Unending Chronic Discontent

Internists, those doctors who specialize in differential diagnosis, make a distinction between acute issues – something just went wrong – “acute onset” whatever – that can be fixed or, if the symptoms are treated, may fix itself – and chronic conditions. Those cannot be fixed. Chronic conditions build up over time – as in Chronos, the Greek personification of time – heart disease and all the rest. Those things can be managed, but not fixed. A lifetime of small physical insults – smoking and drinking and perhaps too much bacon – all add up. It’s the little things that create chronic conditions that, at best, can only be managed, to ease the discomfort. Expect no more than that. It’s the little things that will kill you – eventually.

That’s depressing but not surprising. All of life is like that. Political life is like that. America is like that, seemingly in decline due to one small insult to the “body politic” after another, over time. It’s the little things that will eventually kill the nation, little things like this:

President Donald Trump reportedly declined a request from the mayor of Annapolis to fly American flags at half-staff in honor of the five people killed in the Capital Gazette shooting last week.

The Baltimore Sun reports that Annapolis Mayor Gavin Buckley, a Democrat, requested through members of Congress that the president order flags lowered in honor of the staff members killed in the newspaper offices. According to Buckley, the president declined the request.

This should have been a no-brainer:

“Is there a cutoff for tragedy?” Buckley said, according to the Baltimore Sun. “This was an attack on the press. It was an attack on freedom of speech. It’s just as important as any other tragedy.”

Gov. Larry Hogan (R) ordered Maryland flags lowered flags to half-staff Friday through sunset Monday. Buckley had thought the tragedy in the newsroom warranted national attention.

Even the Republican governor knew better, but Trump has been calling the press the “enemy of the people” and “fools” (or worse) forever. Perhaps those fools should have died, but he decided he couldn’t say that. He did say this was wrong, even if some staffer told him to say that. He grudgingly squeezed out those words, but he has his base to consider. This flag thing will make them happy – a little thing – a small gesture to refuse to make a small gesture. They’ll get it:

Trump has lowered flags to half-staff after other mass shootings, including the recent rampage in Santa Fe, Texas, that left 10 people dead and the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida in which 17 students and teachers were murdered. Trump also issued proclamations to lower flags after the horrific shootings in Las Vegas that killed 58 and after a gunman attacked a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, which killed 26 people in 2017.

Indeed, the lowering of flags at half-staff has become somewhat of a mournful tradition after mass murder – though not without its objections. President Barack Obama ordered the flags lowered after the attacks on police officers in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Dallas, Texas, in 2016; after the shooting at Pulse night club in Orlando in 2016, San Bernardino in 2015; and after Sandy Hook in 2012, among others.

In 2015, Obama received pushback from Republicans and some veterans for not acting quickly to order flags at half-staff to honor the five service members killed in a shooting at a military site in Chattanooga, Tennessee in July 2015.

These small things do add up:

This Fourth of July marks a low point in U.S. patriotism. For the first time in Gallup’s 18-year history asking U.S. adults how proud they are to be Americans, less than a majority say they are “extremely proud.” Currently, 47% describe themselves this way, down from 51% in 2017 and well below the peak of 70% in 2003.

Something is going on, but it’s chronic, not acute:

When Gallup first asked the question in 2001, 55% of Americans said they were extremely proud. After the 9/11 terror attacks caused the public to rally around the nation and its leaders, the percentage expressing extreme pride in the country increased to 65%, and went up further to 70% less than two years later.

By 2005, about the time George W. Bush was set to begin his second term in office and the U.S. was going on its second year of military involvement in Iraq, the percentage extremely proud to be Americans fell to 61%. It held in the high 50% range between 2006 and 2013, but has fallen at least marginally each year since 2015, about the time the 2016 presidential campaign was getting underway.

This chronic condition predates Trump – the trend was in place – but he seems to have made things worse:

Currently, 32% of Democrats – down from 43% in 2017 and 56% in 2013 – are extremely proud. The decline preceded the election of Donald Trump but has accelerated in the past year.

Less than half of independents – 42% – are also extremely proud. That is down slightly from 48% a year ago, and 50% in 2013.

As has typically been the case, Republicans are more inclined to say they are extremely proud to be Americans than are Democrats and independents. Seventy-four percent of Republicans are extremely proud, which is numerically the highest over the last five years.

With the large decline among Democrats, the Republican-Democratic gap in extreme pride has grown from 15 percentage points in 2013 to 42 points today.

That’s Trump, as is this:

Young adults, college graduates, nonwhites and women – all Democratic-leaning groups – are below the national average in terms of being extremely proud to be Americans. Meanwhile, older adults, those without a college degree, whites and men – who are more Republican-leaning – are above the average…

National pride may be just one of a growing number of issues — including opinions about guns, labor unions and the environment — for which party loyalties are pushing Democrats and Republicans to adopt divergent views. These changes are making each party’s base more homogenous but increasingly different from one another.

The “body politic” is dying from one small insult after another, but the New York Times’ Charles Blow sees no small insults here:

We are watching as a president of the United States openly lies, fabricates and exaggerates while two-fifths of the population cheers him for it.

He spurns our allies and embraces our adversaries and people shrug.

He, his congressional allies and his propaganda arm are waging open warfare on the Federal Bureau of Investigation in an effort to tarnish it before its inquiry into connections between the Trump campaign, family and associates and Russia can be made public.

He is a racist who disparages black and brown people, whether they be immigrants, Muslims, people from Haiti and Africa, Barack Obama, the mayor of San Juan or Maxine Waters. People equivocate about it and excuse it.

He is attacking the press in the most aggressive of terms so that what they reveal about him will be viewed with skepticism.

He is attempting to weaken our institutions, our protocols and conventions, our faith in the truth, our sense of honor and our respect for the rule of law.

That’s his list and that seems like an acute condition – “acute onset” Trumpism – but somehow Trump made it chronic:

Somehow, many Americans, even those disgusted by what they see, have resigned themselves to this new reality.

In fact, Trump’s poll numbers had been inching up before he created a humanitarian disaster at the border by separating children from their parents.

I guess this is how empires begin to fall. It isn’t necessarily one dramatic moment, but the incessant monotony of assaults on normalcy that slowly shift the ground beneath you, reorienting what is proper and preferable, what is outrageous and what is acceptable.

It’s the little things over time, the incessant monotony of assaults on normalcy, that will kill you:

Trump is exhausting our mental capacity for indignation. This does not help Trump in the eyes of most Americans, to be sure. The Resistance remains strong and will likely have an impressive showing in the November elections. But, along the margins, where both support for Trump and objections to him are soft, his tactics may have greater impact.

Those tactics do work:

One of the things that his supporters like is the very thing that others detest: His unapologetic, unabashed crusade to fight off all efforts at racial and ethnic inclusion. They may not articulate it as such, but that is the nature of Trump’s policies: Promising to build a wall, disparaging Mexicans, separating immigrant families, the Muslim ban, decreasing even legal migration, denigrating protesting football players.

Trump has vented an American racial anxiety, giving it power and a perch, giving it permission to be vocal and even violent…[and] no amount of moralizing from Trump’s opposition will affect the fervor of his supporters. Quite the opposite: Nothing quickens the pulse and induces the delight of conservatives more than the consternation of liberals. They would let the whole country collapse for the pleasure of spite.

Blow sees a standoff here:

The Trump apparatus is entrenched, and each day burrows ever deeper into the core of what made America greater, better, different: its slow but steady arc toward more inclusion, equality, openness.

And of course no moralizing from Trump’s opposition will change that chronic condition, and the blogger Maha explains why:

A little over three years ago I formulated the Anger Theorem, which is: The degree to which one is allowed to be angry, and at what, depends on how much power you have. The powerful can be as angry as they like, without criticism. But when those with less power are angry, they are condemned for it.

This is fairly simple:

Right-wing white men are the only demographic in the U.S. allowed to display anger without social or cultural penalty. Right-wing white women are allowed to display anger if they are standing next to a white man who is angry about the same thing – call it ladies’ auxiliary anger. Otherwise, women who display anger are labeled “hysterical” or “whacky,” whereas a white man doing the same thing is “strong.” Men who are not white must also take care to be gentle of temperament, because right-wing white men have a pathological fear of black men displaying so much as mild pique – or wearing hoodies.

That seems to be the situation, accepted by both sides:

Watch out for people who are enforcers of the anger rule, especially if they are on “your” side, because They Do Not Get It. Nancy Pelosi’s recent rebuke of Maxine Waters is an example. Rep. Waters didn’t call for violence; she called for confrontations. But she got slammed by Democratic leadership, including by Chuck Schumer…

So, white men (plus members of the ladies auxiliary) get to walk around with big guns, and that’s fine; if nonwhite men did exactly the same thing the authorities would be calling out the National Guard to put them down.

Maha has had just about enough of this:

Anger doesn’t appease anger. Anger doesn’t do anything constructive, frankly. But we’re past the point that there’s anything to be gained by tip-toeing around right-wing anger to not set it off. They’re angry that we can breathe.

That’s a chronic condition, but others don’t see it that way:

Former President Barack Obama broke his silence about the Democratic Party and the push to replace Republicans during the midterms last Thursday.

Obama knocked Democrats during his 45-minute speech at a Democratic National Committee fundraiser in Beverly Hills, California, telling those in attendance Democrats can’t just sit around and mope, according to CNN.

“If what you are doing requires no sacrifice at all, then you can do more,” Obama told the tony crowd at a sweeping multimillion-dollar Beverly Hills home. “If you are one of these folks who is watching cable news at your cocktail parties with your friends and you are saying ‘civilization is collapsing’ and you are nervous and worried, but that is not where you are putting all your time, energy and money, then either you don’t actually think civilization is collapsing – or you are not pushing yourself hard enough and I would push harder.”

Trump in not, then, a chronic condition, where we’re all going to die from the incessant monotony of his assaults on normalcy, but something acute that can be fixed:

Obama said the 200 donors at the event shouldn’t focus on the celebrity-like qualities of politics.

His speech was, however, preceded by a performance from perennial pop star Christina Aguilera

“We shouldn’t expect (politics) to be entertaining all the time – and Christina Aguilera was wonderful – but you don’t need to have an amazing singer at every event,” he said. “Sometimes you are just in a church basement making phone calls and eating cold pizza.”

“The simple message right now is that if people participate and they vote, that this democracy works,” Obama told the crowd. “The majority of the country doesn’t want to see a dog-eat-dog world where everybody is angry all the time.”

In other words, the majority of the country doesn’t want to suffer from this particular chronic condition, which isn’t really chronic at all – and cold pizza, in moderation, won’t kill you either. In fact, the only ones who suffer from an incurable chronic condition are the Republicans, which Michael Gerson explains here:

It is difficult to deny Trump’s strength in the base of the Republican Party, evidenced by the degree of political intimidation many elected Republicans feel. But the most interesting and important questions remain: Is Trumpism a compelling ideological basis for the Republican Party in the future? Is it really the wave of the political future?

It should give the advocates of Trumpism – defined by some mix of protectionism, nativism and bitter resentment of elites – pause that the strongest advocates of the creed are some of the most frightening figures in American politics. I am not necessarily referring to the politicians Trump chooses to endorse in primaries – given that the president’s favor is more based on loyalty than ideology. I am talking about that subset of Republicans who take the ideals of Trumpism most seriously – people such as West Virginia Senate candidate Don Blankenship, who, before losing the primary, ran ads highlighting the Taiwanese heritage of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s wife. Or Iowa Rep. Steve King, who argues, “We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.” Or Arizona Senate candidate and former sheriff Joe Arpaio, known for extreme ethnic profiling, terrorist raids, and cruel and unusual punishment – or Virginia Senate candidate Corey A. Stewart who has associated with white supremacists and thrown his state party into turmoil.

It’s those little things that will eventually kill you:

For a party at its height of influence, Republicans remain in a tenuous position at the national level because of Trump. They lost the popular vote count by nearly 3 million in the 2016 presidential election, and Trump has done almost nothing to expand his appeal. Long-term demographic trends are running against the GOP, with the non-Hispanic white population declining from 76 percent to 63 percent over the past two decades and the country on track to be majority minority by 2045.

Some Trumpites are brutally honest about the political challenge in this environment. “I believe that white voters will begin voting for Republicans in larger numbers than they do now,” says Thomas O’Malley in American Thinker. The political challenge for the GOP, in the meantime, is to “seriously reduce immigration and encourage population growth within the country.” That clearly means population growth in that portion of the country with less melanin.

There may be no way to fix that:

Trump already won the white vote by more than 20 percentage points in 2016. So how does the GOP rack up even greater white support? If Trump’s political strategy is any indication, this will involve a relentless emphasis on race and immigration – on kneeling black athletes, on immigrants who “infest” our country, and on Muslims who are targeted for suspicion.

That, however, may be a death sentence:

A strategy of feeding white backlash against a multicultural future worked for Trump – barely – in 2016. Will it work for Republicans in 2018 and 2020? Perhaps, if Democrats move precipitously to the left. But in the longer run, will Trumpism appeal to millennials (who now consistently give Trump around a 25 percent approval rating)? Will it work with suburban women?

And what are the moral implications of a political strategy that employs racial and ethnic antagonism as a motivating factor? Is this really the set of values that Republican leaders want their children to absorb? Will conservatives so easily abandon conservatism for white identity politics? It is an approach to public life that will indelibly stain all who employ it – and all who excuse it.

“This is the question for Republicans going forward,” Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report told me. “Will the GOP be defined not just as the party of Trump but as the party that’s hostile to non-whites?” And what if there is no difference?

Then the party dies. A lifetime of small physical insults – smoking and drinking and perhaps too much bacon – all add up. A political lifetime of small racial insults – and some not so small – adds up too. There is the incessant monotony of Trump’s assaults on normalcy too. That’s chronic, and tiresome – and the Republicans’ problem. That can’t be fixed. That can only be managed. Ease their pain. Humor them, and then ignore them. The rest can be fixed. Their condition is theirs alone. That’s the differential diagnosis here.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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1 Response to Unending Chronic Discontent

  1. “Will conservatives so easily abandon conservatism for white identity politics?” Conservatism was ALWAYS about white identity politics. White power is what they are trying to conserve. They can dress it up with nice Norman Rockwell pictures and the theme song from the Andy Griffith show, but it’s the same damn thing. They want to conserve the myth of the time when white folks ruled supreme & everyone else knew their place. It’s a myth because it was only rich white men and a few lucky women who had any power. Everyone else was just a cog in the machine. Conservatism was always a con.

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