I’m guessing that I’m not the only person who had to look up what “sedition” means last Wednesday following the first invasion of the US Capitol building since the War of 1812. Sedition is one of those words you may study in a course on government, though we haven’t heard it recently except with regard to incidents involving obscure terrorists and revolutionaries. But following last week’s insurrection, sedition was the term used regarding the president of the United States.
Much has been already written about the actions of President Trump and about what happened in Washington last week, but what haunts me, and has haunted me since the election, is how imperiled our republic is. Especially bothersome are the pundits and politicians who keep insisting that “this isn’t America.” In fact, it is. Those who said “this is not what America is supposed to be like” are the ones telling the truth.
What I fear is that because we as a nation have chosen to elect people who are more interested in ensuring their own power to protect plutocratic interests than in tending and nurturing our democracy, we are heading downhill as a country. Without a dramatic shift in the makeup of our current milieu, it is likely that, to quote soon-to-be-former Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell, “our democracy would enter a death spiral.”
It’s not that our government has been faultless up to now. The death last week of Neil Sheehan, the New York Times reporter who was responsible for the publication of the Pentagon Papers, reminded me that the US government continuously lied about an unwinnable Vietnam War while 58,000 American soldiers and millions of Vietnamese died. Some 35 years later, President George W. Bush fabricated the notion that Saddam Hussein had “weapons of mass destruction,” an assertion that has resulted in endless Mideast wars and the wasting of trillions of dollars that could have been used for domestic and foreign humanitarian purposes.
Today’s situation is different. We have a president and a majority of Republicans in the US House claiming without evidence that our recent election was fraudulent and trying to overturn it to prevent the new president from taking office. Some 74 million Americans voted for this president, and a large number of them still believe that the election was rigged. And so last week, our president committed sedition an incitement to armed insurrection that led to death and destruction in the Capitol building.
The election of Biden and Harris was an effort on the part of 81 million Americans to correct a mistake made in electing Trump in 2016, but I don’t see the election result as curing the deepest national divide since the Civil War. Barack Obama tried to be a uniter, but our country seems to be past that. It elected a divider to succeed him, and that division has only grown wider over the past four years.
Biden is in a tough spot. Democrats see him as a centrist, and Republicans call him a socialist. If he stays in the center, he risks losing left-of-center Democrats while still being called a radical socialist by Republicans. If he moves left, he risks losing centrist Democrats and former mainstream Republicans who effectively left their party when it was taken over by the Trump personality cult.
It’s very possible that November’s election was the last to be held before additional political fissures create other parties, perhaps a conservative party made up of former mainstream Republicans and centrist Democrats. We could start to become like Great Britain, with three or more major parties. But we don’t have a Parliament, which is the way the British create a majority coalition to elect their prime minister. If the United States had a multi-party political system, a plurality, not a majority, would elect the president. The office is too powerful a position to be filled regularly by a plurality of voters.
Meanwhile, we continue to neglect expiating our original sin of racism. We tolerate mass shootings, insane responses to the coronavirus, endless wars, and a growing income divide that is starting to resemble the Gilded Age of the robber barons of a century and more ago. It’s essential for the country that these issues be taken on, but they are also part of the reason we’re so divided.
So what do we do? Rather than be despondent about the entire nation, let’s focus on making our region the best it can be. Economies are regional. We need regional planning and cooperation, and we need to elect those who will make that a reality. While our country tries to figure out how to be the united United States of America, we need to ensure that our city and state and region are strong, so that we can lead the nation in equity and innovation, ensuring that every resident has access to outstanding schools, jobs, health, and opportunity.