It may already be too late

Discussion in 'The Red Room' started by Nova, Jan 3, 2022.

  1. Nova

    Nova livin on the edge of the ledge Writer

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    A year after the January 6 insurrection, how does America’s crisis end? - Vox

    Americans have long believed our country to be exceptional. That is true today in perhaps the worst possible sense: No other established Western democracy is at such risk of democratic collapse.

    January 6, 2021, should have been a pivot point. The Capitol riot was the violent culmination of President Donald Trump and his Republican allies’ war on the legitimacy of American elections — but also a glimpse into the abyss that could have prompted the rest of the party to step away.
    Yet the GOP’s fever didn’t break that day. Large majorities of Republicans continue to believe the lie that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump, and elected Republicans around the country are acting on this conspiracy theory — attempting to lock Democrats out of power by seizing partisan control of America’s electoral systems. Democrats observe all this and gird for battle, with many wondering if the 2024 elections will be held on the level.
    These divisions over the fairness of our elections are rooted in an extreme level of political polarization that has divided our society into mutually distrustful “us versus them” camps. Jennifer McCoy, a political scientist at Georgia State University, has a term for this: “pernicious polarization.”

    In a draft paper, McCoy and co-author Ben Press examine every democracy since 1950 to identify instances where this mindset had taken root. One of their most eye-popping findings: None of America’s peer democracies have experienced levels of pernicious polarization as high for as long as the contemporary United States.
    “Democracies have a hard time depolarizing once they’ve reached this level,” McCoy tells me. “I am extremely worried.”
    But worried about what, exactly? This is the biggest question in American politics: Where does our deeply fractured country go from here?

    A deep dive into the academic research on democracy, polarization, and civil conflict is sobering. Virtually all of the experts I spoke with agreed that, in the near term, we are in for a period of heightened struggle. Among the dire forecasts: hotly contested elections whose legitimacy is doubted by the losing side, massive street demonstrations, a paralyzed Congress, and even lethal violence among partisans.
    Lilliana Mason, a Johns Hopkins University political scientist who studies polarization and political violence in America, warned of a coming conflagration “like the summer of 2020, but 10 times bigger.”
    In the longer term, some foresaw one-party Republican rule — the transformation of America into something like contemporary Hungary, an authoritarian system in all but name. Some looked to countries in Latin America, where some political systems partly modeled on the United States have seen their presidencies become elected dictatorships.
    “The night that Trump got elected, one of my Peruvian students writing about populism in the Andes [called me] and said, ‘Jesus Christ, what’s happening now is what we’ve been talking about for years,’” says Edward Gibson, a scholar of democracy in Latin America at Northwestern University. “These are patterns that repeat themselves in different ways. And the US is not an exception.”

    America’s dysfunction stems, in large part, from an outdated political system that creates incentives for intense partisan conflict and legislative gridlock. That system may well be near the point of collapse.

    Reform is certainly a possibility. But the most meaningful changes to our system have been won only after bloodshed and struggle, on the fields of Gettysburg and in the streets of Birmingham. It is possible, maybe even likely, that America will not be able to veer from its dangerous path absent more eruptions and upheavals — that things will get worse before they get better.

    Barbara Walter (not the TV media person) is one of the world’s leading experts on civil wars. A professor at the University of California San Diego, she has done field research in places ranging from Zimbabwe to the Golan Heights, and has analyzed which countries are most likely to break down into violent conflict.
    Her forthcoming book, How Civil Wars Start, summarizes the voluminous research on the question and applies it to the contemporary United States. Its conclusions are alarming.

    “The warning signs of instability that we have identified in other places are the same signs that, over the past decade, I’ve begun to see on our own soil,” Walter writes. “I’ve seen how civil wars start, and I know the signs that people miss. And I can see those signs emerging here at a surprisingly fast rate.”

    Walter uses the term “civil war” broadly, encompassing everything from the American Civil War to lower-intensity insurgencies like the Troubles in Northern Ireland. Something like the latter, in her view, is more likely in the United States: One of the book’s chapters envisions a scenario in which a wave of bombings in state capitols, perpetrated by white nationalists, escalates to tit-for-tat violence committed by armed factions on both the right and the left.

    Countries are most likely to collapse into civil war, Walter explains, under a few circumstances: when they are neither fully democratic nor fully autocratic; when the leading political parties are sharply divided along multiple identity lines; when a once-dominant social group is losing its privileged status; and when citizens lose faith in the political system’s capacity to change.

    Under these conditions, large swaths of the population come to see members of opposing groups as existential threats and believe that the government neither represents nor protects them. In such an insecure environment, people conclude that taking up arms is the only recourse to protect their community. The collapse of the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s — leading to conflicts in Bosnia, Croatia, and Kosovo — is a textbook example.

    Worryingly, all four warning signs Walter identifies are present, at least to some degree, in the United States today.

    Several leading scholarly measures of democracy have found recent signs of erosion in America. Our political parties are increasingly split along lines of race, religion, and geography. The GOP is dominated by rural white Christians — a group panicked about the loss of its hegemonic place in American cultural and political life. Republican distrust and anger toward state institutions, ranging from state election boards to public health agencies to the FBI, have intensified.
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  2. Lanzman

    Lanzman Vast, Cool and Unsympathetic Formerly Important

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    Remember when I would say that the US is headed toward civil war and everyone just laughed? Yeah, those were good times.
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  3. Nova

    Nova livin on the edge of the ledge Writer

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    Part II: Catastrophe
    In McCoy and Press’s draft paper on “pernicious polarization,” they found that only two advanced democracies even came close to America’s sustained levels of dangerously polarized politics: France in 1968 and Italy during the Years of Lead.

    The broader sample, which includes newer and weaker democracies in addition to more established ones, isn’t much more encouraging. The scholars identified 52 cases of pernicious polarization since 1950. Of these, just nine countries managed to sustainably depolarize. The most common outcome, seen in 26 out of the 52 cases, is the weakening of democracy — with 23 of those “descending into some form of authoritarianism.”

    Almost all the experts I spoke with said that America’s coming period of political struggle could fundamentally transform our political system for the worse. They identified a few different historical and contemporary examples that could provide some clues as to where America is headed.

    None of them is promising.

    Viktor Orbán’s America
    Since coming to power in 2010, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has systematically transformed his country’s political system to entrench his Fidesz party’s rule.

    Fidesz gerrymandered parliamentary districts and packed the courts. It seized control over the national elections agency and the civil service. It inflamed rural Hungarians with anti-immigrant demagoguery in propaganda outlets and attacked the country’s bastions of liberal cultural power — persecuting a major university, for example, until it was forced to leave the country.

    The party’s opponents have been reduced to a rump in the national legislature, holding real power only in a handful of localities like the capital city of Budapest. A desperate campaign by a united opposition in the 2022 election faces an uphill battle: a polling average from Politico EU has shown a Fidesz advantage for the past seven months.

    There was no single moment when Hungary made the jump from democracy to a kind of authoritarianism. The change was subtle and slow — a gradual hollowing out of democracy rather than its extirpation.

    The fear among democracy experts is that the US is sleepwalking down the same path. The fear has only been intensified by the American right’s explicit embrace of Orbán, with high-profile figures like Tucker Carlson holding up the Hungarian regime as a model for America.

    “That has always been my view: we’ll wake up one day and it’ll just become clear that Democrats can’t win,” says Tom Pepinsky, a political scientist at Cornell who studies democracy in Southeast Asia.

    In this scenario, Democrats fail to pass any kind of electoral reform and lose control of Congress in 2022. Republicans in key states like Georgia, Arizona, North Carolina, and Wisconsin continue to rewrite the rules of elections: making it harder for Democratic-leaning communities to vote, putting partisans in charge of vote counts, and even giving GOP-controlled state legislatures the ability to override the voters and unilaterally appoint electors to the Electoral College.

    The Supreme Court continues its assault on voting rights by ruling in favor of a GOP state legislature that does just that — embracing a radical legal theory, articulated by Justice Neil Gorsuch, that state legislatures have the final say in the rules governing elections.

    These measures, together with the built-in rural biases of the Senate and Electoral College, could make future control of the federal government a nearly insurmountable climb for Democrats. Democrats would still be able to hold power locally, in blue states and cities, but would have a hard time contesting national elections.

    Political scientists call this kind of system “competitive authoritarianism”: one in which the opposition can win some elections and wield a limited degree of power but ultimately are prevented from governing due to a system stacked against them. Hungary is a textbook example of competitive authoritarianism in action — and, quite possibly, a glimpse into America’s future.

    The Latin American path to a strongman
    The rising hostility between the two parties has made it harder and harder for either party to get the necessary bipartisan support to pass big bills. And with its many veto points — the Senate filibuster being the most glaring — the American political system makes it exceptionally difficult for any party to pass major legislation on its own.

    The result: Congressional authority has weakened, and there’s a rising executive dependence on unilateral measures, such as executive orders and agency actions. Only rarely do presidents repudiate powers claimed by their predecessors; in general, the authority of the executive has grown on a bipartisan basis.

    So long as America is wracked by partisan conflict, it’s easy to see this trend getting worse. In response to an ineffectual Congress and a party faithful that demands victories over their hated enemies, presidents seize more authority to implement their policy agenda. As clashes between partisans turn more bitter and more violent, the wider public begins crying out for someone to restore order through whatever means necessary. Presidents become increasingly comfortable ruling through emergency powers and executive orders — perhaps even to the point of ignoring court rulings that seek to limit their power.

    Under such conditions, there is a serious risk of the presidency evolving into an authoritarian institution.

    “My bet would be on deadlock as the most plausible path forward,” says Milan Svolik, a political scientist at Yale who studies comparative polarization. “If there’s deadlock ... to me it seems [to threaten democracy] by the huge executive powers of the presidency and the potential for their abuse.”

    Such a development may be more acceptable to Americans than we’d like to think. In a 2020 paper, Svolik and co-author Matthew Graham asked both Republican and Democratic partisans whether they would be willing to vote against a politician from their party who endorses undemocratic beliefs. Examples include proposals that a governor from their party “rules by executive order if [opposite party] legislators don’t cooperate” and “ignores unfavorable court rulings from [opposite party] judges.”

    They found that only a small minority of voters, roughly 10 to 15 percent, were willing even in theory to vote against politicians from their own party who supported these kinds of abuses. Their research suggests the numbers would likely be substantially lower in a real-world election.

    “Our analysis reveals that the American voter is not an outlier: American democracy may be just as vulnerable to the pernicious consequences of polarization as are electorates throughout the rest of the world,” Svolik and Graham conclude.

    Globally, some of the clearest examples of a descent into presidential absolutism come from Latin America.

    Unlike most European democracies, which employ parliamentary systems that select the chief executive from the ranks of legislators, most Latin American democracies adopted a more American model and directly elect their president.

    In the late 20th century, social and economic divisions in countries like Brazil and Argentina led to legislative gridlock and festering policy problems; presidents attempted to solve this mess by assuming a tremendous amount of power and ruling by decree. Political scientist Guillermo O’Donnell termed these countries “delegative democracies,” in which voters use elections not to elect representatives but to delegate near-absolute power to one person.

    The rise of delegative democracy in Latin America exposed a flaw at the heart of American-style democracy: how the separation of executive and legislative power can grind government to a halt, opening the door to unpredictable and even outright undemocratic behavior.
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  4. Nova

    Nova livin on the edge of the ledge Writer

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    A civil rights reversal
    Americans do not need to go abroad in search of examples of democratic breakdown.

    Jim Crow, primarily remembered as a form of racial apartheid, was also a kind of all-American autocracy. Southern states were one-party fiefdoms where Democratic victory was assured, in large part due to laws denying Black people the right to vote and participate in politics.

    The Jim Crow regime emerged out of a national electoral crisis — the contested 1876 election, in which neither party candidate was initially willing to admit defeat. In 1877, Democrats agreed to award Republican Rutherford B. Hayes the presidency on the condition that he withdraw the remaining federal troops stationed in the South. The result was the end of Reconstruction and the victory of so-called Redeemers, Southern Democrats who aimed to rebuild white supremacist governance in the former Confederacy.

    The Compromise of 1877 is perhaps the most dramatic example of a common pattern in American history, ranging from the Northern Founders’ Faustian bargain with enslavers to the New Deal’s sops to racist Southern Democrats to the politics of welfare and crime in the 1980s and ’90s: When major political factions clash, their leaders come to arrangements that sacrifice Black rights and dignity.

    “In the [early and middle] 20th century, polarization looks low,” Lieberman, the Johns Hopkins scholar, explains. “That’s because African Americans are essentially written out of the political system, and there’s an implicit agreement across the mainstream to keep that off of the agenda.”

    America is obviously very different today. But as in the past, divides over race and identity are the fundamental driver of deep partisan polarization— and whites are still over 70 percent of the population. It’s not hard to conjure up a scenario, borrowing from both our distant and not-so-distant past, in which minority rights are once again trampled so whites can get along.

    Imagine a future in which, with the benefit of structural advantages, Republican electoral victories pile up. Protests against GOP rule and racial inequality once again turn ugly, even violent. In response, an anxious Democratic Party feels that it has little choice but to engage in what the Washington Post columnist Perry Bacon calls “white appeasement politics”: Think Bill Clinton’s attack on the rapper Sister Souljah, his enactment of welfare reform, and his “tough on crime” approach to criminal justice.

    Democrats dial back their commitment to policies aimed at addressing racial inequality, including abandoning any serious attempts at reforming the police, defending affirmative action, reducing discrimination in the housing market, or restoring the Voting Rights Act. They also move to ramp up deportations (which has happened in the past) and substantially lower legal immigration levels.

    Democrats and Republicans primarily compete over cross-pressured whites, while Black and Latino influence over the system is diminished. America’s status as a multiracial democracy would be questionable at best.

    “That is a real possibility,” warns Hakeem Jefferson, a political scientist at Stanford who studies race and American democracy.
  5. Nova

    Nova livin on the edge of the ledge Writer

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    Even more fundamental reforms may be necessary. In his bookBreaking the Two-Party Doom Loop, political scientist Lee Drutman argues that America’s polarization problem is in large part a product of our two-party electoral system. Unlike elections in multiparty democracies, where leading parties often govern in coalition with others, two-party contests are all-or-nothing: Either your party wins outright or it loses. As a result, every vote takes on apocalyptic stakes.

    A new draft paper by scholars Noam Gidron, James Adams, and Will Horne uncovers strong evidence for this idea. In a study of 19 Western democracies between 1996 and 2017, they find that ordinary partisans tend to express warmer feelings toward the party’s coalition partners — both during the coalition and for up to two decades following its end.

    “In the US, there’s simply no such mechanism,” Gidron told me. “Even if you have divided government, it’s not perceived as an opportunity to work together but rather to sabotage the other party’s agenda.”

    Drutman argues for acombination of two reformsthat could move us toward a more cooperative multiparty system:ranked-choice votingand multimember congressional districts in the House of Representatives.

    In ranked-choice elections, voters rank candidates by order of preference rather than selecting just one of them, giving third-party candidates a better chance in congressional elections. In a House with multimember districts,we would havelarger districts where multiple candidates could win seatsto reflect a wider breadth of voter preferences — a more proportional system of representation than the winner-take-all-status quo.

    But it’s very hard to see how these reforms could happen anytime soon. Extreme polarization creates a kind of legislative Catch-22: Zero-sum politics means we can’t get bipartisan majorities to change our institutions, while the current institutions intensify zero-sum competition between the parties. Even Sen. Mitt Romney, an anti-Trump Republican,voted against advancing the For the People Act, which regulates (among other things) partisan gerrymandering and campaign finance — a relatively limited set of changes compared to those proposed by many political scientists.

    Drutman told me that the most likely path forward involves a massive shock to break us from our dangerous patterns — “something that sets enough things in motion that it creates a possibility [for radical change].”

    This brings us back to the specter of political violence that hangs over post-January 6 America.

    Is there a point where upheaval and instability, should they come, get to be too unbearable for enough of our political elites to act? Will it take the wave of far-right terrorism Walter fears for Republicans to have a Mäntsälä moment and turn on Trumpism? Or a truly stolen election, with all the chaos that entails, for Americans to flood the streets and demand change?

    America’s political system is broken, seemingly beyond its normal capacity to repair. Absent some radical development, something we can’t yet foresee, these last few unsettling years are less likely to be past than prologue.
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  6. Shirogayne

    Shirogayne Gay™ Formerly Important

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    Depends on when you said it.

    I don't blame any rational person in 2002 for thinking this was crazy talk. Nowadays? Seems unavoidable, unfortunately.
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  7. Nova

    Nova livin on the edge of the ledge Writer

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    Yes, I quoted most - not all - of it because read it goddamn it.

    The wisest observers, and those of us with sense enough to listen to them, been banging this drum for at least six years and nothing at all provides encouragement that the worst case outcome can be avoided, or even that most Americans can be bothered to WANT to avoid it.
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  8. Lanzman

    Lanzman Vast, Cool and Unsympathetic Formerly Important

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    Ayup. Sadly, most of Wordforge just patted me on the head and chuckled smugly.
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  9. Nova

    Nova livin on the edge of the ledge Writer

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    Also depends on what is meant by it.

    19th century state v. state armies going to war? Nah, multiple persuasive arguments against that.

    Literal Balkanization (not along state lines but something more granular) with all the chaos that brings? Civil society basically disintegrating as people fight over who's to blame for every bad outcome? Rampant random violence directed at "softer" targets?

    Yeah, some or all of that is coming.
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  10. Nova

    Nova livin on the edge of the ledge Writer

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    Well, to be clear, some version of civil conflict and violence is just one potential bad outcome.

    The majority of Americans sleepwalking into Orban-style autocracy and not even particularly objection as long as the game starts on time is probably more likely than the country disintegrating - the latter depends on whether enough among us are willing to refuse to submit to that (and by "us" I mean in places where they still have a shot at a majority of the local populace. If basically everything north and east of NoVA says "Oh hell no" (not every individual but the preponderance of social-political power) that's vastly more game changing that a handful of liberal resisters in Nebraska or some such)
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  11. 14thDoctor

    14thDoctor Oi

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    He says it constantly, but he's always claimed it'll be because "both sides" can't get along with each other, not because righties decided to abandon democracy. :async:
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  12. tafkats

    tafkats scream not working because space make deaf Moderator

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    Well, I know that I certainly underestimated the moral bankruptcy and level of sheer bugfuck insanity that the Republican party was capable of.
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  13. Jenee

    Jenee Driver 8

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    To be fair, most of us didn’t think 62+ million Americans were stupid enough to vote for trump. We didn’t think so many people were so easily fooled by propaganda. And we don’t watch the NRA channel.
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  14. Tererune

    Tererune Troll princess and Magical Girl

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    I have come to see different societies as sort of collective entities. These entities would exist within the ecosystem of the world's population. Being a construct of human ideas and interractions they would form and interact over time. We would sort of be the cells within while we would have organizations like the government, infrustructure, corporations, health, police, school, and all other organizations acting as the organs of said society.

    This may be how a society has to form. If it collapses it's pieces go on to form another. This happens over and over again and is thrown into flux by environmental things like technological development.

    What I am saying is this is how things work in nature. It is not pretty, but it is beautiful in it's own way. We are building up something new as fucking animals. We are not this divinely blessed superior species. We are naturally evolving the societies we exist in. That is why it is messy. Look at the history of evolution to our present state. Our societies are embryonic. Of course they are going to be fucked up and disgusting. Have you seen nature? This is how it works.

    Get a fucking helmet. Nothing in nature says we have any right to some long existence and enlightened societies. We come from amino acids and proteins. Do you know what that is? That is a pile of fucking gooey shit. From that has come everything you know and see, but it takes time, and it is not guaranteed to become anything.
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  15. We Are Borg

    We Are Borg Republican Democrat

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  16. Spaceturkey

    Spaceturkey i can see my house

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    That's adorable that you perceive yourself as a lone voice in the wilderness, but much of leftforge has been crying out that America is rotting away from the inside since day 1 of the board.

    It's almos like the beta version of "democracy" was launched incompletely or something...
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  17. Damar

    Damar Liberal Elitist

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    I can see the breakdown of our democracy occurring, but not in the near term. I find it interesting the Republicans have become the party of the non-college educated, the people who are quite dependent on government services. When I look at a state like West Virginia or even Texas for that matter there is such a dependence on the feds that I can’t see those people biting the hand that feeds them. For now.
  18. We Are Borg

    We Are Borg Republican Democrat

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    You're implying that many of these voters are rational.

    They're not.
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  19. mburtonk

    mburtonk mburtonkulous

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    To clarify, humans aren't rational, or at least aren't "rational" in the way we as individuals think of individual actions as rational. This is why economics isn't great at predicting what's going to happen. Daniel Kahneman breaks down the difference between humans and "econs" (always-rational beings that live in models) in this book: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thinking,_Fast_and_Slow.
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  20. RickDeckard

    RickDeckard Socialist

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    The way the polls are looking for 2024, the Republicans won't need to launch a coup. Although it's increasingly clear that that's what they will do if they don't win the election.
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  21. Diacanu

    Diacanu Comicmike. Writer

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    Nixon got pardoned because they were scared of "civil unrest" even over that bastard.
    In the 70's.
    They knew how evil and insane Repugs were cuz they worked with them all fucking day.
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  22. Lanzman

    Lanzman Vast, Cool and Unsympathetic Formerly Important

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    The Nixon thing has to be looked at in context. The country had been tearing itself apart over the Viet Nam war, the civil rights movement, AND Watergate. Ford felt that pressing continued criminal charges against Nixon (much as that should have happened) might be the straw to break the camel's back.
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  23. mburtonk

    mburtonk mburtonkulous

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    We're going to get the same argument if Trump comes within spitting distance of being convicted of something.
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  24. RickDeckard

    RickDeckard Socialist

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    There's no way that the ruling class is going to tolerate sending one of their elite to prison - not Nixon, Trump or anyone else.
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  25. Lanzman

    Lanzman Vast, Cool and Unsympathetic Formerly Important

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    Doubtful, given that we've no military draft to stoke resentment for unpopular wars which we are now out of, and civil rights are pretty good at the moment. Trump would already have been "convicted" of something during one of his two impeachments if the Democrats weren't such an inept bunch of idiots.
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  26. mburtonk

    mburtonk mburtonkulous

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    Oh come on, you don't think we can whip up something to tear the country apart about?
  27. Quincunx

    Quincunx anti-anti Staff Member Administrator

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    Ironic. Nixon grew up poor in California and never felt accepted by the east coast political establishment. Trump is a nouveau riche vulgarian whose entire career has been driven by resentment against so-called elites. Why should the "ruling class" hesitate to discard them once they've outlived their usefulness?
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  28. tafkats

    tafkats scream not working because space make deaf Moderator

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    One of the most cherished beliefs in the canon of American myths is "my tax dollars are paying for other people." I guarantee that every single one of the Trump-voting red-state welfare recipients is convinced to the core that other people are dependent on them, and have built so much of their identities around this belief that no facts will ever dislodge them from it.
    • Agree Agree x 6
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  29. Shirogayne

    Shirogayne Gay™ Formerly Important

    Joined:
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    They sure won't. Not unless they're sure they could navigate the base towards another personality and that's a huge if.

    We're boned.

    Also, all of this.

    Are you on crack right now?

    WHOSE civil rights are good right now? Certainly not trans people, pregnant people in Texas or black folks trying to vote in the South for damn sure.

    :tbbs:
    • Agree Agree x 8
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  30. mburtonk

    mburtonk mburtonkulous

    Joined:
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    The unspoken part is "paying for other people...and that's a bad thing."
    • Agree Agree x 4