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Was Virginia A Harbinger Of Societal Collapse?



Everyone I know in Virginia was against Youngkin (and Trump) and I can't recall a single person who was for McAuliffe, a candidate who had nothing to offer voters at all except "not Trump." It didn't work. The punditry is all over the map about why the Democrats got their asses handed to them last night. Most of it is worthless and self-serving. But you know who really delivered this morning-- albeit depressingly? Eric Levitz (at New York Magazine): The GOP Got Away With All Of It. "Things," he wrote, "are as bad as they look." The Republican sweep in Virginia, the close call for Democrats in New Jersey-- the thing progressives can celebrate there more than anything is the defeat of state Senate president, and Norcross Machine puppet, Steve Sweeney, lost to a Trumpist truck driver who spent $153-- and Biden's miserable poll numbers... and Democrats' inability to pass Build Back Better, let alone sell it to the voters.


"Youngkin’s victory," he wrote, "is not a shock, if one trusted the available polling and assumed that American politics was operating as normal. But the normality of American politics in this moment is somewhat insane. The Republican Party spent most of the past five years abetting an openly corrupt president’s unabashed assaults on the rule of law and electoral democracy. Between the day that Virginia backed Biden by 10 points, and the day it elected Glenn Youngkin, a Republican president egged on an insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, while trying to retain power by antidemocratic means. After Trump’s putsch left dead bodies in Congress’s halls, a majority of the GOP’s House delegation voted to nullify the 2020 election’s results. Between that day and this November, the Republican Party did not disavow Trump. Rather, it excommunicated his sharpest critics.



Democrats needed this to be untenable. They needed it to be impossible for the GOP to simultaneously broaden its base and remain in the good graces of Donald Trump and his core constituents. Which is to say: They needed Republicans to have finally gone too far, and disqualified themselves from the advantages that the out-of-power party typically enjoys in our two-party system.
Democrats needed this because the party is otherwise in quite rough shape. Urban-rural polarization has saddled Democrats with a coalition that is historically underrepresented in the House and Senate. The decline of ticket-splitting and nationalization of political media, meanwhile, has made it extremely difficult for Democratic candidates to compete in hostile territory by hewing to local issues, and distancing themselves from the party’s national brand. Finally, education polarization has, for the moment, awarded the party an unprecedentedly severe disadvantage in the Electoral College.
If the GOP is not caught in an impossible bind-- if it doesn’t actually need to choose between retaining the enthusiasm of the “Stop the Steal” crowd and winning over “moderate” voters-- then it is poised to retake the Senate by 2025 and hold it for a long time thereafter. In fact, if the party need not choose between these imperatives, it has an excellent shot of dominating federal politics for the better half of this decade.
That Republicans just engineered a roughly 12-point swing in Virginia suggests that the party can indeed have it both ways.
We live in a country with a two-party system, an unusually conservative political culture, and a vast rightwing infotainment complex. In this context, Republicans’ public support can’t fall that far. When Democrats are in power, the GOP will remain the only vessel for nonpartisan voters to register their discontent. Meanwhile, in a country with our racial history and urban-rural divisions, grounds for culture war will never be hard to find, and the market for rightwing revanchism will always be sizable. The political universe is not a just one. Karma is no protection against the GOP. And neither are demographics. There is no alternative to ordinary politics.
If the Democratic Party were not already staring down massive, structural disadvantages, then Youngkin’s win Tuesday would not be all that ominous. Economic and public health conditions are likely to improve between now and the 2022 midterms. It’s normal for the in-power party to suffer some embarrassing defeats in off-year elections. And it’s normal for solidly blue states to elect Republican governors.
But Democrats need for things to be not normal. And, contrary to the party’s Trump-era mantra, America’s electoral dynamics still are.


Did you read Umair Haque's essay, Why Don't Societies See Their Own Collapse Coming?, about failing states last week? He didn't discuss Virginia or the Democrats' dysfunction. Instead, he noted, that it's a peculiar pattern of history that "societies tend to lean into their collapses... [At the moment] we're threatened by everything from global warming to ecological implosion to mass extinction to the pandemics and poverty and fascisms they’re already breeding." He offers several reasons and I'll summarize a couple. I urge you to read the whole essay.


• entrenched elites want to preserve the status quo... To say that a society is collapsing would be for elites to admit they mismanaged them. They’d have to admit they were badly, badly wrong-- ideologically, theoretically, paradigmatically. Who wants to do that?

• elites in collapsing societies are entrenched. That means they’re dug tight into impregnable bunkers-- and nobody can force them out, and regain control of a society’s resources and decisions... [I]t’s not just corruption which entrenches elites. That’s necessary, but not sufficient. A deeper force is at play: the disempowerment of the demos, as in, the democratic unit that is “the people.”... The average American is completely disenchanted with their elites. Nobody much likes Biden or Pelosi or McConnell or any of the rest of them. But the problem is that Americans don’t have the time or energy or spirit or willpower to do anything about their failed elites. The American demos has little to no power over its elites. Why not? Because they’re too busy just trying to survive. Just trying to make it through another day in America is a wearying affair. Life is an endless game of brutal competition, right down to the death. Lose that job? Whoops, there goes everything, from healthcare to a home... Elites have made sure they’re indebted…to elites…so Americans, worn out, broken, defeated, having to fight each other every day, over and over again…to pay off those debts…don’t have the energy or power left to dislodge those very entrenched elites.

• America has ended up a democracy in name only, one without a demos exerting any real power over entrenched, failed elites. Result? The grim, disheartening choice between Biden and Trump.



Umair concludes that America has taken around half a century to collapse. "Incomes began stagnating in the 70s, social mobility began to stall in the 80s, living standards began to flatline in the 90s, by the end of the 00s, America’s famed middle class was now a minority and an underclass, and that was the point at which debt, drugs, and despair began to ravage (even white) America in earnest. That’s a pretty standard form of social collapse-- it took the Soviet Union about three decades of stagnation and falling living standards to come undone... America teaches us that time and neglect, ignorance and poverty, can slowly crumble away the foundations of even the mightiest empires, until they totter and fall. Britain teaches us an even darker lesson: give a society a crisis, a demagogue, and a scapegoat-- and it takes just a decade or two of stupidity and anger to turn into hate and venom, to the point of total and utter self-destruction. America teaches us that small amounts of the social poisons of greed and indifference and inequality can add up to a very big collapse, in the end, given time. But Britain teaches us that societies can implode with lightning quickness, too, that even wise and gentle people like the British are not immune to the Big Lies of hate and nationalism and intolerance and unkindness, that anyone can be seduced by a demagogue offering a nation growing poorer a convenient scapegoat for its ills... Societies don’t see their own collapses coming because they grow weak, blind, dull, defeated in the spirit, corroded in the heart, hubristic in the mind."



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