Harrenhal but with more rats
I think we can call it. Our federal government is overrun, melted to ruin by the fires of growing authoritarianism and a weaponized Gaia. For most Americans it is now clear that the federal government can no longer function in any meaningful way to help in times of need. There is no one left in the vast federal bureaucracy with the power, intelligence, or courage to take any actions that would actually help the American people.
Instead, we've had a multi-trillion dollar giveaway to Wall Street, rampant and growing voter suppression, and unbelievably hostile terms for so-called Blue States. All this adds up to a transparent takeover of the federal apparatus. The government is no longer here to help Americans; it is here to oil the already well-greased pipeline of wealth from the earth and the poor to the very wealthiest people in the world, many of which are planted firmly in the halls of all three of our branches of government.
If you don't actually care about human life, the gameplan has been pretty brilliant, actually. While most of America has been frozen in place, scared of getting a deadly virus, scared of losing our jobs, scared of doing too much to upset an already crumbling applecart, the MAGA's has been laying waste to virtually every functional part of government. No more EPA, no more CDC, no more Treasury, no more Senate (except when it comes to rubber-stamping unqualified, dangerous judges). Every department is either shot through with malicious incompetence or is acting in such bad faith that there is virtually no way a cogent American can continue to trust them.
They are carrying out the final stages of their coup while the Americans do their civic duty and stay inside.
For all its brilliance, it's also dangerous. Not just because so many people will die--are dying--but also because the MAGA's seem not to understand that trust is the magic pixie dust that makes government work, the very thing they're so keen to obliterate. So many of the driving forces of daily life are fairy tales we have all agreed to believe in: government, money, rules of all sorts. We believe in these stories because they generally make things easier for us. Rather than having to recreate a philosophical argument for the immorality of murder in every case, we simply make a law and then create consequences for breaking that law. It's a short hand that works when everyone is agreement. Similarly, we all agree money is worth something so that we can facilitate trade, but ultimately money is paper, lines of code. Money is a tool. Government is a tool. Laws are tools.
Of course, the reality of these tools are increasingly enforced through overt or implied violence. Why don't we murder each other willy nilly? For most of us, it's because we find the idea of murder abhorrent. For everyone else, it's because you'll go to jail or be brutalized by police. Why do we believe in money? Mainly because everyone else does, and if we don't have it, we'll starve. We believe in these stories because not believing in them can have very real social consequences.
In the end, though, what makes it all go round is trust. If we don't trust everyone else is following the same rules, then bitterness takes root, and bitterness leads to rage.
Right now, the government is attempting to thread the needle by transparently flaunting the rules, while using our national stories (money, laws, etc.) to keep critics at bay. It reminds me of the mechanics of a properly executed standing headlock in wrestling (real wrestling...not WWE). In order to complete the move successfully, you have to get your opponent to commit to rushing forward, and then you use their momentum against them.
It's a Hail Mary move both in wrestling and in governance. The MAGA's are banking on the inertia of history to keep critics moving in the same direction, while they build an alternate governing structure that controls the violent tools of enforcement. By the time we all realize our national stories are just that--stories--it'll be too late and we'll be locked into an authoritarian future that decides life or death, rich or poor, sick or healthy based on the whims of the ruling elites.
But in being so blatant about it, they've created a unique historical moment. They've suspended the national fictions before consolidating power. Just like with a headlock; in order to execute it successful you have to commit to the move, but if your opponent doesn't rush forward hard enough, you expose yourself to being taken down. As hopeless as the moment appears, the MAGA's have tipped their hand. They are moving toward authoritarianism quickly and decisively, and are hoping critics stay inside and don't fight back.
The government isn't real. Laws aren't real. Money isn't real. But our belief in them is absolutely being weaponized to hurt people. We don't need government or laws or money. What we need are democratically elected leaders who represent our desires in the equitable distribution of collective assets. What we need are agreed-upon rules so that we can go about our daily lives without regularly facing chaotic tragedies. What we need is food and healthcare and shelter. Government, laws, and money are tools. They are a means to an end, not the end itself.
In this incredible moment, while the MAGA's are busy weaponizing and delegitimizing our national stories, there is the chance to make up new national stories to help build a more equitable and prosperous future. They're destroying our institutions in order to rule in the chaos, but chaos is not guaranteed. We need to take advantage of the old order coming apart to build a new one that represents the best parts of America.
Justice. Equality. Liberty.
These need to be our agreed-upon stories. Let's take them and build something to be proud of, something resilient, something capable of facing down the inevitable storms of the future without sacrificing whole segments of society.
As Jefferson wrote: "Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."
I think it's time to do some foundation-laying.