Demonstrators hold signs and shout in Portland, Ore., during a protest over the death of George Floyd, who died May 25 after being restrained by police in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Craig Mitchelldyer)
For all its imbecility and racism (the real kind), Black Lives Matter articulates one message that resonates across the political spectrum: the United States is profoundly broken. It resonates because it is true.
Lest you think I’m suffering a Marxist psychotic episode, let me clarify: the United States is broken by the standards of its own *founders*, and it has nothing to do with race.
Nearly every harbinger of the republic’s implosion prophesized by the founders has come to pass. Our laws and legal system have grown so vast, overcomplicated, and burdensome that no citizen without expensive legal muscle can navigate the maze or know what’s expected of him–an eventuality about which James Madison cautioned. The popular moral and religious counterweight to the government’s secular liberalism has evaporated, as John Adams worried it might. Thomas Jefferson’s concern that the legislature would devolve into a tool of majority tyranny has come to pass in spades. Rivalries among American groups have resulted in toxic sectionalism and the rejection of American unity, just as George Washington feared. The list goes on and on.
Were any of the founders alive today, he might well say: “They’re tearing down my statue? That’s a relief! I don’t want a statue in a country that has come to resemble nightmares I had during the Constitutional Convention. You lot should go back to the King of England and beg him to take you back.”
BLM was not the first to popularize America’s brokenness. Donald Trump beat them to it in his own subtle way, but stated the problem without denigrating some or all of the American people. Trump said, “Make America Great Again.”
Think about it: what kind of country needs to be made “Great Again”?
A country in less than great shape.
THE DECONSTRUCTION PRESIDENT
President Trump’s message resonated with tens of millions of disillusioned conservatives. What BLM is doing for the left with its accusations of “systemic racism” Donald Trump accomplished for the rank-and-file right with his accusations of systemic conservative failure-ism–or in his non-academic lingo, ‘LOSING.’
Trump attacked not just the left but also the Mitt-Romney-and-National-Review weenie conglomerate, who spend their careers figuring out how to garnish progressivism so that conservative voters will swallow the liberal frankfurter without a fuss. In Donald Trump’s formulation, it wasn’t just the left in America that was broken; it was the right as well, and that made for a broken government–though not necessarily for a broken populace.
Polite think-tank conservatives want reform; but reform works on institutions that are *deformed*. The United States government is not deformed–it’s broken, lying in scattered pieces. Recent symptoms include: Congress has largely ceased to perform lawmaking and spends its time bickering and posturing. The Justice Department and its FBI subsidiary have suffered an infestation of political activism. The Supreme Court and federal judiciary now fill in for Congress and make laws rather than interpret them. A zombie administrative state controls the lives of Americans like a network of cartels. Don’t even get me started on the dysfunction and corruption within government-adjacent institutions like nonprofits, university systems, and mega-corporations.
Donald Trump may wind up being know as the president of Deconstruction, as President Ulysses S. Grant was know for Reconstruction after the Civil War. Trump’s peculiar genius lies not in recognizing the need for deconstruction of the government–the Joe on the street, progressive or conservative, sense that much–but rather in his tactic of allowing the government to *deconstruct itself*. Like a conductor who wants to stop a runaway orchestra, all the president need do is wave his hands so that the instrument sections conflict with one another, then step back and watch the arguments erupt.
The president’s deconstructive strategy is hard to bear, because it grinds against the all-too-human need for harmony and stability at any cost. Many Americans can’t stand the conflict. Rod Dreher at The American Conservative writes:
The other night, Tucker Carlson mentioned that Donald Trump laughed about this kind of thing, and said something to the effect of let the progressive cities destroy themselves. Understandable, said Tucker, but inexcusable: no American president should talk this way. He’s right. Along those lines, no American should merely laugh this off. It came upon Minneapolis very fast. Do not take this lightly.
What Carlson and Dreher fail to grasp is that the musicians have become so refractory that they dictate what tunes they will and won’t play, abuse the conductor and audience, and seize the concert hall. It’s not just bass ackwards; it’s unsustainable. Americans now live as hostages to institutions that were supposed to serve and protect them. If something is not done to disrupt the spiral, the orchestra will be hanging audience members and one another with piano wire very soon.
The likes of Dreher and Carlson want a broken system to drag itself along so that they do not have to face the discomfort, uncertainty, and hard work of reconstituting the nation’s institutions from the ground up. This is not to cast aspersions on these men in particular. Both have done good work, and like many in the conservative establishment, they do not want to lose what they possess by stepping into the unknown.
That said, a reckoning is coming whether they like it or not.
THE END IS NEAR
The signs of the times proliferate. Black Lives Matter now functions as an emergent de-facto political party, and some leaders are calling for them to separate from the Democratic Party and make it official. The trumpets and trombones are no longer content to be members of the brass section; they are separating into sheep and goats. Meanwhile, more and more conservative commentators are excoriating the establishment GOP for their hand-sitting and white-flag-waving, even as institutions and public monuments to their ideals figuratively and literally shatter on the pavement.
Congressional conservatives and the neocons have gone the exact wrong way. They have pandered to progressives by kneeling in print or fronting bills about police reform and renaming military bases, thus conceding the country is broken in the way BLM and their fellow travelers say. They so far refuse to follow the president’s lead and declare that the United States is broken for the vast majority of Americans of both sexes and every skin color. This is a terrible strategic mistake by establishment conservatives.
Today, only the very wealthy and the technocratic/managerial upper class in the United States experience reliable prosperity and security, a responsive government, a comprehensible legal system, a wholistic culture, and a commodious society. Everyone else is struggling to figure out how to resuscitate the American dream or just scrape by. The formerly hale and robust American middle class is scrambling to avoid melting into the lower class and vanishing. The lower class for their part are scrambling to avoid falling into third-world poverty, a modern-day multi-generational serfdom.
Were establishment conservatives instead to drop the ‘America is just fine because it’s not North Korea yet’ act, they would find themselves inundated with popular support and attention. They could very well suck the wind out of BLM’s Marxist, racist, prevaricating sails. The hugely successful lie peddled by BLM is that black Americans are the only ones really suffering from the effects of a broken system on account of their race. A grain of truth–the broken system part–keeps this lie afloat. The solvent to this lie happens to be the full truth: 90% of ALL Americans are worried and suffering, and no party speaks for them the way BLM purports to for black Americans.