FRACKED IF YOU DO

At a recent CNN event Anderson Cooper accused Biden of "trying to have it both ways" on fracking (check out my minicast on nuclear fracking, btw) by refusing to condemn the practice but also promising to be the anti-climate change / pro-environment president. Biden's position, which he clarified, proved Cooper correct: he doesn't want to ban fracking, but he wants to stop issuing new fracking permits. That's supposed to make everyone happy, but of course in reality it just gives everyone something to point at and be dissatisfied.

I'm not criticizing Biden; I point this out because I think fracking is the ideal example of a trap issue for Democrats. Forget all the "culture wars" stuff. Fracking, and environmental issues in general, do a superior job of positioning them between a rock and a hard place. Pun intended.

On the one hand, you have environmental voters and younger people who are convinced that the climate crisis is real and imminent. They want bold, immediate action to address it. On the other hand, you have the working class and organized labor constituencies who see the reality that oil & gas industry work is some of the last well-paid blue collar work left in this country. If you don't believe me, take a trip through North Dakota and look at how $60+ per hour (dirty, dangerous) fracking jobs have transformed that state's economy and population.

What do you really expect a candidate to do in these economically depressed midwestern and plains states, not to mention out west: walk into town and say "Hey I see you finally got something going here, got some money coming in, got some steady work. Well, I promise to shut it all down!" At the same time, "Let's just ignore this climate change stuff" is…well, it may not be a politically suicidal message but it's actually suicidal. In the non-metaphorical sense. Older people mostly don't care, but it's increasingly being recognized as a life-and-death problem. A crisis, even.

The only way to play it, in theory, would be to promise to transition people from economically positive but environmentally destructive work like fracking to economically positive, environmentally positive industries. Promise them high-paying jobs in different lines of work, and deliver. The problem is the Democrats have played this card before – hell, Bill Clinton campaigned on "Your job will go away but we'll get you an even better job" in 1992. People have long memories and they simply don't believe it anymore. For this to work, there will have to be something tangible to show voters. Democrats, when in power, will actually have to do it. Then and only then they can plausibly go to voters and say, look at this. This is the deal. We will do this for you like we did it for X, Y, and Z.

That will mean an end to derisively referring to plans to make the economy work in favor of the environment as "the green dream or whatever." And most of all it will require that thing the modern Democratic Party seems to dread the most – long-term thinking. They'll have to admit that they can't please everyone in the short-term and work toward presenting voters with an everyone-pleasing option in the near future. Because right now this is a trap and there's no good way out of it. The solution is to work to avoid being in the same trap in the future.

GOODBYE BROADSHEETS

Bob Woodward's decision to withhold audio tapes of Trump admitting he was lying about COVID was unethical, the latest example of a now-common practice used to sell books. People like John Bolton and Michael Cohen have to save some "surprise revelations" to keep people interested enough to pay for the book when the release date arrives. In that sense, the publishing industry as well as the individual authors bear some responsibility here.

An overlooked factor, though, is how little newspaper reporting of the style that was widespread during Woodward's (and Bernstein's) rise to fame during Watergate. The fact is that books are not now and never have been the appropriate venue for Breaking News. The publishing cycle, even for cynically churned-out crap like the Cohen/Bolton books, simply takes too long. Any information you collect is coming out in six to eight months at best, more likely a year-plus.

Woodward certainly is a person who has access to newspapers; WaPo or the Times or literally any newspaper that isn't a far-right tabloid would have taken this story at the time he learned about it. The problem runs deeper than Woodward and these tapes, though (which given what we have experienced with Trump for four years, may not have made the enormous difference you think). There simply isn't much investigative journalism happening anymore, the kind that kept people glued to newspapers Back in the Day. We are now similarly glued to the internet, but it is a substitute and not a replacement. The economic model of news delivery online provides very little space for stories that take a long time to develop and break. Investigative journalism hasn't disappeared entirely. There is, however, a lot less of it than there used to be. And less of it than we need.

FOLLOWING INSTRUCTIONS

Many years ago I taught a very large lecture course and to facilitate grading 400 exams I asked the students to write the number of the essay they chose to do on the front of their blue books. I wrote several times on the exam in bold type, Write the number of the essay you choose on the cover of your blue book. After a few experiences I also formed separate piles in the classroom when the students handed in their exams with a sign indicating the number of the essay. This pile is Essay 1. This pile is Essay 2. Etc.

If you've taught – from preschool to grad school – you know that no matter how many times or how clearly you give instructions, some students won't follow them. You can get to the point that most do if you're persistent, but for whatever reason some of them either won't read, won't listen, or won't process them. Of course in the example above it's not a big deal. It wasn't like they failed the exam if they put theirs in the wrong pile, or didn't mark the cover of their book. In that case the only consequence was me and the teaching assistants wondering why they can't follow simple directions to make our job a tiny bit easier.

One of the issues – not problems, but an issue to be aware of – with mail-in ballots is that the instructions create opportunities to reject ballots. To use the example of the recent Kentucky primary, ballots were rejected for failure to sign, failure to sign in the correct place, failure to enclose the ballot in an inner envelope before putting it in the outer envelope…on and on. Petty stuff, but stuff that is going to get your ballot tossed if you don't read and follow directions correctly.

My point is not to stick up for or lambaste Tyranny via Petty Bureaucracy. Rules and procedures, in some form, have to exist during an election. At the same time, I – we all – know that some people will end up doing the procedure incorrectly even if objectively we think the instructions are clear and simple. Burmila's Law: Each additional step in the instructions will remove more ballots from the final tally. Because whether the instruction says "Sign Here" or "Slither up a greased pole and battle the Rancor to submit your vote" someone will forget to do it, or do it wrong.

In an election in which a lot of ballots are going to be cast by mail and it is patently obvious that Trump will use every possible mechanism to try to question the legitimacy of the ballots cast, I worry about the potential for these minor, insignificant instructions will toss otherwise valid votes. No voting system is perfect and the rejection rate on mail-in ballots has been low everywhere it has been tried. "Low" and "zero" aren't identical though. True, votes can get rejected when cast in-person too (by filling in too many votes for a single office, etc). From mail to paper to voting machines, none of it will ever be 100% perfect.

This election is likely to be closer than some of the very optimistic poll results from June-July may have suggested ("Biden +15!!") and every vote is going to matter. It's too late to substantially alter any of the procedures in place for requesting and then casting votes by mail; at this point we can only anticipate how it could matter. Some states, for example, still require voters to submit a paper form by mail to request an absentee/mail-in ballot. How many voters do you lose with each additional step? I'm not sure it can be measured, but it's above zero. Some people will forget. Some will not have a printer. Some will do it but not correctly or in time. Some will misread or not read the fine print and give a reason for their ballot to be rejected.

And this is going to get incredibly ugly, with a large number of mailed-in ballots, if in the end one candidate wins by a very narrow margin and the rejected ballots could – potentially – have made a difference. People will start howling to count them anyway, and states will flat-out refuse. The perfect recipe for an election outcome that isn't broadly perceived as legitimate.

IT'S NOT YOUR JOB

As the cost of living there continues to increase while the overall quality of life falls, New York City is suddenly worried about people leaving. As one of those places that has never really had to worry about either attracting new residents or holding onto its population, this is not a problem New Yorkers have had to spend a ton of time on. The linked article makes the very important point that residents do not owe the city anything. If you are being gouged on rent for the privilege of living there, you have a reasonable expectation that services will be provided and that your quality of life will be reflective of your costs. If you cease getting out of the city what you are paying to live in it, it's OK to move.

I have never lived in New York but this argument resonates with me because one encounters it often in the Rust Belt – particularly in Central Illinois during my time there. It is often suggested or said that each individual has an obligation to stay put and do the hard work of fixing their community. In practice this means struggling mightily to fix it until suffering a mental breakdown from stress and repeatedly banging your head against a wall. It turns out that the forces responsible for something like urban decay and the collapse of the economy of an entire region bigger than most countries is well beyond the power of one person or even a dedicated group of people to change. Huh.

You are not a traitor for wanting to stop giving part of yourself to a futile effort to fix what others have broken. You have a responsibility to your community and to the people around you, but not at the expense of yourself. Read The Giving Tree for god's sake. You have the right to live somewhere affordable, safe, and with a quality of life that supports your needs. If the place where you live stops meeting those criteria, it is worth your effort to try to fix it. But don't fool yourself into believing that the problem can always be fixed. Sometimes it can, sometimes it cannot. Sometimes it is beyond anyone's power to fix it; other times the people with the power to change things simply don't want to. In either case it is not your job to sit there and waste your life in a place that is falling down around you just because you happened to be born there or found yourself living there for whatever reason.

You do not owe it to New York City to spend 75% of your income on rent unless that is what you really want to do. You have agency, and the ability (if not responsibility) to decide if the problems in your community are simply too big for you or the like-minded people around you to fix. Sometimes they will be.

OUT OF MIND

I have recently binge-read (I must admit some of the reading was skimming) all of Bob Woodward's books about the presidents between 1992 and 2016. And reading them all at once more or less in order makes one thing really jump out. In the Bill Clinton and Obama books, the congressional Republicans make regular appearances in the narrative. In the George W. Bush books, Democrats in Congress – or anywhere else for that matter – don't exist.

To make sure I wasn't imagining things, I checked the indexes. In State of Denial (late W years) Tom Daschale, Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid are mentioned once each. Once. And not in any way that is significant. Reid is quoted as being "disappointed" about some committee appointed to look into money spent in Iraq. Daschale was called to schedule some kind of hearing. Pelosi I couldn't find at all, although the index lists her on a page she does not appear.

The Clinton books, which incidentally I think are the best reads in the sense of being enjoyable, focus predominantly on characters around the White House, obviously. But people like Bob Dole and Newt Gingrich are in it a lot. They are physically present every chapter or so, and when they aren't the White House staff are talking about them. The names of minor Republicans in Congress come up too, as potential targets to be wooed.

It's not just a majority/minority thing; Obama and Clinton had a congressional majority for only two years compared to six* (The Senate was a coin flip for two years, so I guess four years depending on how you look at it) for Bush. That certainly matters. But I think there's more to it than that. Even after losing Congress in 2006, the Bush administration inner circle continued to act as though the Democrats did not exist. What they wanted was not a topic of conversation, even idly.

It could be tempting to write this off as an artifact of Woodward; that for some reason, Woodward was biased and portrayed the situations differently. I find it hard to come up with a convincing logic to support that. As far as Access Journalism goes, Woodward is a pretty reliable Scribe. And I'm unaware of allegations that he has some kind of big bias that leads him to want to write the Democrats out of the Bush story. It seems to reflect the reality around him, that in the Bush White House they didn't particularly give a shit about the opposition party. I think that matches reality to those of us who remember the W years and "unitary executive theory."

Clinton was somewhat successful at getting GOP buy-in, albeit at the cost of constantly giving them (and moderates in his own party) concessions. Obama, though, got nothing. Unfortunately it took him too long to discover that no amount of bringing them to the table or giving them sweeteners was going to get him anything in return.

Anyway, this is hardly an observation I quantified beyond checking the indexes to make sure I'm not crazy. Nonetheless I think it says something that comports with the current election – that Democrats are wired to try to woo moderate Republicans while Republicans make no effort whatsoever.

THE TENSION

For research purposes I've been digging into a couple books about US labor in the 1970s. One thing that leaps out is how much of the disquiet – the grievances, the complaints, whatever you want to call it – among workers had to do with the incredible monotony and boredom of factory work. They had great deals, and seemed to know it, but the great victories of the labor movement in the 1950s created that "golden handcuff" dynamic where you hate the job but you really can't bring yourself to quit because it's just too lucrative. "Where else could I get paid nearly this well?" is a hard question to ignore.

There's a real tension, recognizing that the jobs are terrible but also that the deals (many) union workers had were sweet. That is highlighted all the more dramatically by the fact that the majority of those jobs are now gone, and I'm pretty sure every person who complained about the tedium of factory work would kill to have those jobs back now…or at least their kids and grandkids would kill to have jobs like that now, at compensation rates equivalent to what your average UAW assembly line person was getting back then.

God knows how much cultural product from the Seventies explores that theme – the man working the soulless factory job, dying on the inside, crushing his spirit. Movies, songs, books, you name it. Looking back on it I'm not sure how to feel. Having a job you dislike just seems like…having a job. As Carlin used to say, there's a club for people who hate their job; it's called everyone, and it meets daily at the bar.

I feel for their sense of how limiting, constricting, and repetitive their work was. I also get the sense that it never entered into the realm of possibility to many of them that such jobs could simply disappear. But, that's capitalism for you. People a generation later end up pining for the jobs the previous generation hated. Didn't we used to brag that each successive generation did better?

PILOT PROGRAM

Surprising exactly no one, Trump has announced his intent to send Nonspecific Federal Law Enforcement (NFLE) into more cities after seeing how, uh, successful that has been in Portland. As Zoe Carpenter called it recently in The Nation, Portland is and always has been a pilot program. Proof of concept.

It's a transparent authoritarian move that is likely to backfire in the short-term (between now and the election, which of course is what this is all about). He's hoping that there will be enough of a backlash that he can revel in "chaos in the streets" footage and pull a Nixon. It's pretty difficult to argue that you, the person who introduced the chaos, is the only person who can stop it. I mean, there's a kind of logic to that. You almost have to admire it. But right now, if you think there are undecided / fencesitting voters who aren't sure about Trump but will be really impressed by Cop Rock 2020, I think you are fooling yourself. Every single person who responds positively to "unidentified cops whisking people into vans" is already on board with Trump, believe me. "I'd vote for Biden if I thought he'd do more secret police stuff" is not a voting bloc.

I'm more focused on the long-term danger, the precedent this establishes. I've been throwing R.G. Swing's book "Forerunners of American Fascism" at people a lot lately, and there's a good reason: people think Trump is a fascist. He's got characteristics, and certainly counts as an authoritarian, but he's what Swing characterizes as "pre-fascist." He's the guy you get before the proper fascists show up. He's the canary in the coal mine. He's the warning sign, the warm-up act, the clown who fools around with things that someone else will do later in deadly earnest.

See, the saving grace with Trump is that he's a moron, a narcissist, and a giant child. He can't focus on anything long enough to do it "properly." He will send Federal law enforcement into cities the same way he does everything else: without forethought, with no clear sense of what the obvious consequences of his actions will be, with no logic greater than that he thinks it makes him look Strong. He cannot understand anything except in terms of ratings (attention) and self-aggrandizement. He has no ideological commitment to anything, good or bad. He isn't committed to this, just as he isn't committed to any decision he's ever made. Odds are he'll reverse course shortly, as he always does.

In the future, though, the American right will find its Hitler. And by that I mean, someone 100% ideologically committed to what he is doing. Someone like Stephen Miller or Tom Cotton (although maybe someone more outwardly appealing is required) for whom things like "Send snatch squads around to disappear people" is the core of their entire worldview. Trump doesn't have that. The man spends most of his life watching TV and beefing with the media on Twitter.

When that person arrives in American politics we will be in trouble deeper than anything we can imagine at the moment. Because someone who is committed, really committed, to doing this stuff will have the benefit of Trump warming up the stage for him. "Sending in Federal troops" will strike people as something that has already happened, and something that ultimately was resolved – probably by Trump losing interest in it. And if there's anything to learn from the history of fascism, it's that when things go from "bad but fairly normal" to "pits full of bodies", they make that leap real quick. So quickly that it disorients all the institutions that are supposed to be able to prevent it. While everyone is standing around scratching their heads going "What? Is this really happening?" it will already be too late.

What Trump wants more than anything is adulation, and when he doesn't get it (or get enough of it) he changes course, like a divining rod that finds whatever he thinks will earn him pats on the back. Once an even more dangerous person is in power, that won't save us. They will focus on whatever evil it is they want to inflict on us and nothing will discourage them.

This kind of escalation in policing has another more immediate risk, too. It makes "normal" – i.e., policing without jackboots snatching people in vans – seem a lot more appealing. For some people, it will even seem satisfying. Maybe Biden wins the election and takes things back to "normal", e.g. before Trump, and it will strike us as so much better that we'll feel like we've found heaven. But "normal" in the context of policing means 1000 people getting killed by cops annually, mostly people of color, and a thoroughly broken criminal justice system from top to bottom. When someone turns the heat up to 120, 100 seems comfortable in comparison.

With Trump, much of the incoherent sort-of-a-worldview he espouses is metaphorical, because doing the things he says should be done requires focus, dedication, and hard work. It requires him to put smart, capable people in charge of tasks, not his idiot kids and hangers-on and the dregs of the Federal bureaucracy. He isn't willing to do work, or to surround himself with people based on any criteria beyond nepotism. In the future, someone willing to do the work, to press on toward his or her (but likely his) goal, and put people capable of doing ghastly things efficiently and effectively in positions of power.

When that happens, it will already be too late.

LET'S MEET IN THE MIDDLE

Over nearly 20 years (!!!) I feel like the point that has come up the most here, were I to go back and tally everything up, is that compromises are often really bad. We are conditioned to believe compromise is good. Whether we are talking explicitly about politics or about life in general, compromises usually result in both parties being unhappy and neither set of goals being achieved. You get the worst of both worlds more often than you get the best.

It is taken as given by the wise people of politics that the correct solution to a problem lies between what the opposing parties want. I used a textbook that tactfully referred to this as a setup for "mixed policy outcomes," meaning we spend a great deal of money but don't actually solve the problem. We do a little bit, which is enough to cost a lot but not enough to accomplish the goal. Some problems are binary. Some questions have yes or no answers with no nuance or third way.

We are seeing the real limitations of our bias toward "meeting in the middle" to solve problems right now. Last evening I listened to the North Carolina governor – a Democrat in a state that isn't exactly super liberal, and thus a guy always trying to find solutions that please everyone – explain what K-12 school reopening will look like in the fall. It doesn't make a lot of sense. Something about Plan B but also keeping Plan C on the table. Reopening but like, keeping all these protections in place so that opening won't spread the virus.

This, of course, is the Magic Bullet everyone is looking for right now. The two opposing viewpoints are 1) shut everything down until the virus is under control, and 2) the virus is no big deal, keep everything open and go about life as pre-COVID normal. And everybody is looking for some point in between those two, and I just don't think it exists. We can't be "sort of open, but in a way that will be safe like if everything was closed." Making that work would require assumptions about human behavior that simply do not hold, or a level of enforcement that is probably neither possible nor desirable.

This is a collective action problem, and "most people" wearing masks and being smart is not enough. It doesn't work unless everybody does it. And none of this compromise stuff is going to work either. If things are open as "normal" the number of cases will continue to rise; there is political pressure as well as economic incentives to re-open, but that doesn't mean bars and universities can come up with some half-assed "plan" and that resolves things. Either Congress will get its head out of its ass, send every single person $5000 and offer payroll support to employers, and shut everything down for 60 days, or we will continue to do this kind of "we're open but stand six feet apart" routine all but indefinitely. Because it absolutely will not stop what is happening now.

I'm probably prone to overestimating the number of issues that are black-and-white, zero or one. But I have confidence that this is one of them. Either things are shut down and people are staying home, or everything might as well be open. A half-measure isn't going to resolve this.

APPEAL TO OCCAM

Predictably, a terrible decision to try to hold a large political rally in a medium-sized city right now turned out poorly. For some reason the coverage is emphasizing the role Reddit, K-Pop fans (??), and other groups of Youths on the Internet played in allegedly thwarting the President's attempt at self-glorification.

I don't know why people reach for these narratives other than that it makes them feel a sense of power (People like us can shut it down!) or adds to the larger obsession with understanding politics largely as entertainment. But aside from the obviously ridiculous math of the Tulsa rally (Did anyone actually believe that a million people ordered a ticket?) you have a story that played out exactly the way common sense would dictate, even without the benefit of hindsight.

We are in the middle of three crises – a pandemic, a severe economic depression, and civil unrest – that would strongly argue against people turning out in big numbers for a meaningless pep rally. Not a spontaneous protest in response to a specific incident or issue, mind you – just a big stupid "Thank You President Trump!" event with all the usual D-list hangers-on of the Trump Extended Universe. I'd argue that even without several exogenous, powerful arguments against going to a big stadium event right now, enthusiasm for these things could be waning. It would be shocking and unprecedented if it wasn't.

Beyond that, for all their bold talk and faux-populist defiance about rules intended to prevent the spread of COVID, it appears that some portion of Trump's aging, maybe-not-in-awesome-health base is worried about the potential of getting sick at a big public gathering where it is all but certain that most attendees will refuse even the most basic precautions against contagion. It's cheap talk to boast about how the virus is Fake News, but even the most brain-addled older people have to understand on some level that people over 70 have greater than a 10% chance of buying the farm if they get sick. All but the most slavish Fox News enthusiasts are likely to have some reservations, or to have a spouse unwilling to indulge their fantasies. Again, these events are tired and stale and pointless. Hardly the kind of thing you're going to risk your life to attend.

Much is made, including by me, of how unwavering support for Trump is. You can't find a historical example of a president whose approval rating covered a smaller range. People who are on board with him are on board. They won't be dissuaded, and people who hate him most likely can't be persuaded. I have no doubt that Trump supporters will still vote for him, even if they're tired enough of the circus or worried enough about current events to decline his exhortations to serve as props at his rallies. Even the morons working for the campaign had to have known that this rally was going to be an embarrassment, the kind of thing one will spend weeks making excuses for.

It's worth paying attention to even a tiny dip in enthusiasm among the Trump base, though, given how narrowly he won the last election thanks only to an antidemocratic quirk in the system. In reality, the poor outcome of the rally probably reflects some combination of reduced enthusiasm, worries about getting sick (even if that sentiment is held privately), and the lack of novelty surrounding what feels like a TV show everyone has been watching nonstop for four years. If anything "defeated" the rally it was its protagonist's own lack of contact with reality, not internet interlopers.

THE MOST AMERICAN PANDEMIC

I write a lot less about the day-to-day of politics than I used to, mostly because I can't keep up with it (while maintaining other responsibilities) anymore but also because it's so self-evident the way in which most of what happens is bad that I don't feel like I have a lot to add. At some point there's only so many times you can say "Well, this is stupid!" or "They sure did fuck that up!" before you feel like the local news weather reporter in San Diego saying "78 and sunny" every single day until death takes you.

The billion ways in which the response to the COVID pandemic have been cataloged ably by many others, and in fact you probably figured them all out on your own without a real need to have what is bad about "Let's just reopen everything, masks are for pussies" explained to you. I used to have the energy for that; I no longer do. I salute anyone out there who has managed to continue doing that all day, every day. What it must be doing to your psyche, I can only imagine.

To me, the COVID response in the US will play out for History Books as not only the best example of everything wrong with us, but as the perfect representation / culmination of our last forty years of politics. The best way to summarize the response of the people in charge of managing this public health crisis is: Look, just do whatever is best for you. Handle it however you want to handle it. Go out or don't go out. Wear a mask or don't wear a mask. Stay home or don't stay home. Take quack drug treatments or don't. There's nothing the government or anyone else can tell you to do, and if they tried it wouldn't work, and they'd probably tell you the wrong thing, so I mean really what can we say other than "You make the choice" because ultimately you know what's best for you.

We've been pushing that line of thinking – nobody can tell anyone what to do, only you know what's best for you – in a million different policy areas and as an answer to every social, political, and economic question for a long time now. It has been pushed so hard and so effectively that not only is it the default solution to every problem but we can conceive of no other. Make everyone stay home? The government can't even do that!

On the first day of class in introductory American Politics, and in the first few pages of nearly every textbook on the subject, there is a discussion of the very basic concept of collective action problems. Government exists because there are some goods neither we as individuals nor "The Free Market" can provide. We cannot provide security for ourselves because we have to sleep sometime, and therefore we organize into groups that make rules and laws. We cannot provide our own roads so we tax everybody and build them as a cooperative effort. Public health is a collective good, too – it has an individual component, of course, because beneath the statistics there are real people getting sick (or not). But this isn't choosing Coke vs Pepsi, public schools vs private schools. We can't have pandemic for some people and no pandemic for others, especially without a vaccine or effective treatment. With a vaccine, a specious but technically accurate argument could be made ("Hey, get the vaccine if you want! I'm not!") that the individual has some control over the outcome. But in this situation you don't. You don't control whether you get it or not. You can protect yourself and reduce the odds, but you can't eliminate the risk.

And here we are, taking a purely individualistic approach – the do as thou wilt rule – to a basic collective action problem. It is idiotic and nonsensical on the most basic level possible, and here we are. We tried some collective action for a couple weeks, people got bored and business owners got mad because they weren't able to force their employees back to work and their customers back to shopping, and then we just decided that the collective action problem no longer required collective action. Not that it went away – that it simply wasn't a thing we needed to plan and execute a collective response to anymore. We didn't solve the problem so much as we simply decided it is not a problem anymore, or that it is, but we are powerless to stop it, but I guess we aren't powerless, but ok I guess what we really mean is we just don't want to.

Read that run-on sentence again and tell me there is a better way to summarize what the idea of governing has become in this country; it's not merely that we can't solve the problems we face, but that we can conceive of the solutions and have decided that we simply can't or won't implement them.

This is how systems collapse, albeit slowly – when everyone can see what is wrong but nothing can be done because the solutions would violate the consensus imposed by The System. And the system and the consensus around it are worth more to decision-makers than any single problem it causes, and so nothing changes, until eventually the problems pile up high enough that the whole edifice collapses.

The pandemic is a signal that we are entering the terminal phase, although there's no telling how long it will last – the phase in which the solutions are there but we can't do them and nobody can quite understand or explain why. It's the lemmings jumping off the cliff asking "Hey why are we doing this?" and then just doing it because everyone else did, without bothering to demand or propose an answer. We are doing what we're doing because this is the way it has to be, silly.

That works as an epitaph for a lot of empires.