Discord & Dissension – Part ll – “How did we get here? – Part ll”

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Note to readers: This week’s post on our ‘Discord and Dissension’ project ended up being too long for a single post, and so it will be presented in two parts. The first part was presented earlier this morning, which you can read here. The following post is the second part. 

Bush v. Gore

The 2000 election was extremely close. In the end, it came down to the state of Florida. George W. Bush had a lead of only 500 votes over Al Gore, and a recount ensued. It was during this period where the partisan divide between the two parties was on full display. One of the closest and most contentious elections was ultimately decided by the Supreme Court when they settled in a 5-4 decision to halt the recount—a split decision which also reflected the conservative versus liberal ideological makeup of the court.

The fact that Al Gore ultimately won the overall popular vote by nearly 540,000 votes didn’t matter. For the first time in over 100 years, a presidential candidate won the election by the archaic Electoral College, not the popular vote. The same situation would repeat itself just 16 years later.

Once again, the Supreme Court spoke, and the cracks in our fragile democracy continued to widen.

September 11 and the Iraq War

Nearly 3,000 Americans were killed in the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history on September 11, 2001. The horrific actions by 19 hijackers on that day briefly brought the country together in a sea of patriotism. Even both houses of Congress got together in a bipartisan show of nationalistic pride by gathering at the U.S. Capitol to sing “God bless America.”

Unfortunately, the show of unity was short-lived. Soon we were on a march to war, first in Afghanistan, then on to Iraq in 2003. There also was the controversial Patriot Act, passed shortly after the terrorist attacks, which eroded many civil liberties, and expanded the power of the federal government.

While the Afghanistan operation enjoyed the broad support of the American people, Bush’s preemptive war in Iraq was looked at skeptically by many. Protests were frequent on the streets of America in the lead up to the war. And the partisanship widened deeper and deeper in Washington, D.C. Those who were opposed to the war were called unpatriotic citizens who sided with the enemy.

When the war turned ugly in mid-2003, with several Americans dying nearly every day, the mood towards the war began to change, and Bush’s once sky-high approval ratings began to tumble. He was, however, able to win reelection in 2004, beating Senator John Kerry in a close battle that also saw it’s share of patriotism vs. non-patriotism vitriol. Democrats were labeled ‘weak’ on national security; Republicans the exact opposite.

Barack Obama

The election of the nation’s first African-American, Barack Obama, to the presidency in 2008, was a proud moment in our country’s history. In many ways, it showed progress in America. Perhaps the long and painful days of racism were slowly coming to an end. Once again, though, that premise was pre-mature.

On the very day of Obama’s inauguration, a group of current and former Republican politicians met at a D.C. restaurant to determine a plan of action for the Obama presidency. They concluded that opposing everything the popular new president proposed was the best way forward. Denying him a positive and lasting legacy was paramount.

Obama’s presidency descended increasingly into partisanship and bickering. While he was able to achieve much during his time in office, it’s clear the very idea of a black president scared the upper hierarchy of white politicians and business leaders. A successful black president and a new coalition of younger voters, many of color, was a threat to the Republican Party.

Soon, an aggressive attempt to win back a majority of statehouses began. The plan worked to perfection, and an equally aggressive plan to gerrymander worked as well. That combination allowed the Republican Party to control both houses of Congress throughout much of the 2010’s decade, despite losing the total number of votes to Democrats.

Citizens United and McCutcheon v. FEC

The Citizens and McCutcheon decisions by the Supreme Court in 2010 and 2014, respectively, put an exclamation point on an already rigged political system. Citizens helped unleash unprecedented amounts of outside spending in the last several election cycles, as well as a boom in political activity by tax-exempt “dark money” organizations that do not have to disclose their donors. McCutcheon removed aggregate limits for individual donors giving to candidates, political parties, and PACs.

In other words, yes, the floodgates are open, folks. What other decisions lurk on the horizon? It’s hard to say. But with the current makeup of the Supreme Court, it’s going to be very difficult to put the proverbial genie back in the bottle. Difficult? Yes. Impossible? No.

What’s next?

In sum, we’ve got a lot of work to do. It’s not just money in politics, illegal gerrymandering, or an uninformed public. An outdated electoral college also looms large. It’s all of those things plus a social media explosion where sometimes you can’t tell what fact is and what is misinformation.

The current president relied on all of those things to squeak out an electoral victory over Hillary Clinton in 2016. This year, you can rest assured that he will do anything and everything to retain his power—and if Russia or some other country help him do it? So be it.

As my friend Jill stated in her introduction to our project last Friday, if we lose the election in 2020, we may well be responsible for ending life on this planet. If that’s not enough to become active and engaged, I don’t know what is.

Next Friday, Jill will suggest some things we can do to change our fragile political system positively. How can we become a more engaged and informed democracy? How can we motivate people to vote? 60% of participation is unacceptable. We can and must do better.

I’ve identified the discord and dissension from a historical perspective. Now, where do we go from here? Stay tuned …

Note: You may also read Jill’s excellent intro to our project from last Friday, here

42 comments

  1. Reblogged this on Filosofa's Word and commented:
    We proudly present the second part of this week’s ‘Discord and Dissension’ project … please feel free to comment and make any suggestions you may have … we want this project to make a difference! Thanks to all of you!

    Like

  2. Jill knows I plough this furrow quite a lot but in the light this sad catalogue of events it bears repeating.
    In terms of history the USA is still a young nation, one which had to start from scratch as a series of colonies going back, let’s say 400 years. In terms of a nation approaching 250 years. In historical terms and the ‘melting pot’ comparison The USA has not even stopped boiling yet when set against the histories of many nations. Thus although there is a veneer of a established Great Power status The USA is still in effect a swirl of disparate groups whose heritages still hark back to the ancestral colonists’ cultures.
    Once we moved aside the original Spanish influences and look to those northern European settler groups we find basically dogmatic folk dissatisfied with ruling royalty and established High Church religion looking to set up their own religious fundamentalist hierarchal communities. Fundamentalist is the important word as this term when viewed through the record of such groups as there is generally an underlying intolerance and being themselves originally outcasts a suspicion of outsiders, while displaying a sometimes visceral response to anyone of their own group not in step. These in effect became the first natives of the second wave of immigration, set on pushing aside the Native Americans.
    As the decades turned into centuries this first group of the second immigration wave became intrenched those who gained privilege by wealth or status became the ruling class while many of those of the same stock but lower status embedded their own status through a remorseless intent to ensure all outsiders were to be left in no doubt they either (if of the same racial mix) had to earn their place or if of different races to be excluded or supressed.
    With the clash of industrial verses rural and a North being more cosmopolitan and a South trying to hang out to an outmoded way of life a civil war was predictable. Civil Wars only solve who rules and not anything social in the immediate years if at all.
    Whereas the USA has followed a traditional historical path by one means or another rapid expansion filling the gaps left by declining nations, the basic structure and mindset of the original settlers of the second wave migration still remained, entrenched. Against this was set the normal increase in influence of other immigrant groups (forced or otherwise), along with cultural changes espoused by many. It is these two forces on of privilege and one of development that take on the identity of two tectonic plates pushing against each other. This is the crisis point the USA now faces.
    Rapid expansion of a nation comes at a price. Social structures have not have chance to bed down, a rarity in itself when you consider far older ethnic tensions around the world. Rapid expansion also does not allow for a settling in of infrastructures built up over centuries, themselves still fragile and prone dislocations or distortions at times of crisis. Thus the USA still young is a fragile construct with now two opposing groups one hide-bound in its conservative privilege, one liberal a coalition of everyone else. Tensions have been increased by two traumatic events. 1. The first major attack on USA soil by an outside power on the 9th September 2001, made all the worse that the attack was carried out by a militia low tech group (spare me conspiracy theories- that’s implied racism- ‘only white folk could be clever enough to do this’ approach) 2. Arguably a greater shock for the conservatives…A Black Man in the Whitehouse as president for two terms, intolerable by their standards and a response was necessary, the troops were mobilised. Battle lines started under the Cultural Wars initiated in the 1970s were hardened.
    And here you are, with a president created by the conservative groupings, a fellow of no talent, a construct of his voter base.
    Now at this stage as there is no consensus History suggests its equivalent of the tectonic will result in a fracture. Hopefully not one as dramatic as in the 1860s but more a case of communities in the form of cities, states or regions drawing away from the central power of Washington, which for a while remains a titular place everyone nods to and the president gradually declines into a symbol powerless. The USA ending up as a number of independent states squabbling or supine to outside powers, this has been the fate of many a nation, some arise again, others not so.
    You could therefore argue this is part of a political process, an option which was set to happen centuries before and has to be endured.
    In this Trump is no more than one of a series of lesser emperors taking their fleeting place on the stage of decline.
    There is one question which History cannot answer, though. Who gets the nuclear weapons?

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thanks Roger, for this thoughtful and accurate portrayal of the historical ramifications of all this. You’re right to say that indeed, we’re a young country when you compare us to many on the world stage. We still struggle for that perfect union, which of course will never arrive.
      The battle lines, however, have clearly been drawn. You are so right about America electing the first black man. I think the hatred and downright racism that may have been simmering a bit, was resurrected. They found their man in Donald J Trump. He speaks to them. He talks like they think, and love him for that. No such thing as political correctness with this president. Lying? Corruption? Subverting the Constitution? They don’t care. As long as his people feel like they’ve got a man in D.C. who talks and thinks like they do, nothing else matters.
      My hope is, that his presidency presents our country with a chance to finally wake up from it’s seemingly endless lack of interest in civics. You know, how government works, how it’s supposed to work etc.. Maybe it really will be a wake-up call. I love your line that he may be no more than ‘one of a series of lesser emperors taking their fleeting place on the stage of decline.’ Excellent take, my friend. And I hope to hell you’re correct! His presidency must be nothing but an asterisk. And asterisk in history that will basically say: “Hey, world, America made a little mistake in 2016. But we corrected it in 2020. I hope you can find it in your hearts to forgive us.”

      Liked by 4 people

      1. Thanks for you kind words Jeff.
        At this juncture the picture of division looks stark. If Trump does lose in November the right-wing conspiracy kooks will be out on their jet-powered tricycles. However it is the only option, the Right need to be defeated and defeated massively and consistently at the ballot box. There can be no ‘I never vote. It’s not worth it’ defence anymore, in these times that is an abrogation of responsibility.
        One thing; Americans should not beat themselves up as if they were the only nation to find themselves with an incompetent populist in a position of transitory power.

        Liked by 3 people

      2. You’re welcome Roger. Yes, a massive defeat to Trump, and ‘Trumpism’ is the only option. If it’s close, and he loses, I really think we’ll need a crane to get his butt out of that White House!

        Liked by 2 people

    2. As always, your analysis is astute and spot-on, Roger! I have no magic 8 ball, so I cannot begin to guess where we will be 20 years from now … well, I will be a wolf atop a mountain howling at the moon, but as for the nation … no idea. I think you may well be right that this nation will ultimately divide into a number of smaller nation-states, but … not without a serious fight, I think. At any rate … we shall do what we can to stop the bleeding being caused by Trump, and go from there. Sigh.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Thanks Jill.
        Thing is, in the final analysis the shallow creature Trump is not your problem, its the mindset which put him there, and it has deep roots.
        The current practical first-aid solution is to vote, overwhelm the right-wing vote. There can be no opt out option as a political statement, not these days, the divisions are too stark. You might not care all that much for the candidate but it’s a vote against Trump that matters.

        Liked by 3 people

      2. Quite true … I’ve long said that he is a symbol of a deeper problem. And yes, that is going to be one of the main focuses of mine and Jeff’s project … to convince people that failure to vote is simply NOT an option. There are more sensible-minded people in this country than the other sort, and if everybody votes, there can be no repeat of 2016. You’d think the era of Trump would make everyone determined to vote, but I’ve already heard from several who say they don’t plan to vote. One said that since the two-party system “isn’t working”, they just wouldn’t vote. Oh yeah … that’ll show ’em alright. Sigh.

        Liked by 2 people

      3. For those who say ‘The Two Party System isn’t working’…
        Question 1. What do they intend to do about it? IT’s no use flapping. What are they gonna to do about it?
        Question 2. How well do they think the UK’s 5 party + 2 Nationalist parties system has worked out for the UK?

        Liked by 2 people

      4. Exactly. Not voting damn sure isn’t going to fix a broken system. Sitting back on their patooties and complaining is not going to fix it. Voting for a third-party candidate to “protest” the other two is stupid. So what, exactly, will be their contribution to fixing the problem? As to question #2, though, very few in this country even begin to understand the UK’s political system, nor have any understanding of the problems you guys have. Heck, I don’t fully understand it, and I’ve studied it!

        Liked by 2 people

      5. Yes I fully agree. I used the same phrase somewhere early this week. The USA is not unique in this. A cursory innocent glance at South Eastern and Eastern European History of the 19th Century will give the impression of noble folk fighting to be free of oppressive empires. A harder examination reveals bigoted nationalists who as soon as they get their country start persecuting the minorities within their bright new shiny borders. If you read too much of it you can come away with the skewed idea ‘Hey. Maybe the Hapsburg Empire wasn’t such a bad thing after all,’

        Liked by 2 people

  3. Frontline on PBS has been running a two night special on the divide in the country. It is quite good. It is over now but I’m sure it can be streamed on PBS app.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I’ve started watching it … a reader suggested just watching the first two hours, since my time is so limited, and I’ve gotten through about the first 30 minutes so far ( I am not a good watcher, for I find it too much a passive activity and I get restless 😉 )

      Liked by 2 people

  4. It’s strange that (for me) the two worst Presidents to be elected have won by the Electoral college despite polling the least votes. America was ready to put a woman in the White House (as miraculous as putting a black man there) until the Electoral College spoke.It’s almost as if the Conservatives would win at any price. That seems even more obvious when you look at the amount of gerrymandering they have been guilty of and lately of purging the electoral rolls to rid themselves of troublesome groups of voters, Democrats.
    Moscow Mitch purposely held up the confirmation of a judge to the Supreme Court for the last year of President Obama’s term which have the Republicans the opportunity to weight the Supreme Court down with their appointees and during the first three years of Trump;s term he has been piling judges into position in all the other courts. Soon all decisions will lean one way. The Democrats should take the Presidency the next time and if the stars align maybe the Senate too then the business of Government can commence for all the people but with the majority in mind. The courts will be a problem where they can be unless someone finds a way to correct things, I suggest the option of retirement or a firing squad especially for Kavanaugh. A Government of Inclusion must be offered to those States who only vote Republican because otherwise they might as well break away rather than disrupt the business of building a real Democratic country with a sense of Patriotism. I don’t get the sense that Republicans, or their leaders, have much truck with Patriotism unless it’s a useful tool to whip their employees with.
    Cwtch

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Great points David. After Obama’s election in 2008, R’s immediately went into panic mode. And, when they came out, they put together a plan of action that assured their ability to stay relevant and retain power. Gerrymandering, statehouses, voter suppression, and the courts. And while they were doing this, the Dems were asleep at the wheel.
      I loved President Obama, but he certainly did not see this coming. 2020 is census year and if the Dems can take back a few more statehouses, as they did in 2018, some of this stuff can begin to be reversed. It won’t be easy.
      I’ll tell you this David. When the Republicans fight, they bring an M16. When the Dems fight, it’s a butter knife. This cannot continue. We’ve got to fight harder. Not illegal, mind you. Just more aggressive. If we don’t, our democracy will slide even further than it has under Trump. We’re in the intensive care unit right now. We better get well, and fast!

      Liked by 4 people

    2. The electoral college has failed … twice in our lifetime, and stands a good chance of failing again in the upcoming election. The intent of the framers when they included the electoral college was to prevent the very thing that happened in 2016. They felt that the day could come when the people would be taken in by a candidate who was unsuitable to the job, and the electoral college would have the ability to override the popular vote to prevent a madman from rising to the highest office. Well, we see where that got us. It was a good idea, but the reality is that it does not work as intended. Donald Trump did not win the election in 2016 … he lost by nearly 3 million votes, yet there he sits in the Oval Office, destroying what was once a halfway decent nation. You are right … the efforts by republicans to gerrymander districts within states, and to disenfranchise minority and poor voters who largely vote democrat, are unconstitutional, are likely to be the death of this nation if allowed to continue. In addition, Moscow Mitch and his refusal to even allow the House-passed bills on election security to be heard, is another strike against a fair and honest election. And now … now we have the democrats eating their own. Sigh. I like your idea for Kavanaugh, by the way! The firing squad one, that is.
      Cwtch

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Perhaps the only way to make the ridiculous electoral college go away Jill, is to get enough states to sign the so-called compact, in which those states agree to award their electoral votes to whomever wins the popular vote. It would have to total 270. Last I heard, we were up to roughly 140 or so? Not sure. But, one thing we know for sure, none of the deep red states would ever sign on to it, nor would they sign on to a Constitutional Amendment to overturn the electoral college.
        In other words, Jill, It ain’t looking good! The better, and least difficult way is the compact. But, we’re still a long way from it becoming a reality.
        So, VOTE damn it! That’s the only way to defeat these idiots: turnout, pure and simple, especially in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan…etc..the ‘battleground’ states. You and I both know, it’s the only way HE could win again, if he wins those states. Again….if that’s not motivation? You know the rest….

        Liked by 2 people

      2. At one point last year, the compact was gaining momentum, but … I haven’t heard a thing about it of late, and in fact had more or less forgotten it until you just mentioned it. I’ll try to look into it later, but as you say, the red states aren’t likely to pick it up, and I think that there is likely no way, at least not this year, that it will make the 270 threshold. Eventually, I think we need to do some amending of the Constitution, starting with taking out the electoral college. But yeah, for now, I think our biggest focus is going to have to be convincing people that by not voting they are sealing our fate, and that it is their DUTY to get off their patooties and vote.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. We’ve talked recently about separation of state and religkion. There is, it seems to me, am even more important separation that needs to take place – state and judiciary. The idea that those who administer the law are appointed by those who make it is surely a cause for concern. It looks like Borris &co. are trying to bring about a similar relationship over in the UK. Their future political direction is settled until mid 2024 now. Here’s hoping yours is not!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes, Frank, it’s such a big issue now. The Founders probably didn’t think we’d have such a compromised Justice Dept., to the point that they were literally hand in glove with the Executive Branch. A rogue president, and a rogue Attorney General? This is bad. Really bad. The Constitution is being tested. We will probably have to create new laws, after he’s defeated, to deal with this problem. Trump has shown that our system has a lot of holes by which someone like him, exploits for his own benefit. We’ve got lots of work to do!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Reblogged this on Frank Parker's author site and commented:
    Here is the second part of the post I reblogged yesterday. If you care about what happens in the future governance of the USA – and, make no mistake, it effects us all, then it’s worth trying to understand the history and background to the present situation. This helps with that.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. You’ve put together a fine overview in this ambitious project, and I believe you hit nearly all the important governmental events. I don’t know how far into the weeds you want to go, but two issues from this post leaped out at me: “civics” and “dark money.” We know there’s a lack of the former—in both school curricula and adult knowledge. But I’m not sure how knowledgeable most people are about the forces operating to bend government far away from the mainstream and to those forces’ own economic and social benefits. I’m thinking of the work of The Heritage Foundation, Charles Koch, etc, etc.
    If you’re planning a reading list for this effort (and I hope you are), please make sure that Jane Mayer’s book
    “Dark Money” is in a prominent position.
    Best of luck!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much, Annie! You have just made a brilliant suggestion for us! No, we hadn’t considered a reading list, but it is indeed a great idea, and we will absolutely be sure to include your suggestion, “Dark Money” by Ms. Mayer. I have long bemoaned that they stopped teaching government, or civics, in schools, and now we are seeing the results … a generation that has only a vague notion of how government works. And as for the dark money … few understand it, few even realize that many of our politicians are bought, lock stock and barrel. Thanks again for your encouragement, and for your suggestion!

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Great minds! Funny you mention Jane Mayer’s book. I finished about 95% of it a few months back. It’s a really long book and too many other things have come up. I will finish eventually. But, that book is a treasure trove of info on how this whole thing has been rigged for decades. There were some names of billionaires in there I never heard of. Guys who, behind the scenes, are funding all these ‘non-profit’ 501-3C think tanks and political groups. It’s frightening, to be honest with you. That book is a great resource. Thanks for mentioning it!

      Like

  8. I Trump gets re-elected , I view the distinct likelihood that our country will be severed into several autonomous country Regions. Historically, America has only united in times of world war. Barring that prospect, the above scenario will likely happen.

    Liked by 1 person

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