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{Note: this one, while just crammed to bursting with valuable insight, and surely a joy to read, is longer than usual, and you’ll perhaps want to give it a pass}.

At the end of last June, I started a blog post with this:

So, there was another mass shooting today, and you know what? It’s not even worth talking about.

I can’t even remember which mass shooting that was. Anyway, there was another mass shooting last night, and again, it’s not even worth talking about (which I guess renders today’s column somewhat ironic). The issues are clear, the solutions obvious, the impossibility of a fix, and the reasons for that impossibility, all too simple to discern. The crux of the whole mess is perhaps best expressed, as are so many things, by The Onion, which runs this headline every time there’s a slaughter, and just did so again:

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Actually, if you’re ever keen to chronicle the history of American mass shootings – and who wouldn’t be? – the Onion would be an excellent resource, since it keeps track of all of them:

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Back when I was in law school, I wrote a major paper on the issues surrounding attempts to reform the criminal insanity defence, and this included discussion of what was then the worst mass killing in US history: the death of 23 in Luby’s Cafeteria in Killeen Texas, at the hands of one George Jo Hennard. Since then, a new record has been set five successive times, and now stands at the 58 killed in Las Vegas by Stephen Paddock, who poured over 1,100 rounds into a concert crowd from his perch in the Mandalay Bay Hotel, wounding another 851 people to boot. Against this, the event last night in California was a ho-hum affair, only 12 killed, plus the shooter himself.

There are, in any given year, somewhere between 13-15,000 gun deaths in America (not counting the 20-25,000 who kill themselves with guns), and something like 70,000 more gunshot injuries – I don’t have the stat on how many of those are self-inflicted, or how many deaths and injuries occur in the woods when hunters mistake each other for game (my Mom knew a veteran whose friends took him out hunting one weekend, and he vowed never to do it again, telling her “Jesus Christ, Joan, it’s worse than Korea out there!”). Add on top of that the 70,000 or so who are dying each year of opiod overdoses and Trump’s talk of “American carnage” during his bizarre inauguration speech starts to sound more spot-on than demented, except that Donald wasn’t talking about these unnecessary deaths, and doesn’t care about them.

None of this will come as news to the reader, who will have heard it all a thousand times before, and there’s nothing clever about reiterating it here, or noting that the annual death toll from guns and drugs far outstrips the losses of the entire Vietnam War, which totalled about 58,000. What is, perhaps, worth talking about is how the war-like casualty figure that Americans shrug off every year serves as a metronomic reminder of just how paralyzed the nation is when faced with any number of severe and even existential threats, with the mass shootings in particular providing repeated examples of the whole American dilemma in microcosm.

Their political system is as seized up as the engine block of 1953 LaSalle found rusting in an abandoned barn. Between monied interest groups buying politicians; a stacked judiciary rendering ideological and anti-social verdicts; a desperately flawed Constitution that was designed to impose gridlock; sharp divides in public opinion with there always being one side of the debate which seems, to the disinterested observer, to be sheer counter-factual lunacy; and a culture plagued with toxic and obsolete beliefs held over from a much different time, it isn’t just the obvious solutions to the crises of guns and drugs that elude them – America can’t react to anything appropriately. Not climate change, not racism and all its miserable effects, not the grotesque inequities of wealth distribution, not the senseless, endless wars, not the blight of mass incarceration, not the long, painful slide towards authoritarianism, not even their own crumbling infrastructure, the biggest no-brainer that no brain ever solved.

The problems America faces are huge. Yet there they are again, saddled with political stalemate for at least another two years, mired in a political crisis entirely of their own making while ignoring what the world at large is about to do to them all. Their house is burning down around them, and they’re preoccupied in a gunfight, crouched behind the furniture trying to get clean shots at each other. The hell of it is, nobody can call the fire department until the good guys win the gunfight, supposing they can. They seem under-armed at the moment, but things change, right? The paralysis today is real and crippling, but not, I’m arguing here, permanent.

So, all right, they’re mired in the muck for now. What then should the Democrats do, running the House, but not the Senate, the Oval Office, or – and we may as well dispense with the pieties and include them in the purely political opposition – the Supreme Court? What might nudge the log jam towards breaking in 2020? Obviously, nothing substantive can be achieved legislatively right now, yet it’s vital that they not be portrayed as obstructionist do-nothings who want a victory in the political infighting far more than anything that might help the American people. That perception would be dreadfully unfair, of course, but if they don’t watch themselves that’s just how they’ll be painted.

It’s already started, actually. Mitch McConnell gave a little press conference yesterday in which he warned the Democrats of the political perils of harassing the President – oh, sweet Jesus, that’s rich coming from him – but I think he might be right. I wouldn’t think it was mendacious if it was a Democrat who said this, instead of the most loathsome politician to ever wield Congressional power (aside from Newt Gingrich):

All I’m doing is making a historical observation — that the business of presidential harassment, which we were deeply engaged in in the late ’90s, improved the president’s approval rating, and tanked ours. That’s my observation, that that might not be a smart strategy. But it’s up to them to decide how they want to handle that.

That’s correct. The Republicans impeached Clinton, failed, and it was Bubba’s numbers that went up, while Newt Gingrich got shown the door. Mitch, partisan dickwad that he is, clearly wouldn’t issue this warning unless he felt that “presidential harassment” might actually help the Democrats this time, but the point remains valid.

I think the Dems understand that it would be futile and hopeless to impeach Trump, even though he’s done so much to deserve it that anything less is an absolute miscarriage of natural justice. The GOP controls the Senate, and the Senate determines the outcome in any impeachment trial. As former Republican strategist Rick Wilson tweeted this morning, there is not one Senate Republican who’ll stand up for the rule of law when the crunch comes. Not one.

Lord, Lord, that’s a bitter truth.

What they’ve got to avoid, though, is the overwhelming temptation to use all of their oversight committees to launch a thousand different investigations into all of the wrongdoing of Trump and his collaborators. This, too, rankles mightily, but I fear it wouldn’t accomplish anything. The American public doesn’t care. Proving that Trump and his fellow travellers are a criminal enterprise on a par with the Gambino family would be deeply satisfying, but it won’t get Trump thrown out of office. It doesn’t matter any more. The bastard is immune.

There are some inquiries that should still proceed, particularly in the House Intelligence Committee, where Adam Schiff will, without unseemly fanfare or grandstanding political pyrotechnics, methodically expose the extent of Trump’s collusion with the Russians. Schiff’s committee may soon provide the only venue in which the conclusions of the Mueller probe will be made public (even as I write this I’m wondering if Mueller has already been fired). I don’t think it will do anything to dim Trump’s electoral prospects in 2020, we’re far too deep into Bizarro Land for that, but it’s still vital to know. Some day, in a better time, it will matter, and steps will be taken to stop it from happening again – some day. Not now, though.

What the Democrats have to do is make the most of the paralysis. I used to be involved in doing more or less the same thing, years ago; when I was a lawyer doing corporate deals on Bay Street, we often worked frantically towards unrealistic deadlines that we knew could never be met, owing to factors beyond lawyerly control. We toiled into the wee hours seven days a week, knowing full well that there was no need for such effort, since some regulatory approval or third-party consent or the like would never be obtained by the anticipated closing date. We did this, though it was painful and pointless, because we refused to be seen as the ones who were at fault. When the closing didn’t happen on time, we’d be in the position to say don’t look at us, we did our bit.

The Dems have to put themselves in that position.

Therefore, they should conduct a few inquiries, the ones that are most central to the future health of their democracy, but be relatively quiet about it while they draw the public’s attention to a raft of legislation being passed through the House to improve the lives of ordinary Americans. None of it will ever become law. The Senate will squelch it, or the President will veto it. No matter. They’ve got to be seen to be trying, hard, to fix all the things that are broken. They should pass an infrastructure bill, a bill to expand and improve Obamacare and protect those with pre-existing conditions, bills to repeal the tax cuts on the rich and give breaks to the middle class, bills to make higher education more affordable, to forgive crushing student debt, to lower prescription drug costs, to tackle the opiod crisis, to put sensible controls on gun ownership, to address the pestilence of Big Money in the political process, all of it, and more. Yes, it’s all doomed. Some of it, even if by some impossible mistake it cleared all the legislative hurdles, would be struck down by their godawful Supreme Court. It’s still worth doing, to have it all sitting there, ready to go if, in some future, better environment, the Dems have the juice to get it all done.

Give the people something to vote for.

This brings us to the problem of rural white voters. Bret Stephens, the conservative columnist over at the NY Times, wrote a column today that had steam coming out my ears, but I read it through anyway, determined to look outside my own bubble, and hear outside my own echo chamber. I truly dislike that man, he’s a smug, scolding sort of conservative, derisive of all liberal values, pretending that he and his kind aren’t to blame for setting the table at which The Trump now gorges on the twitching carcass of the Republic, but dammit, he had a point today. The urban-rural divide is real, intractable, and always in the way of a real wave election that would sweep the Democrats back into power. It’s doing no good to express contempt for those people. Somehow, they have to be won over.

Now, this goes violently against my own grain because I have deep, abiding, searing, unaffected contempt for those people. I variously described them in my last few posts as racist backwards-assed country fucks, know-nothings, and witless drones begging to be led around by their nose rings, and goddammit, that’s just what they are. Hillary wasn’t wrong. The 40% of the nation that gives its unwavering support to Trump is, in large part, a shit-filled basket of deplorables. The thing is, they get to vote. They’re allowed to, and they do, and boy does that matter. Their power has been magnified by obscene amounts of Republican gerrymandering, which might, eventually, be corrected – might, but I have to tell you it’ll take decades if it’s possible at all – but the Constitution gives them hugely disproportionate power too, especially in the Senate.

Every State gets two Senators. Two, and two only. Population is neither here nor there. This means that the 750,000 odd yokels in North Dakota send the same number of Senators to Washington as the 40 million in California. Think of it. When it comes to the Senate, every clod hopper in North Dakota has 53 times the power of any California voter. This pattern is repeated to varying degrees throughout the Union, which is on track to see something like 30% of the population electing 70% of the Senate. So yes, let’s accept that a great many of these over-powerful cow tippers are repellent, ignorant racists who couldn’t even name the three branches of government, or tell you whether Las Vegas was a state or a city. They still need to be won over, somehow.

How? If I knew that, do you think I’d be a nameless goof tippy-tapping away in utter obscurity on a bunch of unread blog posts? I mean, that knowledge would be valuable, yes?

I jest. I do know, I think, and already talked about it – I reckon that the program of doomed legislation outlined above would go a long way towards building rural and rust belt support, especially if the Dems ram a bunch of hopeless bills through the House that would address their particular issues. The siren song of caravans and invading brown people from MS-13 might be less appealing than the prospect of getting their health care, or better flood protection, or cheaper insurance on the crops that they grow, or retraining for new jobs to get them out of dying industries. If it’s selling soy beans to China that riles them up, promise to end Trump’s useless trade war. If their water is laced with lead and carcinogens, promise to clean it up. Hell, if they hate Daylight Saving Time, tell ’em it’s gone as soon as they vote Democrat. Whatever it takes. All such efforts, while perhaps calculated cynically to glean white rural votes, have the rare virtue of being simultaneously just and good for the country. How often do politicians get the chance to pander by being decent? Now’s the time. Give them something to vote for.

Next, the Dems have got to pick a candidate for President that people will actually vote for. Is that so much to ask? Remember, a lot of the rural voters who elected Trump voted twice for Obama. It must be possible to get them back, and to do it the Dems have to field somebody who grips the imagination and fosters hope as well as Obama did. I’m on the record advocating Beto O’Rourke, but upon reflection I’m worried he won’t sell in the corn belt. I’m not sure on that, mind you, but maybe they should play it safe.

Who then? Sadly, it can’t be a woman. These folks will vote for an African-American dude, but not a woman, no matter how lily-white she is. Hillary fell short for lots of reasons, but if you think misogyny wasn’t one of them, and a big one, you’re sadly out to lunch, cousin. No, it has to be a guy, and a masculine sort of guy who looks like he could beat Trump in a bar fight – that’s actually crucial, though nobody will admit it – and a guy that doesn’t seem like he just came out of Goldman Sachs by way of Yale (I know, then why did they vote for the plutocrat Trump? He disguised his identity, that’s how). Somebody who’s not upper crust, and no wimps. No more John Kerry or Mike Dukakis clones.

Time was, that would have been Joe Biden. I think Joe would have beat Trump, last time around. But maybe he’s too much the old school Democrat to win them over. It can’t, for the love of God, be Bernie Sanders. If Bernie looks like he’s having a go at it, somebody’s got to do something, I won’t suggest what. Ditto Hillary. Oh no, Hillary, God no, you will not. The truth is, I don’t know. Gillum, maybe. If he can come within a whisker of taking Florida, maybe he’s the one. Whoever he is, he’s got to be somebody who understands that people will listen to good policy ideas if they hit the sweet spot and are set out simply, clearly, and repeatedly – something like Build The Wall, only not insane – but they aren’t wonks, and also vote based on how the candidate makes them feel. Obama made them feel good.  We need somebody who stirs emotion. Offering them good policy, policy that really helps them, policy that they can understand, is necessary but insufficient. It has to be somebody who grabs them by the brainstem.

Then, maybe, they can break out of this ungodly paralysis, having made good use of it.

Maybe I’m wrong about Beto. Perhaps we’ll see.

So we’ve got the recipe, and all we need now are the ingredients. I’m convinced Trump can be thrashed by the right sort of guy. Surely the Dems can find somebody who fills the bill. They’ve got to – and pray they don’t fuck this up. As everybody knows, fucking up is their thing.

One comment on “Paralysis

  1. babsbrownbabsb123 says:

    I rained again today…

    Like

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