Americans believe America is broken. Can it be repaired?

Photo by Victoria Pickering at Flickr

Abatch of new polls came out Wednesday, showing Americans have lost faith in their country, their government, and themselves. They reveal a nation that’s divided, and despondent, but is unable to come to any kind of consensus about what exactly is wrong, or how to fix it.

This isn’t terribly surprising, in an age of bitter partisan warfare, constant toxic propaganda, and overwhelming antigovernment sentiment. 85% percent of the people polled believe the country’s headed in the wrong direction, up from 78% who believed that in May.

This is the new norm. Our national identity has fractured to the point that we no longer recognize the country we live in, or what it stands for, if anything at all. The rancor and division are increasingly what define America’s public life, in an age where seemingly no one can agree on anything.

Of course, political careers are built on manufactured rage, and unyielding tribal identity, particularly on the American right, which has been utterly radicalized in recent years. The GOP looks more and more like an extremist death cult than a modern political party.

Democrats remain rightfully disgusted with the Republican Party’s racism, violent authoritarianism, and its incessant peddling of fear and hatred. Conservatives, meanwhile, are caught up in a maelstrom of lies, Fox News propaganda, and Q Anon conspiracy, all designed to enrage and mislead.

None of this provides a formula for a prosperous nation.

The Republican Party’s long campaign to radicalize its voters worked. Donald Trump’s spent years sewing poisonous mistrust into America’s institutions and, worse, our elections, and we’re just beginning to see the results of those efforts.

Of course, Joe Biden is himself not having a great week, or month, or year. He’s polling at a 57% disapproval rating, and a sinking 38% approval, nearing Trump’s subarctic territory.

As noted in a recent episode of the New York Times daily podcast, Biden’s presidency has disappointed almost every single constituency in his fragile coalition, from young progressives on the left who demand radical social change, to centrist Democrats eager for stability, and of course, Republicans, who loathe Joe Biden viscerally.

92% of Republicans and 78% of Democrats are dissatisfied with the direction of the country. These numbers show a country in such profound political turmoil, that it’s hard to imagine how we might recover some kind of civility in our public life.

Still, context is crucial to understanding this American moment.

These polls came out in the midst of the most important and urgent congressional hearings ever conducted, the January 6 House Select Committee, which is leading a valiant effort to reveal to the American people the hidden details of Donald Trump’s failed attempt to illegally cling to power.

Cassidy Hutchinson’s damning testimony about Donald Trump’s behavior the day of his failed coup d’etat was incredible, and unforgettable, but Americans need more from their government. We need real accountability.

Unless we begin to hold to account the criminals who executed the failed coup on January 6, conservative voters will continue to believe Trump’s Big Lie, that the 2020 election was marred with fraud, stolen from him. This is perhaps the single greatest reason to bring criminal indictments against Trump and his coterie of enablers, to restore a modicum of trust in the democratic process.

Without accountability, Trump and his sycophants will get the message that violent coups d’etat aren’t going to produce any consequences steeper than a few embarrassing congressional hearings.

This would be a fatal error.

The Republican Party is very much becoming a violent insurgency in American politics, and there’s every reason to believe it will continue to evolve in that direction, absent some kind of radical intervention. For now, the government could still put the brakes on what is blatant criminality at the highest levels of the Republican Party, sending a crystal clear message to would be plotters in 2024.

It’s very much an existential question for American democracy. The DOJ exists to protect America from criminals, and with a growing mountain of evidence about Trump’s criminal intentions, and new efforts at witness tampering happening behind the scenes, it’s past time to act.

The Department of Justice must take the proverbial ball and run with it.

There’s more than enough evidence to impanel a federal grand jury, and seek a federal criminal indictment. A charge or charges of witness tampering would work nicely, and would protect the ongoing investigation from interference.

At the absolute bare minimum, the DOJ must investigate these allegations of witness intimidation that are coming out of Trump world, and get to the bottom of them.

The DOJ has prosecuted hundreds of the rioters who broke into the U.S. Capitol, but almost none of the leaders of the insurrection. Now, as these congressional hearings make clear, those leaders are trying desperately to cover up the truth of those events, and hide their culpability from the public.

Frankly, these allegations of witness tampering cannot be ignored, and should energize federal prosecutors looking into Trump and his cronies. The fact that Trump feels so untouchable that he’s trying to silence witnesses should humiliate the Department of Justice, and provoke a swift response.

Nevertheless, these polls show a country in deep distress.

Joe Biden’s presidency won’t be a transformative FDR-style program, nor will it return things to the status quo. However, the Biden administration has the ability to do something that is perhaps even more important than any of its most ambitious plans for change: protect American democracy from those that would snatch away our freedom to elect our own leaders.

That is what the Biden administration’s job amounts to. It’s that simple, and that difficult: protect American democracy from the fascists at the top of the Republican Party.

Currently, the Biden administration is involved in a deepening foreign entanglement in Ukraine, arming a young democracy that’s fighting for its existence against savage Russian invaders. It’s an effort that’s consuming what’s left of the sapped energy and political capital of the Biden presidency, even as America’s own democracy teeters on the edge of collapse.

While the fight in Ukraine is important, the fight back home is essential.

The Biden administration must think outside the box, and take concrete steps to confront the growing authoritarianism that has taken root in conservative politics. This begins with criminal accountability for Donald Trump, and the people involved in his wide-ranging conspiracy to steal the 2020 election, and violently prevent the transfer of power.

For better or worse, this is what Joe Biden will be remembered for. Was he the president that allowed American democracy to be strangled without a fight, or was he the president who understood the high stakes, and acted decisively to save our freedom to choose our own leaders.

Ultimately, it’s the most important task of any American president. The dark forces of fascism are on the rise in the United States of America, and without resistance, they will triumph.

The war in Ukraine shows what happens when dictators are allowed unfettered control of nations; they start nightmarish foreign wars abroad, and they violently smother political opposition at home.

This will be America’s future, unless we fight back now. The Biden administration must do more, at home, before they run out of time, and options.

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