Is the political and legal situation this hopeless in the US?
May 12, 2022 6:02 PM   Subscribe

A thread on Twitter by Brynn Tannehill (unrolled here) paints a convincing (to me) picture of what is happening in the US with respect to reproductive rights, the rights of LGBTQ people, and democratic norms in general. Is the evidence and logic flawed, or are things this bad?

I guess I'm basically asking, what can be done? I hope things are not this hopeless, but I am having trouble finding convincing reasons to think there is any way to derail what is about to happen. "Anyone who studies this is well aware that the US has basically stopped being a functioning Democracy, and that it's only going to get worse from here. The right wing populist GOP is clearly telegraphing where it wants to go: permanent minoritarian Christian nationalist rule."
posted by StrawberryPie to Law & Government (30 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
 
Go register voters. And I think she's wrong about November: I believe the Democrats will keep control of the house, and slightly increase their numbers in the senate. I'll take my lumps if I'm wrong, but the democrats are ahead on the generic ballot, and there's a long term trend of house control diverging from the president's approval numbers, which could improve in the next six months—stranger things have happened, and Biden has done a lot of good things. One even gets the feeling that action on student debt (polls show 64% approval nationwide on that question) could be possible.

But like I said, GO REGISTER VOTERS. Put the registration forms in envelopes (you can even go as far as stamping/printing the address on the envelope or putting a stamp on it, but you do you) and carry them with you. Ask people you meet The Question: Are you registered to vote?

Yes, we have to win by big numbers, but this is possible because we are the majority. There are more people that realize what's at stake, and are willing to act, than ever before. We outnumber them, literally, by a considerable margin. If we organize and mobilize not even voter suppression can stop us. This is our time.

What Washington called "the sacred fire of liberty" is lit with a single, tiny spark.

You be the spark. Go with your heart full and know that your people are out there waiting for you to kindle the same fire in them.

If anyone is wondering what they might have done had they been alive in 1930s Germany, or during the civil rights struggles of the 50s and 60s, this is it: what they're doing right now. And everyone needs to understand that fascism isn't something that you beat once and that's it. This is something we'll have to fight always, because that's just the nature of fascism.
posted by ivanthenotsoterrible at 6:23 PM on May 12 [27 favorites]


Unless a good number of the Supreme Court justices who voted to get rid of Roe are....somehow unable to fulfill their duties when the time comes....yeah, pretty much, we're screwed. I saw a few long shot suggestions here, but I wouldn't get up hopes in the darkest timeline.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:26 PM on May 12


We only lose when we give up. In the near term, do what you can do. Donate money, preferably to candidates or state parties; register voters; boost turnout by writing letters or writing postcards; demonstrate - whatever. I'm convinced that our best hope is to produce a groundswell of people doing radical things like voting and speaking out, certain that we are on the right side of history, to turn the tide in our direction.
posted by DrGail at 6:59 PM on May 12 [5 favorites]


We’re fucked =/= we can’t do anything. Make it known in your private (on and off line!) networks if you’d be willing to give money to someone who needed an out of state abortion or house someone who needed to come to your state, help pay for lega services for gay couples for documents that entitle them to the same rights that are automatically conferred with legal marriage, grow a garden to help protect food insecurity- grow a shit ton of zucchini and donate to the food bank.

Are things bad? Yes. Are they likely to get worse? Yes. Can you still “do something.” Yes.
posted by raccoon409 at 7:05 PM on May 12 [8 favorites]


This YouTube video of an interview with Don Winslow addresses this question, but it's full of very cautious optimism. So yes things are looking grim, but you might (?) want to spend 10 minutes watching it.
posted by forthright at 7:07 PM on May 12 [1 favorite]


There's nothing in the thread that's exactly wrong, but it's set out in an extremely alarmist tone. There's a lot of context missing; particularly that the US's status as an 'actually functioning Democracy' is just not that old, and has been contested at every stage at every level, and continues to be. The history of the 20th century is informative. For much of it, well into living memory, the post-Reconstruction US South was exactly what Tannehill's describing—a minoritarian system ruled on terms of more or less explicit violence, by a corrupt and authoritarian single-Party, but in the later 20thC that Party's rule turned out to be surprisingly non-permanent. Other people in the past have faced exactly the same threats as in the thread. What did they do?
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 7:10 PM on May 12 [25 favorites]


Yes, she’s essentially correct. Electoral solutions to this have failed. If you have a way to leave the country, I would avail yourself of it.
posted by rhymedirective at 7:38 PM on May 12 [4 favorites]


I often follow the same depressing thought process, and you specifically asked about flaws in the logic/reasoning, so here is what I try to tell myself. (I have mixed success in convincing myself.)

The point about the filibuster isn't wrong per se but the filibuster is just a rule, not a law or something in the Constitution, and could be effectively eliminated by a simple majority in the Senate. The Democrats could do it tomorrow if they chose to.

Others have mentioned this upthread but the US has always struggled with these issues, and as Ezra Klein has written "The alternative to polarization often isn’t consensus but suppression. We don’t argue over the problems we don’t discuss. But we don’t solve them, either. " Teleological mainstream narratives of past activism obscure how brutal and unfair the fights really were. Like, yes Amazon does crappy anti-union stuff, but they also haven't, as far as I know, just hired Pinkertons to straight up murder union organizers.

On the anti-LGBTQ stuff specifically, I know incrementalism sucks but despite all the very real reasons to be concerned about backsliding you can't ignore how quickly attitudes, especially among younger people, have shifted. Attitudes on gay marriage have reversed themselves since 2004, less than 20 years ago (was roughly 60% against, 30% for, now reversed; another source shows even higher rates of acceptance). The backlash is driven by a minority who know they are losing the war on these issues.

The United States has self-corrected on issues like this before. It can again. It might not do so on a timeline that is any comfort to those getting screwed over, but popular will can still make things happen.
posted by Wretch729 at 7:44 PM on May 12 [14 favorites]


I think humans have a tendency to assume that whatever the current trends are, they will only continue into the future. The future just isn't that predictable. So much is contingent. Which is not to say I don't share this person's concerns, but I think history tells us to be more modest in the certainty of our predictions.
posted by praemunire at 7:46 PM on May 12 [12 favorites]


Yes it is this bad.

Think about it this way: do you think people in Russia are inherently stupid, or heartless, or somehow apathetic? No, they are not. They are just trying to live their lives, knowing there is nothing they can do because they don't live in a democracy and any resistance is pointless at this point. The bandits took over decades ago, and they know this. If they tried to resist it now - or then - they would be dead or imprisoned, and so would their families. This is what fake-democracy looks like, and this is what the US is going to be like too. Call it cynicism, call it realism: it amounts to the same thing. We are very close to being too late, unless something very violent happens.

And honestly, I am FURIOUS at the Democrats for allowing this to happen. With barely a whimper! Where is the barnstorming outrage? Where is the goddam fire and brimstone that this moment requires? Personally I suspect they - and especially Biden - are completely unable to rise to the challenge because they should have effing retired DECADES ago. I wish they would just get over their effing egos, retire, and let someone with the stamina, passion, and FIGHT take over.

So yeah. I'll vote for them, sure. I'll even engage in whatever campaigning is needed, and persuade other people to vote for them too. But I'm doing it because its a choice between their pitifully polite neoliberal BS and out-and-out fascism.

Frankly, the fascists have already won.
posted by EllaEm at 8:22 PM on May 12 [16 favorites]


And in answer to the above, you can't vote yourself out of the problem of not having elections that are in any sense democratic. The gerrymandering, the massive disenfranchisement of Black people, and the frankly insanely unequal system that means some people's votes count more than others... It was only semi-democratic to start with, but now (for all the reasons the twitter thread explains) the Republicans are even pretending anymore! You can't magic a functioning and fair democracy into existence when the only tools you have are get-out-the-vote drives.
posted by EllaEm at 8:29 PM on May 12 [9 favorites]


the democrats are ahead on the generic ballot

No they aren’t. It’s currently R+2.6.
posted by jedicus at 9:13 PM on May 12 [4 favorites]


I think we have a moral obligation to take action as though we have hope, even if we don’t always feel it or think it a rational/reasonable feeling in a given circumstance. Literally what else is there to do but sort of “yes and” it .. yes we are fucked and everything looks bad, *and* let’s go register voters. Or, yes we are fucked, *and* let’s go learn about work place democracy and worker owned coops. Or, yes we are fucked, but let’s go set up a mutual aid pantry or find people doing it in our city and help them. Or, yes we are fucked, but lets call a friend who has been really down lately and check on them. Or, yes we are fucked, but lets do one thing today that maybe helps one to enjoy being alive anyway.

Many actions we take, we will not see the fruit of in our lifetime, but this doesn’t mean they are not worth doing - imagine all of the individual and collective efforts of the people that came before us. Imagine where we would be if they had thrown up their hands in despair - and do not for a minute imagine that they didnt , at times, do just that , and that for some their act of resistance was surviving - and .. think how glad we should be for all they did, and where we might be if they hadn’t.

So many thoughts, but .. the hour grows late so.. I guess to sum up .. what else is there to do? and, hope (and the sorts of acts of resistance it leads to) can look all sorts of different ways. Do what you can, but don’t be hard on yourself. find community. and/or read about those who have. maybe i can come back and add some book ideas tomorrow.

sorry for typos .. writing from tiny screen
posted by elgee at 9:28 PM on May 12 [8 favorites]


This is more of a meta comment, but I've noticed that on the Internet, MetaFilter included, one sure way to get a lot of retweets/headnods/upvotes is to very confidently and authoritatively explain how everything is doomed, as if one has a crystal ball, and discounting every single piece of positive news that has happened. I don't know anything about the person you linked, maybe they have some special knowledge of the future, but I think back to 2021 and... Biden WON. Trump LOST. There were so many doomsday commenters on here and elsewhere mournfully predicting that that could never happen. And instead of believing them I donated a huge amount of money and volunteered my little heart out for Democrats and because of that I moved the needle a tiny tiny bit, when it counted.

We don't know what will happen. We just have to keep doing our best. And I for sure want to fill my headspace with people who are taking action, fighting, working, resisting, and hoping. Yes, also preparing for hard(er) times, yes, taking care of myself and storing up resources, but in a way that keeps hope alive.
posted by rogerroger at 11:12 PM on May 12 [26 favorites]


The point about the filibuster isn't wrong per se but the filibuster is just a rule, not a law or something in the Constitution, and could be effectively eliminated by a simple majority in the Senate. The Democrats could do it tomorrow if they chose to.

The Democrats could do it tomorrow, if a specific group of 51 of them chose to. I would guess that at this precise moment in time, fewer than 10 people stand in the way of eliminating the filibuster, at least one of whom is unpersuadable. That is a very narrow margin. Those numbers will change at the midterm election.

Altering the position in the Supreme Court will take many years of not giving up. It requires either shifting one or more of the Justice's position on key points (which is probably not as implausible as it currently feels), or ensuring a Democrat president and an amenable Senate when the conservative justices die or resign.

There is a culture war but the group that thinks of itself as the 'moral majority' is not in the majority. (It is also not moral, but that's almost beside the point.) You can see the truth of this in the fact that Disney has picked a side, and they've chosen real family values ahead of bigoted ones.

Do not give up hope. There are a wide variety of helpful actions you can take. You can encourage voter registration and turnout in swing contests, you can ensure that good candidates are chosen in primaries, you can support non-profits working in immigration, civil rights and abortion rights, you can encourage your state legislature to take action similar to eg Connecticut, you can write and call your elected representatives, you can march in the streets, you can film the cops and help protect black lives.

Even if you are part of the most privileged demographic group in society, live your life as in the sure and certain knowledge that none of us have rights unless all of us do. And fight for them.
posted by plonkee at 1:22 AM on May 13 [4 favorites]


My recommendation is to check out the "Democracy" essay at the beginning of The 1619 Project which got me fired up last night. Nikole Hannah-Jones describes how the dream of democracy that Black Americans have fought for since the end of the Civil War has faced disastrous setbacks like the 1870s rollback of Reconstruction gains in voting rights. Even if we have entered a Trumpian Great Nadir of bleak times, just as with the age of Jim Crow voter suppression that might have seemed like a permanent state of things by the turn of the 20th century, we owe it to the civil rights movements that rolled that massive rock of oppression back up the hill to get up and do the same thing again.
posted by johngoren at 2:41 AM on May 13 [14 favorites]


One of my biggest and most beneficial mindset shifts in the last few years has been a change in how I think about hope.

I used to see hope as an objective fact: If I understood the world well enough, I could tally up all the facts about the current state of things, weigh the good vs. the bad, and come to a logical conclusion about how much hope exists right now.

But that’s not really how it works. Two people can look at the same situation, and one person might despair while the other person has hope. Hope is more about how you approach a situation rather than the facts on the ground. Even if it were possible to have full knowledge and understanding of every single thing going on in the world today (which it very much isn’t) we can’t predict the future. Choosing to approach a bad situation with hope makes it easier to get through, and also easier to make a change.

I’m a bit sheepish to admit that this massive change in my worldview was triggered not by a spiritual journey or whatever, by watching Avatar: The Last Airbender for the first time during quarantine — but hey, that’s how it went down. This quote from Iroh pretty much sums it up:

In the darkest times, hope is something you give yourself. That is the meaning of inner strength.
posted by mekily at 5:51 AM on May 13 [8 favorites]


Also, as an LGBT person, I am SO hopeful about that particular aspect of the future. Yes, there’s some nasty backlash right now, but on a societal level, being gay and bi and trans is simply SO much more mainstream and accepted than it was even 10 years ago. Huge numbers of young people are identifying as queer, and they don’t give a fuck about gender. Follow some people under 25 on social media. The kids are all right!
posted by mekily at 5:57 AM on May 13 [6 favorites]


Literally what else is there to do but sort of “yes and” it .. yes we are fucked and everything looks bad, *and* let’s go register voters.

Looking at the current state of American democracy and concluding that we should all go register voters is akin to seeing a burning apartment building and pouring your 16oz bottle of water on it. The time for that has passed. We are facing a situation where Republican Secretaries of State will outright refuse to certify presidential electors in 2024 if those electors are for the Democratic candidate.

Just google how many election truthers are running for office this year. It's frightening.

If you want to do something--if there's a governor or secretary of state race in your state this year, work like hell to get a Democrat to win it.

The Senate is a lost cause, as demonstrated by the fact that the Democrats have had control of it for a year and a half and can't get much done. There is approximately a 0% chance they will get to 60 votes to get rid of the filibuster. The House is even worse--the Democrats need to win 7-9% of the vote just to get to the barest of House majorities.

I believe in fighting back--but I think we need to be clear-eyed about what exactly we are up against. It's not 1996.
posted by rhymedirective at 6:22 AM on May 13 [1 favorite]


There is approximately a 0% chance they will get to 60 votes to get rid of the filibuster.

You don't need 60 votes to get rid of the filibuster. It's a simple majority, and the Dems hold the tie-breaking vote.
posted by praemunire at 7:13 AM on May 13 [2 favorites]


You don't need 60 votes to get rid of the filibuster. It's a simple majority, and the Dems hold the tie-breaking vote.

Yes, thank you--of course that's right. The fact that the Democrats haven't done it yet is indicative of their complete inability to rise to the challenges of the moment.
posted by rhymedirective at 7:46 AM on May 13


This is more of a meta comment, but I've noticed that on the Internet, MetaFilter included, one sure way to get a lot of retweets/headnods/upvotes is to very confidently and authoritatively explain how everything is doomed, as if one has a crystal ball, and discounting every single piece of positive news that has happened.

What’s more, this was true long before the internet. There are no doubt well-worn cuneiform tablets predicting the downfall of civilization.

With regards to the good fight, there was a time not so long ago when the *concept* of LGBTQ rights was someone’s fever dream. Reputable, mainstream doctors were sticking ice picks into peoples’ brains to fix what was wrong with them. If our predecessors managed to overcome that, do you really think that some legal chicanery is just going to be the end of things?

There also is nothing new about a political party trying to rewrite the system in their own image. In fact if you were to pick any single year out of our 245 year history you could easily find out who was trying to pack the courts, or gerrymander, or (for the bulk of those years) trying to deny entire races the right to vote.

Democracy is and always has been a shit show. What you can do about it is to pick up a shovel.

Voter outreach is a good place to start.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 8:02 AM on May 13 [4 favorites]


Response by poster: It's a simple majority, and the Dems hold the tie-breaking vote.

The problem is Manchin: he claims to be a Democrat, but he has demonstrated he is not. He consistently votes against Democratic party proposals and derails the entire agenda. That means the Dems don't actually have 50-50 with a tie-breaking vote.
posted by StrawberryPie at 8:21 AM on May 13 [5 favorites]


Hate to say it, but there already WAS a huge push to get Biden elected, along with a Democratic House and a Democratic Senate. None of the promised results of that effort (strengthened voting rights, more COVID aid, student loan forgiveness, better health care, better child care, I could go on) have come through. Instead, we're achieving one of the main REPUBLICAN goals (overturn of Roe). The Democratic government can sound concerned, but that's all they can do. Well, it's not all they CAN do, but it's all they're going to do for you.

There are many, many apolitical organizations and people that you can help with your time and money, and politics on a local level may be fruitful, but expecting the Democratic party at the national level to aid or protect you is a fool's game and your resources are better spent elsewhere.
posted by kingdead at 8:22 AM on May 13 [3 favorites]


The point about the filibuster isn't wrong per se but the filibuster is just a rule, not a law or something in the Constitution, and could be effectively eliminated by a simple majority in the Senate. The Democrats could do it tomorrow if they chose to.

No, they really couldn’t. Aside from institutionalists in the party, there are also those who see the filibuster, like it or not, a needed tool to potentially roadblock republican extremists should the Rs take back the Senate and House.

With both chambers under R control, I think it’s a given that we will see all manner of far-right bills being shoved through...National ban on abortion, national versions of state’s anti-trans laws, tighter voting restrictions, etc. etc. Dems know the filibuster will be a much needed tool to help thwart those possible bills.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:35 AM on May 13


Dems know the filibuster will be a much needed tool to help thwart those possible bills.

That assumes the Republicans wouldn't immediately get rid of the filibuster to ram such legislation through and ... of course they would. Mitch McConnell will say otherwise, but are we so naive as to trust him?
posted by hoyland at 8:44 AM on May 13 [3 favorites]


That assumes the Republicans wouldn't immediately get rid of the filibuster to ram such legislation through and ... of course they would. Mitch McConnell will say otherwise, but are we so naive as to trust him?

100%.

The problem is Manchin: he claims to be a Democrat, but he has demonstrated he is not. He consistently votes against Democratic party proposals and derails the entire agenda. That means the Dems don't actually have 50-50 with a tie-breaking vote.

I mean, yes, but being unable to see the difference in possibilities in having one (probably two, in this case, thank you, third-tier Heather Kyrsten Sinema) vote to move as opposed to ten is a sign of losing sense of proportion.

student loan forgiveness

Biden's domestic program has been...disappointing. But they've more or less fixed (with much pressure by state attorney generals) PSLF, which is a real thing that will help more than 100,000 borrowers and clear billions of loans off the books. Also, I think generally you're missing out on the infrastructure stuff.
posted by praemunire at 8:55 AM on May 13 [1 favorite]


I have a deep skepticism about national-level electoral politics as an arena for change, but I strongly believe that the practice of democracy at the local level AND by the youngest voters has enormous potential.

We estimate that 50% of young people, ages 18-29, voted in the 2020 presidential election, a remarkable 11-point increase from 2016 (39%) and likely one of the highest rates of youth electoral participation since the voting age was lowered to 18. (source: Tufts Univ.)

What are the rules for university-age voters in your state? Can they vote locally (if they live on campus), or vote absentee based on their home address?

What's the city council, school board, youth commission look like in your town? Can you run for election? Especially if you are young, don't underestimate the galvanizing effect of social proof - elections are for everyone.
posted by spamandkimchi at 9:33 AM on May 13 [2 favorites]


Oh! And in terms of voter turnout, you can create your own voter guide, the origin story of the League of Pissed Off Voters was a bartender (barista?) who did the tedious work of looking up all the local election info*, making a one-pager of their recommendations, and printing it out as a flyer to hand out to customers, friends, etc.

One of the big reasons why people don't vote is because they feel like they don't have enough knowledge to do so.

*I will admit that while I'm exhorting y'all to give people the info to vote down ballot even in the most obscure races... if you are in a hurry, don't be stymied. Figure out a quick decision heuristic / proxy criteria. Example: I'm voting for all the public defenders in the Superior Court races that haven't gotten an endorsement from any of the progressive groups. Another example: my very conservative immigrant dad used to vote for the people who had a feminine name (yay the effect of having only a daughter on someone raised in a patriarchal culture!)
posted by spamandkimchi at 9:43 AM on May 13


Hate to say it, but there already WAS a huge push to get Biden elected, along with a Democratic House and a Democratic Senate. None of the promised results of that effort (strengthened voting rights, more COVID aid, student loan forgiveness, better health care, better child care, I could go on) have come through.

Well, that huge push got a racist, corrupt, pro-authoritarian president out of office. That's a pretty huge result.

It also got a senate with the votes to confirm the first Black woman on the Supreme Court. Again, a huge result.

Other huge results have been stymied because the senate has only 50 Democrats, two of whom cannot be counted on to reliably support Biden's agenda. Biden has been pretty good about proposing the legislation he promised. 48 of the Democratic Senators and most Democratic congressman have been pretty good about supporting it.

In short, when people say "The Democrats are hopeless! We're doomed!" what they really mean is, "The vast majority of the Democrats are trying to do what I want them to do but a tiny minority is blocking action."

The problem with saying the first thing when you really mean the second is that it can depress turnout, which is tremendously counter-productive.

In the 2020 Senate races, North Carolina went Republican by 1.75 percentage points. A slight increase in Democratic turnout would have given the Dems a Manchin-proof majority in the Senate-- enough, presumably, to end the filibuster, and give the Democrats genuine control of legislation.

North Carolina was the closest state, but the polls also showed Iowa swinging back and forth between the GOP and the Democrats before it ultimately went Republican. In a world where North Carolina and Iowa both went blue, the party would have a Manchin-and-Sinema-proof majority.

Not to mention: the GOP won Maine, Texas, and Mississippi by less than 10%. They're all plausible long-term pickups if Democrats play the long game and don't blame the entire party for the intransigence of two specific senators.

So, what you can do is work (in the short term) to increase turnout in close states. If you don't live in a close state, you can volunteer to do phone banking or text banking from wherever you live. In the long term, you can volunteer in the plausible long-term pickup states. Again, this is something that can be done remotely.

And if you want an antidote to the doom-mongering on Twitter, I have found Teri Kanefield to be a great follow. She's no Pollyanna; she's honest about the risks our democracy faces. But she makes a thoughtful case that we're doomed only if we give up and stop doing the hard work necessary to deal with those very real risks.
posted by yankeefog at 10:10 AM on May 13 [13 favorites]


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