It is too easy to look at the developments of the last year and say, “Lulz, nothing matters!” But that would be a grave injustice to the American experiment in self-governance. We are now in dangerous territory. We like to think only places like Russia and Turkey can succumb to the power of an autocrat and become a “managed democracy.”
At least, that’s what I used to think.
But recent developments make me realize that unless something changes we are slouching towards a new era in American governance. A number of things are coming together at the same time. Dark money, the rise of the Steve Bannon style of populism as well as Donald Trump himself are all shaking the foundations of the American Republic.
If this was an earlier age, historians would say our Republic was gradually slipping into an Empire, with a very specific quirk: the Emperor was elected every four years, but in fact only left office because the Constitution limited him or her to eight years in office. What’s more troublesome is it’s possible America is going to lurch into a “managed democracy” — or already has — and there’s no going back. When a nation has become so divided and partisan that not even accusations of pedophilia can knock a US Senate candidate as Alabama’s Roy Moore out of the race, you know something’s wrong.
All of this leads to the question of what to do. Are we doomed? Is this how the American democratic constitutional Republic ends? Are just one stop away from becoming a quasi-theocratic fascistic state?
Every time I get despondent and assume the worst, I realize I just can’t give up. I just can’t give up on the traditional concept of the United States that I was born to assume was always there. Here are some ideas on how to if not fix, at least ameliorate the problems facing us.
Don’t Enrage, Engage
This is something that the individual can do, regardless of social status or power. Instead of living in your personal political bubble, be willing to engage in cogent political discourse with someone who disagrees with you. Doing so in person is even better. President Obama said something to this effect in his parting speech. Social media — especially how easily it is to for outside forces to influence it — may be what we look back as the deathblow to our American democracy. We have to engage. We have to at least attempt to talk to people we don’t agree with, even if they are angry and think everything we believe is “fake news.” This is really tough and even I find myself not doing it nearly as much as I should.
Liberals Need More Empathy
I’m not suggesting liberals have to compromise everything they believe in. But liberals need to at least attempt to understand why they’re hated so much. Liberals are hated so much that the people who hate them don’t even really understand why they hate them. Liberals too often come off as smug. About half the country is really hurting and is only going to hurt more as technology takes low skill, high wage jobs like truck driver away. It’s a delicate balance given how the Right is full of rage and absolutely refuses to compromise in any way. The Right wants absolute power and absolute victory at all costs and liberals need to take this cold hard fact seriously.
Those are two pretty easy fixes, now let’s move on to some more existential solutions that are probably significantly more difficult to implement.
We Need A New Social Media Platform
We need to burn the village to save it. We need to kill Twitter. Twitter is a real threat to our democracy. I have repeatedly suggested that a new platform designed from the ground up to address the problems of Twitter should be designed. It also might be used to aide and abet people who wanted to protest the Trump Administration should it do something drastic like fire Bob Mueller. A new social media platform designed to fix the problems of Twitter marketed correctly would probably be a success from the get-go for several reasons. A lot of Left leaning celebrities would flock to such a service if they felt more safe. They, in turn, would bring fans and content along with them.
We Need New Leaders
If the rise of Donald Trump has show us anything, it’s that the world of celebrity and entertainment is now completely fused with politics. The center-Left needs to fight fire with fire and recruit leaders from the entertainment industry. I would suggest someone like Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert would be a great start. But, really, I would even go so far as to say someone like Chelsea Handler might do the trick given how costic our political life has become.
Those solutions, too, don’t even begin to address the deep seated problems with the American Republic. The United States really is two different nations now and it is up to us to prevent a civil war. It is very possible that the Blue States will bolt the United States for no other reason than they feel they are no longer welcome. It will be interesting to see how that exactly plays out.
Should the worse happen and Trump fire Bob Mueller the gauntlet will be thrown down, the Rubicon will be crossed. We get our answer. We will learn once and for all if “American exceptionalism” has at last come to an end.
Shelton Bumgarner is a writer and photographer living in Richmond, Va. You can reach him at migukin (at) gmail.com.