08 July 2022

Keeping perspective

With the end of Roe, the theocratic capture of the Supreme Court, the logjammed Senate, various rumblings of conspiracy against democracy, etc, some have yielded to pessimism and proclaimed an unprecedented threat to the country, the political future shrouded in despair.  While the moan-groan-doom-gloom crowd is pretty much a one-note chorus, and tends to sound the same no matter what the objective situation, it remains true that we face problems that no one before November 2016 would reasonably have expected.

Nevertheless, it's important to keep things in perspective.

It is always tempting to overestimate the depth of the problems of the period in which one happens to live, because we are experiencing them directly, while the much more serious problems of the past exist, for us, only in history books.  Through the great majority of American history the overall situation was astronomically worse than it is now.  We had slavery until 1865, and got rid of it only via a horrendous war that killed off one out of every fifty Americans alive at the time.  Massacres and forced relocations of Indians continued for several decades after that.  Lynchings and terrorization of black Americans, sometimes involving torture and murder as horrific as anything seen during the Dark Ages, continued well into the twentieth century.  Women couldn't vote until 1920 and didn't get fully equal civil rights until several decades later. The right to abortion wasn't nationally guaranteed until 1972.  Just a few decades ago, same-sex marriage, or a black president, seemed unthinkable.  Gay people could still be arrested and imprisoned in some states for consenting-adult sexual activity up through the early years of this century.

Covid looks like a catastrophe by today's standards, but at almost any time before the mid-nineteenth century (if not later), something like the covid pandemic would hardly have even been noticed -- it would have been lost in the statistical background noise underneath all the routine outbreaks of mysterious disease which commonly killed much larger percentages of a given population.  The very fact that covid now stands out as a major problem is actually testimony to how successful we've been at eradicating the much worse plagues that beset us for most of recorded history.  And the unprecedented speed with which the vaccines were developed shows how well-armed we are against future new diseases.

What we're seeing now is a roll-back of one or two elements of the immense social progress we have made during most of US history -- progress so great that a return to the pre-1972 status quo now feels like a disaster.  It is not the country, as such, that is doing this.  It's a roll-back engineered by a shrinking fundamentalist minority which has managed, by skilled exploitation of weaknesses and oddities of our political system, to thwart the will of the majority and seize control of certain strategic centers of power such as the Supreme Court.  It's a jerry-rigged, gimmicky strategy which can't sustain itself in the long run.  Post-Roe abortion bans, for example, will just generate an endless stream of horror stories which will mobilize voters against the party imposing them.  This is already starting to happen (see recent generic Congressional ballot polling).

The country is not as polarized as we are constantly told it is.  What we have now is a pair of ultra-politicized fringe elements -- I call them the progs and the trogs -- totally dedicated to a scorched-earth, dead-end demonization of "the other side" in each case.  They make a lot of noise, but they don't represent the majority of the people.  Given time, one party or the other (or hopefully both) will repudiate the apocalyptic hysteria and start inching toward the sensible center.  That's where the votes are.  I already see signs of it.

Never forget that politics is "downstream" from culture.  Political forces cannot stop or substantially slow down cultural change -- the decline of religion, the growing acceptance of homosexuality, etc -- and culture ultimately shapes everything else, including politics.

There's no denying that some bad things are happening.  But almost every previous generation of Americans faced much worse problems, under far less favorable conditions for solving them, than we do now.  They persevered and won out.  So will the Americans of today.


Blogger VoenixRising said...

Thank you for talking me off the ledge. (metaphorically, of course)

08 July, 2022 16:33  
Blogger Mary said...

Hope you’re correct..it’s a long game

08 July, 2022 17:28  
Blogger Kay said...

Thank you. This certainly keeps things in perspective because I've been really depressed.

08 July, 2022 17:56  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I mean, even the 90s had all-white country clubs and mainstream pundits trying to bring back eugenics. (Read critical reception for Herrnstein and Murray's The Bell Curve. The number of pundits who took the notion of some races being smarter than others as established fact in the 90s may in fact outnumber those who accepted natural selection or the laws of thermodynamics. Truly embarrassing...)

I also bring up the 90s because too many Democratic leaders are stuck there. Which is what led to the emphasis on the Supremes as opposed to permanent change through legislation, and to Trump.

Change happens, but politicians are an insular, superstitious, cowardly lot. They spend their time around focus testers, lobbyists, and others far to the right of the body politic.

09 July, 2022 08:42  
Blogger SickoRicko said...

You had written a similar optimistic essay not that long ago that brought *me* back from the ledge. Unfortunately, this essay did not do that for me.

10 July, 2022 07:44  
Blogger Martha said...

I agree that most people are around the center. We notice the extreme ones because they make a lot of noise. Most folks just want to live their life in peace and allow their neighbours to do the same.

11 July, 2022 05:34  

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