The Daily Escape:
Kilauea Caldera showing a blackened lava lake, Hawaii Volcanoes NP – June 2023 photo by J. Wei for the NPS
Kilauea stopped erupting on June 19, but the threat of another eruption is always present. That could be a metaphor for America in 2023: We could erupt at any moment.
The 1960s were an optimistic time. There were demonstrations for civil rights and against the Vietnam War. There was police violence against the demonstrators, and assassinations of JFK and MLK. But a throughline of those times was a belief that righteous change was possible.
Wrongo graduated from Georgetown in 1966. His specialty was American colonial history. Those also were times of optimism, and there also were factions and different priorities and beliefs throughout the land.
Back in the 18th century, we overcame our differences, declared our independence, and formed a nation.
Now, 247 years after our revolution, it seems that staying united is difficult, if not impossible. Today, facts are fungible, and so is the truth. As Wrongo stated in his last column, about one third of Americans fail to vote. They are apathetic because they can’t see what would change if they did vote.
Having one third of Americans regularly fail to vote has surrendered control over our politics and our courts to a minority, mostly a few at the top, supported by some people in the middle, and enabled by the apathy of most of the rest of us.
Worse, most of those in today’s controlling minority are extremists. They have exploited the imperfections in our system to impose a return to the social mores and politics of an earlier time.
The best example of this is the string of far-Right decisions handed down in 2022 by the Supreme (Extreme) Court. From Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern:
“Consider the issues that SCOTUS has resolved….The constitutional right to abortion: gone. States’ ability to limit guns in public: gone….Effective constraints around separation of church and state: gone. The bar on prayer in public schools: gone. Effective enforcement of Miranda warnings: gone. The ability to sue violent border agents: gone. The Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases at power plants: gone.”
Vast areas of law that took decades to establish were overturned in a year.
And in 2023, the Court’s reactionary majority has continued to overturn more of the American social order. Those rulings: ending affirmative action, preventing the forgiveness of student loans and an egregious decision on gay rights, show that the Court has lost any sense of judicial restraint.
The Court is no longer “calling balls and strikes” as Chief Justice John Roberts famously said. In fact, there could be a highlight reel of umpire John Roberts’ blown calls. It’s clear that the Extreme Court wants to go further, and given today’s politics, there’s zero risk of the other two branches of government agreeing to override their decisions.
So, on this Fourth of July weekend, let’s hit pause. Let’s take time to reflect on how our founders were able to weave a message that united many factions against a common enemy. It should be very clear that at this point that the common enemy to unite against is the partisan power of a partisan minority.
Real power no longer lies with the People or with their politicians, it resides in the Supreme Court. The antiquated and undemocratic elements of our government: the Electoral College, lifetime tenure for Supreme Court justices and the malapportionment of the Senate, would require Constitutional amendments to fix. But we’re too divided to amend the Constitution.
Imagine attempting to fix the Senate’s malapportionment by getting a Constitutional amendment through that same malapportioned Senate.
But there may be reason for optimism in the fact that the two of this term’s negative rulings related to college students (admissions and debt relief). Those issues will motivate young voters in 2024.
Here are some numbers that give some cause for optimism about younger voters helping to change our politics:
- Voters 47 and younger will be in the majority beginning in 2028.
- Younger voters have historically voted in significantly higher numbers for Democrats.
- Young women, especially young Hispanics and young African Americans are substantially higher voters for Democrats.
- Fifty-five percent of white male voters under 45 voted Democratic in 2022, as did 52% of younger white females.
Here are a few other facts that should make us optimistic going forward:
- Abortion was youth’s #1 issue in 2022.
- Mid-term voter turnout for people under 29 was 23%, lower than 2018 (28%), but much higher than in 2014 (13%).
- Michigan had the highest youth turnout in the country (37%).
- Two swing states, Michigan and Pennsylvania, were among the four states to have the highest youth turnout in 2022.
To help you reflect on how we might take back control, let’s listen to Neil Diamond’s “Coming to America” performed at the Greek Theater in Los Angles in 2012.
There are many versions of this tune on YouTube, but this one makes the point that virtually all of us are descended from immigrants, in this case, Diamond’s grandmother, who immigrated from Kyiv: