America Is Facing 5 Epic Crises All at Once ~ NYT

This is not the time to obsess about symbolism.


Opinion Columnist

Marchers on the Brooklyn Bridge on Juneteenth.
Credit…Demetrius Freeman for The New York Times


There are five gigantic changes happening in America right now. The first is that we are losing the fight against Covid-19. Our behavior doesn’t have anything to do with the reality around us. We just got tired so we’re giving up.

Second, all Americans, but especially white Americans, are undergoing a rapid education on the burdens African-Americans carry every day. This education is continuing, but already public opinion is shifting with astonishing speed.

Third, we’re in the middle of a political realignment. The American public is vehemently rejecting Donald Trump’s Republican Party. The most telling sign is that the party has even given up on itself, a personality cult whose cult leader is over.

Fourth, a quasi-religion is seeking control of America’s cultural institutions. The acolytes of this quasi-religion, Social Justice, hew to a simplifying ideology: History is essentially a power struggle between groups, some of which are oppressors and others of which are oppressed. Viewpoints are not explorations of truth; they are weapons that dominant groups use to maintain their place in the power structure. Words can thus be a form of violence that has to be regulated.

Fifth, we could be on the verge of a prolonged economic depression. State and household budgets are in meltdown, some businesses are failing and many others are on the brink, the continuing health emergency will mean economic activity cannot fully resume.

These five changes, each reflecting a huge crisis and hitting all at once, have created a moral, spiritual and emotional disaster. Americans are now less happy than at any time since they started measuring happiness nearly 50 years ago. Americans now express less pride in their nation than at any time since Gallup started measuring it 20 years ago.

Americans look around the world and see that other nations are beating Covid-19 and we are failing. Americans look around and see state-sponsored violence — rhetorical and actual — inflicted on their fellow citizens. America doesn’t seem very exceptional.

In times like this, you’ve got to have a theory of change.

The loudest theory of change is coming from the Social Justice movement. This movement emerged from elite universities, and its basic premise is that if you can change the cultural structures you can change society.

Members of this movement pay intense attention to cultural symbols — to language, statues, the names of buildings. They pay enormous attention to repeating certain slogans, such as “defund the police,” which may or may not have anything to do with policy, and to lifting up symbolic gestures, like kneeling before a football game. It’s a very apt method for change in an age of social media because it’s very performative.

The Social Justice activists focus on the cultural levers of power. Their most talked about action is canceling people. Some person, usually mildly progressive, will say something politically “problematic” and his or her job will be terminated. In this way new boundaries are established for what has to be said and what cannot be said.

The Social Justice activists sometimes claim that if you don’t like their tactics then you are not fighting for racial equity or economic justice or whatever. But those movements all existed long before Social Justice affixed itself to them and tried to change their methods.

The core problem is that the Social Justice theory of change doesn’t produce much actual change. Corporations are happy to adopt some woke symbols and hold a few consciousness-raising seminars and go on their merry way. Worse, this method has no theory of politics.

How exactly is all this cultural agitation going to lead to legislation that will decrease income disparities, create better housing policies or tackle the big challenges that I listed above? That part is never spelled out. In fact, the Sturm und Drang makes political work harder. You can’t purify your way to a governing majority.

The Social Justice methodology is ultimately not a solution to our problem, it’s a symptom of our problem. Over the last half century, we’ve turned politics from a practical way to solve common problems into a cultural arena to display resentments. Donald Trump is the ultimate performer in this paralyzed arena.

If you think the interplay of these five gigantic changes is going to fit into some neat ideological narrative, you’re probably wrong. If you think we can deal with a racial disparity, reform militaristic police departments and address an existential health crisis and a prolonged economic depression by taking the culture war up another notch, I think you’re mistaken.

Dealing with these problems is going to take government. It’s going to take actual lawmaking, actual budgeting, complex compromises — all the boring, dogged work of government that is more C-SPAN than Instagram.

I know a lot of people aren’t excited about him, but I thank God that Joe Biden is going to be nominated by the Democratic Party. He came to public life when it wasn’t about performing your zeal, it was about crafting coalitions and legislating. He exudes a spirit that is about empathy and friendship not animosity and canceling. The pragmatic spirit of the New Deal is a more apt guide for the years ahead than the spirit of critical theory symbology.

One thought on “America Is Facing 5 Epic Crises All at Once ~ NYT

  1. SJW’s have their use, they shine a light, but you are correct, what have they really done, legislatively to affect real change? Not much lately to speak the truth. And any legislative accomplishments that were done during the Obama administration? Have been slammed by Trump’s and destroyed in many ways. The Affordable Care Act, the Dreamer acts, etc? Were legislative acts brought on by SJW’s, but truly? Most of them I know now? Especially in our Federal Senate and House? Got no real incentive to do much cause of Moscow Mitch’s graveyard. The bills stuck in his personal hell? Would do much to rectify some of the problems, but as long as Trump and the Republicans control the White House and Senate? Well we are in that damn limbo.

    I too am glad Biden is getting the nomination. He worked well when he was VP as much as he could. If we can flip the Senate, the White House and keep the House? We might be able to dig our way out of this roaring mess. I hope they do not go to far to the extreme on stopping the Tax gift they gave to the billionaires to punish them, because I believe? We should go back to the same tax rates before the Tax Cut for the Rich, raise it a few percentage points higher for the highest level incomes and close those damn loopholes that allows them to stash billions in offshore accounts to avoid paying their fair share of taxes.

    Lots of our biggest worry is that if we do flip and take back the WH, Senate and keep the House? Will Trump and his Trumpsters go peacefully? Or will they start that Civil War/Boogaloo they keep spewing about? They been trying hard lately to do so according to FBI, Homeland Security and federal and state law enforcement with the rate they are arresting them for committing terrorist actions, etc. But hey, if they do not go peacefully? What are we to do? Sit back and let them? No.

    But from everything I have read and seen? Our Generals of our Military branches, our state and federal law enforcement agencies are stating they will not allow it. Hope they are ready if it happens, but honestly? I just wish they would shut their traps and stop being so stupid and understand? Trump and the Repugnants do not give a damn about them. Neither do the Kristo Talibans like Jim Jeffress, Franklin Graham, Rick Wiles, Paula Jones and the rest of that crew of freaks who want to install their ChristoTaliban utopia here. They do not care about these people, that they got oh so riled up with their lies and bs they been spreading. They are just means to an end, for the Trumpsters to do all their dirty work for them so they do not have to break a nail or face a battlefield themselves that these KristoTalibans are creating. These Trumpsters gotta wake up and realize? They are the pawns in a game for these Fascists, and while they got some righteous grips? They are fighting the wrong people.

    As a few of our political satirist comedians have said. The rich and powerful set us against each other, to fight each other, while they continue to screw us all and rip us all off and get rich doing so. Just imagine if we all banded together and stood up to the rich and powerful? They would in fact? Crap their pants.

    But can we all put aside our differences, band together and fight the true enemies? Who knows. I sure do not want to see us go through a Civil War. But if it comes down to it? Well…..

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