Opinion

Our Revolutionary Era

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Posted: Jan 10, 2021 12:01 AM
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Our Revolutionary Era

Source: AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File

As we stumble into the new year, it has likely now dawned on all of those for whom it hadn’t already: 2020 was not the outlier, it was the portent. The greatest risk to America remains what it was on 31 December, and at the beginning of last year, and for years before. That risk is that we fail to recognize how far down the rabbit hole we are. 

Americans are still struggling to wrap their heads around the era they are in. In the past decade we’ve witnessed an attempted mass assassination of Republican members of Congress, a largely non-violent but weeks-long seizure of the Wisconsin state capitol building, protestors scratching at the doors of the Supreme Court to disrupt the nomination of Justice Kavanaugh, and public intimidation of politicians in streets, restaurants and their residences. I mention these examples not to equivocate, but to make sure we all understand where are along the continuum. Each of these examples happened before the widespread protests and riots of the spring and summer. These are pre-revolutionary indicators, and if you are still thinking I’m being alarmist: how many times did you have to text your friends in DC or other cities in the past nine months to ask them if they were okay, or even alter a travel route to avoid civil unrest? For many of us, that number is more than zero. 

We are the beginning of our era of instability and political violence. Nothing that happened yesterday changes the reward structure for demagoguery, for political crudity, for blatant bias; we want to be shocked into changing, we aren’t, we won’t. We already see the hardening from the January 6th siege on the Capitol. The calls for revenge, the corporate censorship, the feeling on behalf of the Left that punishment has not been swift and severe. That echoes the resentment on the Right at the lawlessness tolerated over the spring and summer, that chagrin at a presumed double standard. The truth likely lies, for each side, somewhere in between but the emotional narrative – the feeling of being wronged – is locked in and encouraged by the other side’s media. 

Just like during the protests and riots of the summer, corporate America takes sides, and we divide further. People are failing to understand what’s happening in the Twitter purge, the literal nature of it. When our national politics is so combustible common spaces become dangerous, what a crude answer to simply ban common spaces. The great tragedy in the Twitter purge isn’t that speech is being silenced, it’s that a divided nation now has one less common space to convene in. A shared national consciousness erodes further. 

Any gains in stability that we may experience over the next year are short-lived, not hard won. The next catalytic moment may surprise us, as the hard foundational fixes we need to embrace exist nowhere in the mainstreams that feed us. We are adjusting to a new reality in which violent transfers of power stem from contested elections. Those contested elections stem, in part, from our inability to orderly settle on the rules in sufficient time for them to receive legitimacy, though that’s not a justification for after-the-fact conspiracy. That inability to agree on basic election processes stems from our bitter division. Our bitter division is at the root of the matter. Cast blame where you need to but recognize the result: revolution and disintegration are possibilities. 

We head into midterms that typically serve as a corrective for those who lost in Washington the two years prior with bitter, consequential fights ahead as to how to conduct our elections, and no clear path for consensus on the separation that persists. That’s 22 months from now, with two Americas believing in incompatible election processes. We may get by, as we have, with luck and inertia, and the results may be landslides. And we may not.