The Force of Decency Awakens

A funny thing is happening on the American scene: a powerful upwelling of decency.

.. You can see the abrupt turn toward decency in the rise of the #MeToo movement; in a matter of months ground that had seemed immovable shifted, and powerful sexual predators started facing career-ending consequences.

.. You can see it in the reactions to the Parkland school massacre.

.. Even the huge anti-Trump demonstrations just after Inauguration Day didn’t seem to move the conventional wisdom. But those pink pussy hats may have represented the beginning of real social and political change.

.. Political scientists have a term and a theory for what we’re seeing on #MeToo, guns and perhaps more: “regime change cascades.”

.. When people see the status quo as immovable, they tend to be passive even if they are themselves dissatisfied. Indeed, they may be unwilling to reveal their discontent, or to fully admit it to themselves. But once they see others visibly taking a stand, they both gain more confidence in their dissent and become more willing to act on it — and by their actions they may induce the same response in others, causing a kind of chain reaction.

.. Examples include

  1. the revolutions that swept Europe in 1848,
  2. the sudden collapse of communism in 1989 and
  3. the Arab Spring of 2011.

.. nothing says that such cascades have to be positive either in their motivations or in their results. The period 2016-17 clearly represented a sort of Alt-Right Spring — springtime for fascists? — in which white supremacists and anti-Semites were emboldened

  1. not just by Donald Trump’s election but by the
  2. evidence that there were more like-minded people than anyone realized, both in the U.S. and Europe.

.. historians have described 1848 as a turning point where history somehow failed to turn: At the end of the day the old, corrupt regimes were still standing.

.. far too much power rests in the hands of men who are simply bad people.

.. his growing backlash is not just its vileness, but its lameness.

.. Trump’s response to Parkland — let’s arm teachers! — wasn’t just stupid, it was cowardly, an attempt to duck the issue

.. Missouri G.O.P. has responded to the indictment of Gov. Eric Greitens, accused of trying to blackmail his lover with nude photos: by blaming … George Soros

.. They’ve pretty much given up on making any substantive case for their ideas in favor of rants about socialists trying to take away your freedom.

.. it’s also kind of whiny; it’s what people sound like when they know they’re losing the argument.

.. the U.S. electoral system is in effect rigged in favor of Republicans

.. Democrats will need to win the popular vote by something like seven percentage points to take the House.


How Nations Recover

I’ve been especially interested in the way Britain revived itself between 1820 and 1848. Its comeback has some humbling lessons for us today.

Britain was roiled by economic and demographic changes. There were financial crises, bad harvests and a severe depression. There was crushing inequality. The average life expectancy nationwide was 40, but in the industrial cities of Manchester and Liverpool it was around 28.

.. The Chartists cohered around The People’s Charter, which had six demandsincluding universal male suffrage, vote by ballot and equal electoral districts. In 1842, the Chartists presented a petition to Parliament with three million signatures.

.. Finally, there was the Anti-Corn Law League. This was the best organized and best funded pressure group in 19th-century Britain. It promoted free-trade legislation to reduce the power of the landed gentry, to make food cheaper for the working classes and to encourage international exchange and cooperation.

..  Britain was blessed by a stable parliamentary system and by a legislative culture that valued deliberation and debate. Political leaders in both parties understood that the winds of change were blowing and they had better initiate reforms if they wanted to head off a revolution.