racial equality on the books. Yet polarization has worsened over the years culminating in the Trump fiasco.

It appears that both sides cooperate better when racial equality is off the negotiating table, a sad state of affairs. Battles over civil rights, especially with regard to racial equality, have been joined by conflict over migration, religious beliefs and the nature and purpose of culture.

The book discusses three possible outcomes of our polarized society.

  1. First is a recovery of democracy. Trump and Trumpism fall or fade into irrelevance in the face of public disgust.
  2. Second is continuing and worsening of the divide with no tolerance or forbearance related to issues which divide us. At some point this trend would result in the death of a functioning democracy. This second possibility is on the horizon if Trumpian Republicans manage to control the presidency, Congress and the Supreme Court with anti-democratic power.
  3. Third is continuation of polarization and disregard of unwritten conventions keeping a modicum of peace, resulting in political warfare with an uncertain outcome. Whether a blend of individual freedom and egalitarianism would survive remains to be seen.

For us to survive as a nation, we must restore the endangered guardrails of tolerance and forbearance as well as overcoming polarization and fair elections. This will require compromise and softening of stances by everyone on both sides, particularly with regard to political rhetoric in both the major political parties. We must also address the needs of those neglected in our society as well as developing social policies favorable to everyone rather than just those favored by the political side in power at the moment.

Will we be able to come together as a society despite our differences? That remains to be seen. Can we set aside our partisan ideals or at least soften them while we focus on building a society supportive of all its members?  This book clearly lays out the existential problems facing us, possible outcomes and what we need to do for our democracy to survive, Our future lies in the balance. Get ready to do your part.

Our Fascist Future?

Tucker Carlson Has Seen the Future, and It Is Fascist

Orban’s Hungary is the road map for American authoritarianism.

Photo by Matt Hardy on Pexels.com

Written by Jonathon Chatt and published in The Intelligencer 8/4/2021

In 1919, the progressive journalist Lincoln Steffens visited the nascent Soviet Union and declared, “I have seen the future and it works.” Tucker Carlson’s weeklong visit to Budapest, where he is using his Fox News show as an infomercial for Viktor Orban’s illiberal regime, is being conducted in much the same spirit. “If you care about Western civilization and democracy and families, and the ferocious assault on all three of those things by the leaders of our global institutions, you should know what is happening here right now,” Carlson gushed to his viewers.

Of course, “democracy” is not a category description any small-d democrat would apply to Hungary, a state that has “dropped any pretense of respecting democratic institutions” under Orban, according to Freedom House, which no longer categorizes it as a democracy at all.

These are not mere details, and Carlson is not overlooking them. He is laying down a marker in the highest profile way he can that Orban’s iron fist is the future the Republican Party should want. The splashy imprimatur of a Fox News prime-time personality, who is probably the right’s most influential media figure, is an important milestone in the Republican Party’s long evolution into authoritarianism.

It is certainly not Hungary’s economy that has attracted a growing number of American right-wing admirers. Hungary has fallen behind its central European peers as Orban’s corruption and crude populism have spurred many of the nation’s wealthier citizens to leave. Nor is there much conservative inspiration to be mined from Orban’s pandemic management, which has been simultaneously more heavy-handed and less effective than other European governments’.

The Trump administration lavished Orban with praise. Trump has even likened the Hungarian strongman to himself, calling him a “tough man, but he is a respected man … probably, like me, a little bit controversial, but that’s okay. You’ve done a good job, and you’ve kept your country safe.” Trump’s ambassador in Budapest confessed frankly that his boss envies Orban’s ability to bully and suppress his critics: “I can tell you, knowing the president for a good 25 or 30 years, that he would love to have the situation that Viktor Orbán has, but he doesn’t.”

The right’s entrancement with Orban has emerged fitfully over the last decade. One could find defenses of the Hungarian regime in places like the New York Postthe Federalist, the Heritage Foundation, and National Review. Yet, until recently, open support for Orban’s Hungary was an idiosyncratic minority position on the American right.

Orban’s regime has forged links with the conservative movement, including a lobbying campaign in Washington and a right-wing think tank in Budapest, where Carlson will deliver a speech Saturday. At this point, American conservatives who denounce Orban’s kleptocracy are now the minority.

What makes this alliance especially chilling is that Hungary is the model of democratic backsliding that has loomed largest in their imaginations of internationalist thinkers. Orban’s corruption of a former democracy occurred step by step. He gerrymandered the electoral map to give his supporters an overwhelming advantage, stacked the judiciary with supporters, leveraged state power to force large businesses to support his party, and installed supporters in charge of the country’s largest media organs. (Think about Trump’s efforts to bully Jeff Bezos into putting a leash on the Washington Post by denying Amazon a lucrative Pentagon contract, and you have a picture of the methods Orban has used, with more success.)

Hungary’s democratic backsliding was slow and gradual, without a single dramatic moment when its character flipped from democracy to dictatorship. Even now, it retains the surface trappings of a democracy without the liberal characteristics that make those processes meaningful. If America ceases to be a democracy, it will likely follow a path similar to Orban’s.

The broad lesson of Trump’s presidency is that clumsy, violent efforts to seize power — such as the January 6 insurrection — will meet with intra-party resistance, but subtler power grabs will not. Republicans decided to shrug at abuses like Trump using American diplomacy as a lever to coerce Ukraine to smear his opponent, refusing to accept the election outcome, or using the presidency to line his own pockets. They have enthusiastically joined in state laws to restrict voting and hand power over elections to party hacks.

What they seem to want is a leader who shares Trump’s contempt for democracy, but possesses a subtler touch. That is the vision Orban offers.

The difference between the left-wing American enthusiasts for Soviet communism a century ago and the conservative enthusiasts for Orbanism today is that at least the former were blinded by devotion to an ideal. They believed and hoped the Soviets were building a workers paradise and allowed this dream to blind them to the terror state that actually existed. Carlson is not ignoring Orban’s iron hand. For him, the repression is the very allure.

After the Fall: Being American in the World We’ve Made

Review by Joseph Langen

When I saw the ad for this book, I had mixed feelings. I am tired of thinking about the mess which has developed in our country, how we have created it and questioning what to do about it. On the other hand if we do not think about what faces us, at best we are stuck with it and at worst the problems will only deepen. I decided to forge ahead and read the book.

One question I had while I was waiting for the book to be available at the library was what the author meant by “the fall.” By the end of the book, I realized that the author never did address this issue directly. After discussing it with my friend Bob over lunch, I realized that the fall referred to losing our preeminent status of leadership in the world and the emergence of China as positioning itself to take our place as the pre-eminent world power. He also notes that we have contributed to China’s rise through our extensive dependence on their capital investment and cheap goods.

He begins the book by chronicling developments in Hungary as it moved from a democracy to an authoritarian system. Among the factors contributing to this change in national focus are developments, many of which we have seen arise in our own country. Among those he mentions are partisan propaganda, packing the courts with right-wing judges, favoring big business over individual citizen needs, demonizing opponents through social media channels, political contributions branded as free speech and attacking as “others” people of color, the poor, immigrants and liberal elites.

The author has lived and worked in a variety of countries around the world and chronicles developments elsewhere which parallel our own slippery path including Hungary, Russia, and China. Our patriot act after 9/11 moved us toward despotic practices which have stayed with us. These include surveillance, restriction of immigration, detaining people without trial, torture of people in custody and killing people in other countries.

We came out in a leadership position after the world wars and cold war. Yet now we find ourselves enveloped in a cold war at home “between people who live in the reality of the world as it is and people who are choosing to live in a false reality made up of base right supremacist grievances and irrational conspiracy theories.”

All of this leaves us in a dire situation with reason to fear for our future. The author leaves us with no clear path toward resolution of the many difficulties facing us including other issues such as global warming, Covid, and ongoing racial tensions. He reminds us that we have faced and overcome many dire situations in the past, many through cooperation of other peoples around the world. We need to come together as an American people and also see ourselves as part the world community rather than feeling exceptional.

The question remains whether we as a society will be able or willing to rise to the challenge.

The Most Complete Picture Yet of America’s Changing Electorate

Republicans and Democrats have amassed divergent coalitions that will make coming elections especially competitive—and bitter.

Written by Ronald Brownstein and published in The Atlantic 7/1/2021

Once, researchers and political operatives had only a few options: some postelection academic surveys (particularly the University of Michigan’s American National Election Studies), precinct-level analyses, and, above all, the mainstay of Election Day television broadcasts—exit polls.

Now the choices for understanding the electorate’s behavior have proliferated. The ANES poll has been joined by the Cooperative Election Study (CES), a consortium of academic researchers from some 50 institutions that surveys a huge sample of more than 60,000 voters. Catalist, a Democratic targeting firm, produces its own estimates of voting behavior, based on sophisticated modeling and polling it does with its database tracking virtually all actual voters. The Associated Press and Fox News teamed up with the venerable NORC at the University of Chicago this year to produce a competitor to the traditional exit polls called VoteCast.

Yesterday, the Pew Research Center released its eagerly awaited Validated Voters survey. Pew builds its findings by surveying adults it can identify as definitely having voted in November based on voting records, a methodology many analysts favor. (The CES will soon issue revised results based on a similar process of matching poll respondents to voting records.)

Each of these methods has its fans: Catalist, for instance, has emerged as the data source most trusted by Democratic political professionals, while other politicos and academics swear by Pew or CES. “It is part art and part science,” says the UCLA political scientist Lynn Vavreck, who helped launch the massive Nationscape polling project, which will eventually release its own assessment of 2020 in an upcoming book.

But with yesterday’s release of the Pew results, one thing is now clear: The principal data sources about 2020 have converged to a striking degree in their account of what happened. “As I’ve been looking at our data and comparing it to some of those other sources, I’ve actually been struck by how similar [they] are,” says the Tufts University political scientist Brian Schaffner, a co-director of the CES study. “You get a pretty consistent picture.”

Read: Democracy is already dying in the states

That consistent picture offers both parties reason for optimism and concern in roughly equal measure. The cumulative message from these studies is that we should brace for more years of grueling trench warfare between two coalitions that are becoming more and more inimical in both their demographic composition and vision of America. And to top it off? They appear to be about evenly matched. (While the Democratic coalition is clearly numerically larger—having won the popular vote in an unprecedented seven of the past eight presidential elections—Republicans have some offsetting advantages, some structural, others manufactured, that could allow them to control Washington nonetheless.)

Here are some other big conclusions from the studies:

GOP constituencies are shrinking, but the party’s hold over them is tightening.

A consistent message in these data sources is that the GOP’s core groups—particularly white people without a college degree—are declining as a share of the electorate as the nation grows more diverse, better educated, and more secular.

The major election studies differ on the share of the vote they believe was cast by white people without a college degree, from a high of 44 percent in the Catalist data, to 42 percent in the new Pew results, to just under 40 percent in the recent registration and turnout study from the Census Bureau (the first time the group has fallen below that threshold in census data).

But whatever absolute level of the vote the studies attribute to those noncollege white people, Catalist, Pew, and the Census Bureau each found the same relative movement, with the share of the vote cast by them in 2020 dropping two percentage points from 2016. That continues a long-term pattern: Working-class white people have declined as a share of the vote between two to three percentage points in each election during this century. That may not sound like much, but it adds up: In census data, they were still a 51.5 percent majority of voters as recently as 2004, before falling just below half in 2008 (almost certainly for the first time in American history) and continuing down to their current level.

Other groups important to the GOP are also shrinking. According to Pew, white Christians fell to 49 percent of total voters in 2020, down from exactly 50 percent in 2016; that’s also likely the first time in American history those voters didn’t constitute at least half of the electorate. Rural communities are also contracting as a share of the total vote (and population) in most states.

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The countertrend is that the GOP last year continued to amass commanding margins with all of these voters. Even Joe Biden, a 78-year-old white Catholic who touts his working-class background in blue-collar Scranton, Pennsylvania, achieved only grudging gains among white voters without a college degree: Pew found that he won 33 percent of them, just slightly better than the meager 28 percent Hillary Clinton captured in Pew’s 2016 survey. (The exit polls and Catalist, which also put Biden’s share with noncollege white voters at about one-third, recorded similarly small gains.) Likewise, while Pew found that Biden narrowed Clinton’s deficits among both white Catholics and white mainline Protestants, Donald Trump still carried both groups by roughly 15-percentage-point margins. All of the major data sources found that Trump also carried about four-fifths of white evangelical Christians. Similarly, Pew and Catalist both found that Biden remained stuck at the modest one-third of the vote Clinton won in rural areas.

These findings underline the trade that Trump has imposed on the GOP: He’s bequeathed Republicans a political strategy based on squeezing bigger margins out of shrinking groups. Many GOP strategists believe that’s an utterly untenable long-term proposition. “That’s not a formula for winning majorities and winning most of the time,” says the longtime GOP pollster Glen Bolger, who notes that Trump lost the popular vote twice and “got beyond lucky” to win the Electoral College in 2016. But that doesn’t preclude the GOP from continuing to win power in the near term with that approach—given that the Electoral College and Senate magnify the influence of states where those shrinking groups remain more plentiful (more on that below), and the determination of red-state Republicans, through their wave of restrictive voting laws, to suppress the influence of the rising groups that generally favor Democrats.

Class inversion is here to stay.

The new Pew data, like the earlier 2020 assessments, underscore the durability of what I’ve called “the class inversion” in each party’s base. In the ANES studies, the longest-running of these sources, every Democratic presidential nominee from Adlai Stevenson through Jimmy Carter ran better among white voters without a college degree than among white voters with one. But as cultural issues supplant economic concerns as the principal dividing line between the parties, every Democratic nominee since Al Gore in 2000 has run better among white voters with a degree than among those without one.

The class inversion hit a new peak in 2016, with Hillary Clinton running at least 15 points better among college than noncollege white voters in most of the major data sources (including a breathtaking 27 points better in Pew’s assessment). In 2020, Catalist and the exit polls showed the gap widening, while Pew found it slightly narrowing, but the class inversion remained enormous in all three; each study also found Biden winning a majority of college-educated white voters. (Those gains were central to his strong showing in white-collar suburbs around major cities.) He was especially strong among college-educated white women: “We have the ability to make [them] a base group,” says Celinda Lake, who served as one of Biden’s lead campaign pollsters. But ominously for the GOP, all three sources also showed Biden gaining significantly over Clinton in 2016 among college-educated white men, who historically have been a much more reliable Republican constituency. And while white people without a college degree have been steadily shrinking as a share of the vote, these college-educated white people have slightly grown since 2004 (from about 28 percent to 31 percent of the electorate, per the census). Especially valuable for Democrats: They are highly reliable midterm voters.

Voters of color may be diverging.

Pew’s study found that Biden won 92 percent of Black voters last year, and the other major data sources gave him only slightly smaller shares. Democrats may need to keep an eye on Black men, among whom Trump performed slightly better in 2020 than in 2016, but their support among Black women—which reaches as high as 95 percent in some of these analyses—provides an immovable obstacle to broad GOP gains.

Asian Americans, the fastest-growing nonwhite community, also look solid for Democrats. Although Republicans have strong beachheads in some Asian communities sensitive to arguments against Democratic “socialism” (such as Vietnamese Americans and some Chinese groups), the major data sources agree that Biden still won about two-thirds or more of Asian American votes last year, even as their turnout soared.

Hispanics, though, could be emerging as a wild card. Pew put Biden’s vote among Hispanics at only 59 percent; that’s lower than any of the other major sources, but they all agree that Biden fell off measurably from Clinton (and Barack Obama before her). The decline was most visible among Central and South Americans in South Florida and rural Mexican Americans in South Texas, but it extended far beyond that, Catalist and others found. Trump may have raised the party floor with Hispanics by attracting more of the culturally conservative among them; the yellow light on that prediction, as I’ve written, is that almost every incumbent president ran better, as Trump did, with Hispanics in their reelection campaign than in their first race. The clearest conclusion is that both parties view Hispanics as more of a contested community after 2020 than they did before—and will spend their campaign dollars accordingly.

The generational cavalry is arriving for Democrats.

Both Pew and Catalist found that the racially diverse, well-educated, and highly secular Millennials (born from 1981 through 1996) and Generation Z (born from 1997 through 2014) cast almost 30 percent of the votes last year, up substantially from 23 percent in 2016. Both sources also found Democrats winning about three-fifths of the votes from those two generations combined. If Democrats can defend their lead with that group, it will pay compounding dividends: The nonpartisan States of Change project forecasts that the two generations combined will cast 37 percent of the vote in 2024 and 43 percent in 2028. “You add those two [generations] together and you are talking about permanent structural change,” Lake says. Because these generations are the most racially diverse in American history, this current of new, young voters has been key in increasing people of color from about one-fifth of the electorate in 2004 to nearly three-tenths last year, according to census data. They are also swelling the numbers of Americans unaffiliated with any religious tradition, and Pew found Biden winning more than 70 percent of such “seculars” (even as they cast one-fourth of all votes.)

Conversely, the preponderantly white Baby Boomer generation, which has aged from its 1960s roots into a Republican-leaning cohort, is receding: While Catalist and Pew agree that Boomers outvoted Millennials and Gen Z in 2020, States of Change projects that the younger groups to outvote them for the first time in 2024. (Generation X is projected to remain constant through the 2020s, at about one-fourth of the electorate.)

Two factors might dilute this potential Democratic advantage. One, Schaffner notes, is if the turnout of these two younger generations, which spiked to historic levels in 2018 and 2020, slackens with Trump off the ballot in 2022 and potentially 2024 as well. The other, cited by Vavreck, is that these generations might become more receptive to GOP arguments on issues such as taxes and crime as they move further into middle age, with families and mortgages.

But Lake, like many Democrats, is optimistic that the GOP focus on stoking their base through endless cultural conflict (on everything from undocumented immigration to critical race theory) will leave Republicans very limited opportunity for gains among the younger generations. “Young people are very turned off by the racism, by the climate deniers,” she says. “So everything they are doing to solidify their base, and everything they are doing to try to win 2022, is digging them into a deeper hole for 2024 with young voters.”

Place matters.

A big challenge for Democrats is that the broad demographic changes favoring them—growing racial diversity, rising education levels, increasing numbers of secular adults not affiliated with organized religion—are unevenly distributed throughout the country. Adding to that challenge: The two-senators-per-state rule and Electoral College magnify the political influence of smaller interior states least affected by these trends (particularly the increase in racial diversity). Red-state Republicans are moving to systemically reinforce those advantages with the most aggressive wave of laws restricting access to the ballot since before the Voting Rights Act in 1965, and they are gearing up for equally aggressive gerrymanders of state legislative and congressional districts in states they control.

As I’ve written, the unequal distribution of racial and cultural change leaves Democrats facing something of a conundrum. The minority population is growing fastest across the Sun Belt, but the party generally doesn’t win as large a share of the vote among white people in those states as they do in the Rust Belt states, where minority growth has been much slower. Until Democrats can consistently win Senate seats and Electoral College votes in the diversifying Sun Belt states, that means they still need to win some of the Rust Belt states (particularly Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania) where noncollege white people compose a much larger share of the vote than they do nationally. Democrats lately have made progress in the Sun Belt: Biden won both Georgia and Arizona, and the party now holds all four of their Senate seats. But Democrats’ Sun Belt gains aren’t yet expansive or secure enough to eliminate their need to hold the key Rust Belt battlegrounds—and for that they need to win a competitive share of working-class white voters.

The grooves are deeply cut.

The major data sources do show some noteworthy shifts in voter preferences from 2016, such as Trump’s gains with Hispanics and Biden’s with college-educated white voters. But given all that happened during Trump’s tumultuous presidency, including a deadly pandemic, most analysts are struck by the extraordinary similarity in how voters behaved across the two elections. “Continuity is the big story, consistency,” says Alan Abramowitz, an Emory University political scientist. Not only did the 2020 result “highly correlate” with the 2016 outcome both demographically and geographically, he notes, but presidential preferences also predicted how people voted in House and Senate races more closely than ever before.

Biden and his advisers clearly have a vision of how to break this stalemate: They hope that by delivering kitchen-table benefits, such as stimulus checks, infrastructure jobs, and expanded child-tax-credit payments, while muting his personal engagement with hot-button cultural issues, they can improve his standing among working-class voters of all races, including white voters. But that strategy faces unstinting GOP efforts to highlight the cultural issues that alienate those voters (especially white voters but also some Hispanics and Black men) from the Democrats. Ruy Teixeira, a veteran Democratic analyst, argues that even if Biden delivers material benefits for blue-collar families, downplaying cultural issues such as crime and immigration won’t be enough. “You are going to have to draw the line a little bit more sharply against parts of the party and policies that are anathema to these voters,” Teixeira says.

Still, almost all of the analysts I spoke with believe that however the parties position themselves through 2024, change in these durable voter alignments is likely to come only around the margins.

Big outside events could shatter that assumption, of course, but the striking message from all the data sources studying 2020 is that America remains deeply but closely divided. Wide partisan fissures by race, generation, education, and religion are combining to produce two coalitions that are matched almost equally, with a Democratic edge in overall numbers offset by a geographic advantage (potentially reinforced by restrictive voting laws) for Republicans. “It is going to be super, super close again in 2024, I can tell you this right now,” Vavreck said firmly. “And I don’t even need to know who the candidates are going to be.”

Ronald Brownstein is a senior editor at The Atlantic.