Discover more from America, America
Trapped in a Time Loop
From DeSantis to debt ceiling talks to Russian sanctions, the needle seems stuck in retrograde
Every time there’s a chance to move forward, I am reminded of how the retrograde forces are determined to keep us stuck. As if we are destined to watch the same tired play over and over—or, worse, to see the story that should have been behind us long ago. If this was just because of a lack of imagination, that would have been bad enough. But it also represents a sordid collection of leaders who are convinced the future involves the abandonment of democracy and the emulation of Trump and Putin and Orban and all the other despotic types fueled by cruelty and violence, authoritarianism and white nationalism.
This week the regressive pulse was on full display with the official launch of Ron DeSantis onto the presidential stage, the ongoing foolishness of the debt ceiling debacle and the Russians’ latest incursion into American division with its new list of sanctions against Trump adversaries and other Americans. Each of these events is a grim reminder of the failure of imagination and the inability to prioritize progress over turning the country backwards.
If the promise was supposed to be that Ron DeSantis would be the competent, reliable version of Trump, his Wednesday launch on Twitter Spaces with the platform’s overlord Elon Musk was a spectacular wreck. As The New York Times put it, the first 25 minutes of the “grand announcement” included “long stretches of dead air interrupted by frantic, hot-mic whispers before they pulled the plug and started over.”
For those of us who have seen Twitter’s technical glitches pile up in recent months on top of its conscious breakage of progressive community, this is no great surprise. But it is stunning that DeSantis and his operatives didn’t grasp the danger. Maybe the candidate figured it was worth the risk to ally himself so visibly with Musk, but it’s hard to believe his team didn’t warn him about the possibility of understaffed Twitter’s increasing unreliability. Perhaps he just needed to latch himself to some other alpha type with a rabid following just as he pandered to Trump when he first ran for governor in 2018.
But then there came the message that was not exactly shining in its innovation or inspiration to take the country forward: “I am running for president of the United States to lead our great American comeback,” he said in one of the moments when the system wasn’t crashing. And “American decline is not inevitable—it is a choice. And we should choose a new direction.”
Among his Trump-lite attempts to show that he could go beyond the former White House occupant? “Buckle up when I get in there, because the status quo is not acceptable,” said DeSantis, promising to end the “shenanigans” at the southern border which he says can be fixed by—wait for it—building a “full” border wall. And then he already sounded like he’s leaking air with this tired statement: “We will never surrender to the woke mob and we will leave woke ideology in the dustbin of history.”
Perhaps he’s convinced there are enough voters who can be persuaded that by killing the woke virus America would be just as healthy as woke-free Florida. As if the only ones holding the country down are the Black-loving, immigrant-loving, gay-loving, Disney-loving Socialists who, if stifled and driven out—to where exactly I don’t know—America would become miraculously fixed and able to become its true self. After all, who didn’t love the ‘50s when whites ruled and everyone else knew to stay out of the way?
Yet, honestly, it’s hard to see how many Republicans would see DeSantis as a picture of the future, although maybe their own lack of social imagination draws them to this tired bully retread. As for DeSantis’ opening gambit: While candidates rebound, it’s hard to see how this accelerates his campaign. Climb aboard the DeSantis Express: Currently going nowhere fast.
Underlying the surface of the debt ceiling talks—which are reportedly making “progress” as of this writing to avoid a potential June 1 disaster—is a sinister willingness from the people who want to drive things to the brink and crash the economy; this should tell you how deep is the strain of anarchism coursing through the GOP. If this was the party that once meant to stand for conservative values, it’s now sickeningly close to being Steve Bannon’s Burn-It-All-Down Party.
You remember Bannon, the convicted felon who got a Trump pardon after swindling millions of cultists who paid real dollars for more wall building, the former co-founder of the alt-right Breitbart News and a heroic figure among white supremacists, the self-described Leninist who declared in 2016: “Lenin wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal, too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.”
That Bannon, who the week before the 2020 election was boasting in a leaked audio about the “firestorm” that would follow the election that Trump could exploit to get what he wants: “Trump’s gonna be sitting there mocking, tweeting shit out: ‘You lose. I’m the winner. I’m the king.'” And this, more directly about the hours after the election: “At 10 or 11 o’clock Trump’s gonna walk in the Oval, tweet out, ‘I’m the winner. Game over. Suck on that.'”
When I see the preening, power-at-any-price Kevin McCarthy gaslighting people how it’s all Biden’s fault for not negotiating with him sooner to strip away successfully legislated social spending, my mind does not drift to Trump (to whom he bowed in the weeks after the insurrection) or Marjorie Taylor Greene (to whom he bows now for helping him take the speaker’s gavel).
No, I see the triple-shirted, rancid-looking and ever-gleeful Bannon rubbing his hands with the conviction that his dream will come true. Trump may be the snarling, enraged face ridiculously ranting in ALL CAPS. McCarthy may be the Chamber of Commerce facade of a House majority pretending to govern and serve the nation’s interest. But Bad Lieutenant Bannon—he’s the ultimate keeper of the flame to torch the country we thought was dedicated to democracy, the faux revolutionary who just wants to own the libs, the felon yearning to turn the country over to the oligarchs and confuse the masses about what progress really means. The time loop twirls again.
And then there’s the current round of sanctions listed by the Russians on Monday, played out against the burnt-to-the-ground images of places like Bakhmut in Ukraine, a sick source of satisfaction for the Kremlin excited to declare ownership over a patch of destroyed earth that once was a town with humans and life and civilization.
While the latest list of Americans denied access to Russia by Putin’s people includes Russia critics from think tanks and academia and government, it also includes some unexpected adversaries of Donald Trump, including New York State Attorney General Letitia James, Special Counsel Jack Smith and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger who fielded Trump’s infamous call to find 11,000 votes to manipulate the election in his favor.
("While I was previously unaware of my anti-Russian activities, I accept the verdict of Russia, whose commitment to truth, justice and the rule of law speaks for itself," Raffensperger smartly said in a statement. "I can see where my commitment to free, fair and accurate elections, my tendency to speak truth to power and strong stance against war crimes would offend President Putin's sensibilities.”)
Most media accounts have rightly focused on these seemingly aberrant targets, but they are only oddities if you doubt the goal of Putin’s minions is not just to attack enemies of the Russian state but also to escalate the break-up of American society. What better strategy than to assist the effort of Trump by letting it be known that their man in America’s adversaries are their adversaries, too?
Why not provide a little uplift for their old pal in Palm Beach who never has a bad word for Vlad, couldn’t bring himself in the CNN town hall/rampage to talk about winners and losers in Ukraine, and only offered his ludicrous, narcissistic claim that he could end the war in a day? Why not emphasize that he remains the guy they can work with in their mutual desire to strengthen the forces of despotism and burn down what once was the American democratic project supported from sea to shining sea?
And while all this grim gamesmanship plays out like a late-night horror movie rerun—there goes secret villain Kevin McCarthy pretending to be one of the good guys! there goes virus-fighter Ron DeSantis attacking most of America!—we remain stuck in the time loop of possible Trump indictments. All the potential crimes to charge, all the cases to adjudicate, all the desecrations and degradations of the rule of law, democratic process, classified documents and peaceful transfer of power still waiting to be confronted.
Because—and yes, sometimes I feel like a broken record—if he is not eventually held accountable and there are no actual consequences for the criminality, then we cannot repair and move on. But if he is and we can…then we just may escape this seemingly endless time loop.
America, America is sustained by paid subscriptions, making it possible to keep nearly all the writing available for everyone. If you’re not already a paid subscriber, I hope you’ll consider becoming one.