Tuesday, August 02, 2011

A Californian perspective on the screwy world of Washington politics


A rhinovirus has flattened me today, so instead of truly engaging with the progressive blogosphere's collective wail about the debt ceiling deal, I'm going to briefly amplify a Californian perspective I wrote elsewhere.

At a thoughtful blog where I frequently lurk, commenters were discussing what had caused the further right portions of the Republican party to take leave of the real world, enabling them to risk crashing the full faith and credit of the United States for the benefit of oil companies and their rich sponsors. This behavior -- though the media have lately treated it as normal -- is completely mad -- and against the best interests of the older lower middle class whites and small business owners who are the backbone of the Republicanism.

So how can this be happening? Why are Tea Partiers so eager to cut off their own noses to spite ... somebody? Here's a thought: a key component of this irrationality remains terror of losing racial dominance. Pretty soon, across the nation, white people aren't going to be the norm anymore. One response is organized racial panic; we've seen it in California. Here are some points drawn from the struggles against the initiatives (anti-immigrant laws, outlawing public affirmative action, outlawing bilingual education -- all populist measures that passed) we saw in the dreary 1990s.

  • These people (Tea-Baggers in all flavors) fight as nihilisticly as they do because they really do feel they are drowning amid a sea of unfamiliar "Others";
  • Back then, I thought consolidation of a different, browner, more functional Democratic Party would take at least a decade longer than it did -- we do have a better set of Dems in California now than we did when the party equivocated its way through the racial initiative wars. There seems to be a tipping point after which many younger whites accept and ally with rising majorities of communities of color to try to build rather than destroy;
  • Despite this happy development, the residue of the structural damage done by the fearful, white, former majority is not something easily overcome. California still can't raise revenues and consequently is failing its browning population;
  • California is just a state, however large; we are living through this at the national level in the context of declining American international hegemony -- political, economic, cultural. That's what scares me. If folks have hope of better times, they might reconstruct a reasonable polity after this wave of racially motivated wrecking passes through. But there are real challenges to hope going forward that arise from the unfamiliar situation of diminished power and choices the nation is experiencing.
No solutions from me except the usual ones: we need neither to mourn, nor to psychoanalyze the President, but to organize.

It's always worth the fight to protect the institutions of democracy insofar as we still have some; they give us the potential to live to fight another day. Weirdly, poll after poll tells us most of our fellow citizens don't like our current political trajectory. We need to make those majority sentiments effectual, not just complain about our losses.

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