Category Archives: American Dialogue

Does America Have a Future?

Review of Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt’s book, How Democracies Die

Reviewed by Joseph Langen
It would be comforting to think that our American experiment in democracy can survive its current dangers as it has in the face of past threats. Yet our survival is not assured in today’s socially and politically turbulent climate.
How Democracies Die places our current challenge into the context of previous and more
current democracies which failed or at least struggled with their own crises. The authors report that in the past, democracies have collapsed in the face of violent attack.
More recently, democracies have crumbled due to insidious challenges from within. They see America as facing the second type of challenge.
They point out that the Constitution gives us basic rules to support the US democracy. Our society is further bolstered by unwritten norms, the most important being mutual toleration of rivals as a legitimate part of our society and restraint from attacking those with rival approaches to managing our society.
They note that American factions coexisted fairly well before the Civil War. Our country broke into open conflict during the Civil War and remained in conflict until the end of Reconstruction. After that we had another period of relative cooperation until the 1960’s Civil Rights Act. Cooperation has been declining since then, leaving us with racial equality on the books. Yet polarization has worsened over the years culminating in the Trump fiasco.
It appears that both sides cooperate better when racial equality is off the negotiating table, a sad state of affairs. Battles over civil rights, especially with regard to racial equality, have been joined by conflict over migration, religious beliefs and the nature and purpose of culture.
The book discusses three possible outcomes of our polarized society.
  1. First is a recovery of democracy. Trump and Trumpism fall or fade into irrelevance in the face of public disgust.
  2. Second is continuing and worsening of the divide with no tolerance or forbearance related to issues which divide us. At some point this trend would result in the death of a functioning democracy. This second possibility is on the horizon if Trumpian Republicans manage to control the presidency, Congress and the Supreme Court with anti-democratic power.
  3. Third is continuation of polarization and disregard of unwritten conventions keeping a modicum of peace, resulting in political warfare with an uncertain outcome. Whether a blend of individual freedom and egalitarianism would survive remains to be seen.
For us to survive as a nation, we must restore the endangered guardrails of tolerance and forbearance as well as overcoming polarization and fair elections. This will require compromise and softening of stances by everyone on both sides, particularly with regard to political rhetoric in both the major political parties. We must also address the needs of those neglected in our society as well as developing social policies favorable to everyone rather than just those favored by the political side in power at the moment.
Will we be able to come together as a society despite our differences? That remains to be seen. Can we set aside our partisan ideals or at least soften them while we focus on building a society supportive of all its members?  This book clearly lays out the existential problems facing us, possible outcomes and what we need to do for our democracy to survive, Our future lies in the balance. Get ready to do your part.

Fascism in America

The GOP’s Ultimatum to America: Fascism, or Else, The GOP is More Dangerous Than Ever

Written by Umair Haque and published in 5/28/2021

Every sensible person knows by now that the GOP has become America’s greatest threat to itself. Even Republicans with common sense — like my father-in-law, the farmer — shake their head at what’s become of their party: a hotbed of fanatics, extremists, loons, and cranks, all of whom share a single aim. And that aim is now becoming more and more explicit.

The GOP now presents America mericawith a simple, stark choice: fascism, or else. That’s the choice of authoritarianism. The GOP is hardening, in other words — into a true extremist organization, every bit the equal of far-right parties in Eastern Europe, or in a much more disturbing parallel, the Taliban, or ISIS. They, too, presented their societies — who were failed states — with a stark choice: fascism, or else.

The GOP is giving America an ultimatum. Will America reject it?

The hardening of the GOP into an organization of extremists that give the world’s most fanatical a run for their money is frightening, disturbing, and most of all, incredibly dangerous. I want to take a moment to point out precisely how and why — by way of how fast and deep the GOP’s hardening into genuine, off the charts, failed state levels of fanaticism is happening.

One of the GOP’s rising stars is Marjorie Taylor Greene. Extremists like her have replaced “moderates” like Liz Cheney. Nobody should cry tears for Liz Cheney — she voted for Trump, after all, proving her gullibility, if not complicity. And yet MJT is another creature entirely. Recently, she spelled out the choice the GOP is demanding of America — its ultimatum.

Fascism — or secession. She highlighted secession efforts in Oregon that are gaining momentum. Then she justified them and argued for them, since the “disconnected swamp” is…insert crazy conspiracy theory. The Pacific Northwest, of course, is America’s stronghold of white supremacy, and it’s no surprise therefore that secessionist movements have gathered steam there. And yet to see a member of Congress arguing for them is a serious step over the line. After all, it’s a clear violation of everything from the oath of office to basic standards to the idea of believing in a country itself.

Now, to really make sense of this idea, we have to hold a number of seemingly paradoxical facts in our head. Yes, elites have failed America — especially working class America, and especially elites in DC, who propounded idiotic theories of “trickle down economics” and “small government” and so forth (while successful societies like Canada and Europe were offering everyone things like healthcare and retirement and education precisely because they were expanding the role of public institutions and governance.) But the theories elites offered were eagerly swallowed by none other than the working class itself, because they gave it a way to continue old attitudes of racism, bigotry, and prejudice. The average working class white American wouldn’t have to invest in Black people, Latinos, Jews, Muslims — even if it meant not having basics like social insurance and social systems and forms of collective action themselves.

None of that justifies supremacy, and it certainly doesn’t justify violent secession for the purpose of white supremacy. The answer to “we’re a failing state” is not “let’s go build our apartheid utopia fascist society.” At least unless you’re a fascist.

Marjorie Taylor Greene is performing at least one service of dubious value to the rest of us. She’s so fanatical and simple minded that she doesn’t even bother couching the GOP’s ultimatum in the polite evasions and double speak the rest of them do. In her, we see it totally clearly: fascism, or else.

Or else what, you might ask? Well, she’s given you the answer. Trouble. Intimidation. Violence. Threats. Harm. Right down to a violent civil war — which is usually what this anodyne term “secession” involves — itself. Fascism, or else.

But if we look just a little more clearly, we can see exactly the same ultimatum now at work throughout the GOP, from top to bottom — only maybe given in slightly less stark and brutal and stupid terms.

Consider how the GOP House Leader has “blocked” an investigation into the “events of January 6th.” I put all that in quotes because in situations as dangerous as these, nobody should play he game of double speak pundits do. So let me put it more clearly. One of the leaders of the party who launched a violent coup aimed at stopping the peaceful transfer of power — incited by the President himself — doesn’t want any kind of formal process of investigation, much less justice, about that coup. When it put it to you that way, you should shudder, because this is the kind of thing that happens in the places impolitely once called “banana republics” — only now America is the republic, and the bananas are white supremacy itself, the things that fanatics are willing to destabilise society wholesale for.

What is Kevin McCarthy really saying? He’s giving America an ultimatum, too. The very same one: fascism, or else. He’s saying that he’s not willing to investigate the coup attempt of Jan 6th, because, of course, he doesn’t want any ugly truths to come to light. His party only offers America two choices. Fascism, or else. Or else what? They’ll block up the gears of government, they’ll obstruct, they’ll bully, harass, intimidate. They’ll go back on their word — remember, Kevin McCarthy supported such an investigation not too long ago. But when the rubber meets the road, and the actual choice has to be offered — all that’s forgotten, and it boils down to: fascism, or else.

Or else what? McCarthy’s line — like a lot of GOP politicians — is a little more sophisticated than the obvious brutal Iran, Iraq, or North Korea-style appeals to authoritarianism MJT makes.

Their “or else” is: you don’t get a working government at all. We’ll do everything in our power to just crash the system, procedurally, formally, using whatever means we have at our hands, whatever rules and codes and systems we can abuse. We’ll stop you from doing the most basic things, like investigating a coup, even if we said we’d get behind it. Fascism, or else: or else you don’t get a working government at all.

McCarthy’s aided in this effort by the third way the GOP’s delivering their ultimatum of fascism or else to America. What’s going in the party at a cultural level, as a social movement? Something truly peculiar. A psychologist would call it mass psychotic delusion. The GOP is rewriting history.

The coup never happened — those were just tourists! They didn’t mean any harm! Never mind the gallows they built, the death threats they chanted, or the numerous people who died. That never happened. The election was stolen from us, and we’re the ones with the grievance here. How can that be? Because the promised land has always belonged to the pure blooded and the true of faith. The rest of you are just subhumans — who deserve to be treated like them, kids put in cages, hunted in the streets, violently attacked at the Capitol.

This Orwellian process of rewriting history is so notable and remarkable because it’s happening in a weirdly spontaneous fashion. Yes, leaders in the party tell the Big Lies — but the base eagerly laps them up. They’re hungry for collective delusions, psychotic breaks from reality. This entire side of politics has quite literally lost its grip, its mind. It is not thinking at all anymore.

Why is that? Because it is too busy delivering an ultimatum. What are all those snarling Trumpists really saying to the rest of us? Fascism, or else. They don’t offer any compromise, any negotiation, any room for or remotely any interest in anything else. They’re hardly sitting around weighing the merits of different policies. They are just reacting instinctively now, their animal passions triggered, their lizard brains on fire. Fascism, or else.

Or else what? In MJT’s case — the new generation of fanatical GOP politicians — the answer was: the total rupture of society, civil war. In Kevin McCarthy’s case — the old guard of politicians wary enough to couch the ultimatum in politesse — the “or else” was: you don’t get a working government. But in the Republican base’s case, in working class America’s case, the answer is even more chilling than that: mass violence, based on the total rejection of reality, because the only kind of society they will accept is a fascist one. The base’s “or else” is: another coup, another Jan 6th, more paramilitaries, “open carry,” outright contempt for the “libtards,” vitriolic hate, all of that fuelled by psychotic delusions that justify it.

Surivors and scholars of authoritarianism like me see something truly disturbing now when we look at the GOP: an American ISIS or Taliban. White Americans, I think, often still feel that’s got to be hyperbole. I wish it was. They’re not experienced with authortiarianism or fascism — and right now, they need to rely on and listen to those of us who are.

What is authoritarianism, in its most essential, distilled, purest form? When one political side gives another an ultimatum. An “or else.” And the “or else” is the threat of violence, harm, hurt, on a mass social scale, from coup to civil war to large-scale sociocultural conflict. When that side refuses to even brook the idea that consent is a norm everyone should value, and it’s inherently abusive in a democracy to say: “it’s going to be this way, or else we’re going to hurt you as hard and deep and much as we can, seriously and really harm you, from taking away your rights, to violating your bodily integrity and safety and personhood.”

Authoritarianism is “or else,” backed up by the threat of violence. We see that now at every level of the GOP — from the establishment at the top, like Kevin McCarthy, to its new generation of fanatical leaders, like MJT, right down to the base, 70% of whom think the election was stolen, and the coup which never happened was nonetheless perfectly justified.

That’s bad enough, but the GOP is now one step even beyond that. It’s not saying, “Social democracy or else,” or “A working healthcare system or else.” It’s saying something far, far more sinister than that.

It’s saying “We want a society based on power, violence, domination, control, and dehumanization, or else. We’re the ubermen — the ones of pure blood and true faith — and the rest of you are the underman. We get to exploit and hate and demonise and scapegoat you. You live as second class citizens — if that — in our country, at our mercy, the way we tell you to live. And you die that way, too. Or else. Or else what? It’s open season. We hurt you.”

In other word’s, the GOP is saying “fascism, or else.” It’s authoritarian ultimatum to America is the worst kind there isThat’s the same one that ISIS gave, that the Taliban demanded. It’s the stuff of ultra dystopian scenarios. That is why survivors and scholars like me will use the term “authoritarian fascism”: there are two parts to it, the authoritarian ultimatum, given in the service of a fascist society of the pure and true, subjugating the impure, weak, and hated.

So. The GOP’s giving America an ultimatum. The danger is that America accepts it. This is why intelligent people say: “you can’t negotiate with extremists.” Because even accepting the terms of an ultimatum, especially one given in the name of violence, hate, right down to civil war, coup, mass delusion, fanatical extremism, my friend, is to have lost your power and centre and core and purpose at all. The only thing to do with an ultimatum — ever — is to reject it.

When Exactly Did America Stop Being Racist?

Written by Scott Woods and published in, 5/1/2021

By refusing to cop to ingrained oppression in the U.S., political leaders are living in denial

Scott Woods

Scott WoodsMay 1·6 min read

Photo: Bonnie Cash-Pool/Getty Images

Many Americans have been mulling over Republican of South Carolina, Senator Tim Scott’s wildly fantastic rebuttal to President Biden’s address to Congress earlier this week.

These remarks, delivered Wednesday night, found Scott offering jaw-dropping observations about the Republican party that the last four years of American life have proven patently false: that the GOP had a Covid-19 relief plan; that GOP changes to Georgia voting laws will somehow make it easier for more people to vote; that the GOP opposes Supreme Court-packing. It was a fun house mirror of appraisals.

Being a Black person in America, there was one line from the bizarre oration that stuck out. “Hear me clearly,” Scott said, “America is not a racist country.” Mind you, this is after Scott recounted a litany of racist acts that he’s experienced over the course of his life, presumably to show that he understands what racism is.

If Scott were the only high-ranking politician to make such a claim, I wouldn’t care. There’s nothing that Scott can say on the matter of racism that would surprise me, given his voting record and who writes his scripts. But when Vice President Kamala Harris responded to Scott’s claim (“I don’t think America is a racist country but we also do have to speak truth about the history of racism in our country and its existence today”), I took note. Not because I agree, but because she and Scott actually agree on something.

President Biden offered his two cents on the matter, as well: “I don’t think America is racist, but I think the overhang from all of the Jim Crow and before that, slavery, have had a cost and we have to deal with it.”

What’s confounding about their collective conclusion is that they don’t deny that racism exists so much as it isn’t nearly as broad or ingrained as to be considered a way of life. Scott doesn’t provide any evidence that this is true (and, in fact, provides evidence that it isn’t), but Harris, at least, references White supremacists as domestic terrorists, which is a reasonable enough platform. That said, I’m left to assume she might come down differently than most people who believe racism in this country is systemic and not just comprised of tiki torch-wielding mobs.

The question I have for Scott, Harris, Biden, and anyone else who thinks America isn’t racist is: When did that stop being the case?

I think we can all agree that America has been a racist country at some point. Slavery, Jim Crow, and segregation were all orders of the day in American life. These were laws whose outcomes helped build this country from its inception. Without slavery, you don’t have America as you know it — and I don’t just mean in some butterfly effect kind of way. I mean you have no Washington, D.C. or White House. Without segregation, you have no traffic light or pacemaker. And while those may appear at first glance to be nifty dividends, these are blues inventions; things that exist because Black people had to make do in the face of unrelenting racial assault on every level. In short, at some point in the past, America was genuinely and legally racist.

I’d like to know when that stopped. What magical moment in the past baptized America and washed away its bigotry? Which rights were activated on behalf of Black people that absolved America of its original sin?

Tim Scott and Kamala Harris should both, especially as Black Americans, have been able to say that America still struggles with its racism problem. It’s not something America used to be or fixed or voted out of office.

Perhaps the answer is a legal one. When legislation like Brown v. Board of Education (1954) or the Civil Rights Act (1964) were passed, America was obligated to adjust its reality. It could no longer legally discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, and several other personal identities that, oddly, people are still contending with today. Except that America didn’t meet that obligation so much as pivot into more subtle and efficient ways of discrimination. Schools attended by predominantly Black students were and remain routinely under-resourced. You can still see the crimson ink where housing discrimination hasn’t changed since redlining was legal. Disparities in health care, law enforcement, political representation, and living wages persist almost unabated by civil intervention across the board.

All of which begs several questions. If the net result of living in America while Black exposes the same disparities and injustices as it did several generations ago, how is racism not a strain of America’s DNA? How does drawing out daily examples of inarguable and systemic bias not serve as evidence of racism’s existence in American life? How is it that certain Americans can continue to benefit from the ancient and White-facing machine of privilege born of hundreds of years of free Black labor — privilege that Black people consistently cannot access — and the country not be racist by default?

There’s a difference between not being a racist society and being a society that at least tries to get it right most of the time. Despite what most citizens (who, as it turns out, are predominantly White) think of themselves, America is neither of these countries. It turns out that America’s favorite pastime is in fact not baseball but denial. It’s a pervasive and insidious strain of identity that refuses to not see itself as great, even in the face of profound horrors.

The January 6 storming of the Capitol earlier this year was shocking to much of America, but not enough to claim its hands are clean. That tsunami of animus came from somewhere, and it certainly hasn’t felt like the representation of a minority opinion since then. Scott essentially came out as every conservative’s best Black friend and told them they’re not wrong — that somehow, all of the people still accessing America’s privilege conveyor belt are the underdogs here — even though the insurrection lies at the feet of Republican flame-fanning.

What most of America doesn’t get about racism is that ignoring it doesn’t make it go away. That faux-philosophical chestnut has never been true a single day in the history of America (or anywhere else for that matter). Consider a hypothetical in which a White employee is iffy on the prospect of the new Black hire. In such a scenario, said White person has lunch with their new colleague and realizes they’re an okay person after all. This wouldn’t be an example of race becoming invisible or transcending race or any other diversity fable; this is a person recognizing that there’s more to Blackness than skin color.

The White person never forgets that the Black person is Black, they simply realize that there’s more to the person than what they see. And just like a person can never get to that lunchtime promised land by ignoring someone’s race, a society can never reckon with or resolve that which it cannot admit.

Tim Scott and Kamala Harris should both, especially as Black Americans, have been able to say that America still struggles with its racism problem. It’s not something America used to be or fixed or voted out of office. It is something that plagues us, much like the pandemic with which we’re now wrestling. It’s a condition of the American existence, and conversely a weed its citizens have to keep pulling out of the ground. But we’ll never get hold of it unless we grab it by the root.

Review of American Dialogue by Joseph Ellis

I have been looking for some perspective on the current issues facing our country. By chance, I happened across Ellis’s very recent book.  I approached it with great anticipation and was not disappointed.

Ellis discusses four major issues and four of the founders of our country who wrestled with them. They include race and Thomas Jefferson, economic equality and John Adams, constitutional law and James Madison as well as foreign affairs and George Washington.

He discusses historical considerations which guided each man in his approach to influencing the foundation of our government. He also explores the moral considerations, personal convictions, political pressures and competing values facing each of them. He also discusses the implications for our infant republic as well as for our current one.

Ellis also documents how the struggles of these founders still hold a prominent place in our present day efforts to maintain our democracy. Particularly difficult for us is how to find and maintain a balance of capitalism and equality of opportunity for all of our citizens. Equally challenging is how to balance our own needs as a country while maintaining our balance with other nations.

The author also considers the focus of our current administration on withdrawal from participation in world citizenship. In its place is the choice to use our military and economic power to get what we want rather than relying on diplomacy.  As a result we are fast losing our place in the world as an example of how democracy might work for all of our citizens and perhaps for those of other countries.

We face serious challenges as did our country’s founders. In order to survive, we must find a way to meet our current challenges together rather than allowing ourselves to be pitted against one another. We found a way to do this in the early days of our republic. It is time for us to step up to the challenge once again. Reading this book will provide you with a perspective on our current challenges in historical perspective. 

We have made progress through the course of the centuries since the establishment of our country. Slavery is gone. People of color have gained a voice in our current affairs. Women have also found their voice. In that sense, our country has become more representative than it was initially. Yet we still have a factions seeking the supremacy of white men. We have work to do and it is time to keep going.