Madness and Distrust


In an interesting post about how the lunatic claims about health care reform evince how distant from and distrustful of government a segment of America has become, Ezra Klein concludes:

What we’re seeing here is not merely distrust in the House health-care reform bill. It’s distrust in the political system. A healthy relationship does not require an explicit detailing of the “institutional checks” that will prevent one partner from beating or killing the other. In a healthy relationship, such madness is simply unthinkable. If it was not unthinkable, then no number of institutional checks could repair that relationship. Similarly, the relationship between the protesters and the government is not healthy. The protesters believe the government capable of madness. There is no evidence for that claim, which means that there is no answer for it, either.

Except, unfortunately, that there is evidence that the government is capable of madness.  There’s no evidence that it has acted madly in the health care arena (not since the Tuskegee experiments, anyway), but it clearly did in the national security arena not so very long ago.  It tortured people.  It locked up American citizens without trial, attorney, or even indictment, and claimed the right to hold them indefinitely.

Which points out the larger problem with Klein’s argument.

When all that was going on, these same people making lunatic claims about ostensible future government madness in the health care arena were shouting just as loudly in support of that actual ongoing government madness.  They still are.

The problem isn’t, then, that a segment of the American public has become distant from and distrustful of government, and believe it capable of madness.  It’s that a segment of the American public has become distant from and distrustful of an other (not a typo) segment of the American public, and believe it capable of madness.

Conservatives and conservatism have crossed what used to be a sacrosanct line in American politics: they’ve gone from characterizing liberals as “opponents” to characterizing them as “enemies.”  Enemies not just of conservatism, but of America.  This has been gradually building for the last 20 years, if not longer, and now has come into full, horrific bloom.

These people are coming unglued not because they distrust government, but because they are alienated from — and therefore distrust and hate — Americans who disagree with them.

This is the point I’ve been driving at, lo, these many months in my posts about gated-community liberalism, the filibuster, the likelihood of renewed sectional, political violence, and so forth.  This is the problem I see no solution to other than coastal, urban, highly educated liberals (gated-community liberals) ceasing to congregate in those comfortable places and moving instead to, let’s face it, deep red America.

If somebody knows some way to reduce alienation that doesn’t involve closing the physical, social, economic, and educational/cultural distance between people, I’d love to hear it.


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7 Responses to “Madness and Distrust”

  1. Sandi Says:

    Yeah, and if someone has come up with a way to reduce all the fear and distrust without me ruining my life by going to live among those folks, I would love to hear that too. That’s the sticking point, see. I did it for two years, the whole stranger in a strange land thing. And my life was crap. I spent most of it drunk because how else can you deal with life among the politically insane? Even where I am now, it’s not all effete liberals (my favorite kind :). But it’s more like 50/50, and that I can live with. 95/5 just isn’t going to work for me, nor does it work for raising kids. It’s kind of like the whole residential segregation thing — it continues because nobody is going to sacrifice their own kids to the greater good. And so it goes.

    I’m not saying this makes me a good person. I’m just saying this is how it is. Besides which, the whole gated community balkanization phenomenon has happened for a whole lot of structural and economic reasons, not just because progressives prefer to live among their own kind. Right?

    • urbino Says:

      On the issue of how to do what I propose without ruining your life, I’ve suggested before that people would have to do this in groups, not solo, both because one person isn’t going to have much impact, and because one person is going to be miserable. The example I’ve used before is the Freedom Riders of the Civil Rights Era. They did what they did in groups. The difference here is that, rather than making a short-term commitment with very high risk to personal safety, people would make a long-term commitment with very low risk to personal safety. Freedom Movers or Freedom Settlers or what have you.

      On you closing question, yes and no. Yes, there are all kinds of economic reasons and so forth, but I think they’re all fundamentally connected in a way that makes it problematic to try to separate them.

      Wealth attracts wealth. That’s true regardless of what form the wealth takes: money attracts money; talent attracts talent; infrastructure attracts infrastructure. All of which means that over time, the places that have money, talent, infrastructure and everything that follows from them — good schools, high-paying jobs, cultural institutions, educated populaces, and yes, progressive politics — become giant vortices sucking much of what money, talent, etc., exists in less wealthy places out of those places. (For decorum’s sake, I’ll avoid Taibbi’s image of the vampire squid jamming it’s blood funnel into anything that smells like money.)

      Billie Holliday said it best: Them that’s got shall get. Them that’s not shall lose.

      That’s all well and good for those wealth centers, and to some degree it lifts all boats. But it doesn’t lift all boats equally. As the wealthy boats rise compoundingly more than the poor boats, the distance between them widens and widens.

      If the wealth doesn’t even out — the money, the talent, the infrastructure, the good schools, and all the rest — you get situations like we have now, where the economic, cultural, and educational distance between the one and the other gets so large that the political institutions that are supposed to work for both start failing.

      Liberals and progressives have no difficulty understanding these notions in terms of wealthy and poor people*, or wealthy and poor nations. They seem to be utterly clueless about them on any scale in between. They’re all about the need to spread wealth from wealthy people to poor people, or wealthy nations to poor nations, but when it comes to spreading it from wealthy parts of America (where they are concentrated) to poor parts of America, suddenly they become free marketeers. They’re right preachy about the “global South” and how developed nations like America ought to do more to help those countries and do less to drain them of the resources they do have, but transplant the conversation to the context of coastal cities and the American South — you know, the one their preachy global metaphor is based on — and they could not care less, even though the same relationship obtains.

      (* I have a caveat here, that may or may not become relevant to the discussion.)

  2. Sandi Says:

    Oh, I should clarify when I say residential segregation, I’m referring to race and the public schools. I’m sure everyone got that, but just in case.

  3. alsturgeon Says:

    Urbino, I can’t imagine a more effective summation of the problem. Thank you for that.

    And I am a HUGE supporter of closing the distance between people in every way. But I think “gated-community liberals” moving to “deep red America” in any sort of significant numbers just isn’t going to happen. (Americorps accomplishes a little bit of this with young people, but their numbers are small compared to the situation.)

    So I’m at a loss. And from the sound of things in the town halls, maybe we all are.

  4. urbino Says:

    I don’t think the town halls are the sound of us all being at a loss. I think they’re the sound of the bill for doing nothing coming due.

  5. dejon05 Says:

    I’ve been thinking about this crazy old Jewish guy who used to suggest loving one’s enemy the same way we heap loads of love on ourselves. He even suggested conversing with an almighty deity on behalf of said enemies.

    What a crazy old coot, eh?

  6. Sandi Says:

    I know, I know. (hanging head in shame) I agree with you, JU. I was being a bit flip the other day. I actually do think that we’re on an express train to the demise of civility and democracy, to the extent it hasn’t already happened. Did you happen to catch the Richard Florida article in the Atlantic a few months ago? (maybe the Feb. issue). He was talking about how the recession will reshape America and how the urban centers will only become more important and the rural areas, esp. the Midwest, more marginalized. He was mostly speaking from an economist’s perspective, and I think he was being descriptive and not necessarily approving or disapproving, but it read as kind of scary to me. What do you think of his thesis?

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