Politics today is no longer what in simpler times was optimistically known as the art of the possible. “Art of the impossible”as a definition would be far more appropriate.
Consider the unenviable plight of President Biden who is increasingly challenged on multiple fronts. With the midterm election approaching, he is uncomfortably aware that his political capital is dwindling and that his attempts to reach out to the opposition have failed. The United States is disunited. A large part of the 74 million Americans who voted for Trump in 2020 remains beyond the pale.
Predictions are unreliable, but the chances are that Democrats will lose their small House majority, and perhaps even their precarious 50-50 advantage in the Senate. With inflation hovering around 9% and the prospects of a global recession increasing; while the costs – and risks – of supporting the open-ended Ukrainian “forever war”, with weapons and financial aid wildly escalate; as the November midterm election deadline approaches the president feels compelled, against his political instincts, to indulge in a sort of populism-lite.
Fighting inflation, Biden assured Americans, remains his administration’s top priority. Then unconvincingly, on various occasions, he attempted to shift the blame on Russia, even adding in a speech on infrastructure and cost of living that “70% of the increase in inflation was a consequence of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine because of the impact on gas and energy prices”.
Reality is different. The once widely admired American model of devolved democracy is dysfunctional. Grotesque amounts of cash on the magnitude of billions and even trillions of dollars are considered the indispensable lubricant of a political apparatus that prioritizes the inexhaustible needs of the overpowering military-industrial complex and of its political interface.
Funds that in any other rich or even only moderately rich nation are considered essential to provide quality schooling, healthcare, good infrastructure and law and order are inadequate, and frequently wasted. Justice, albeit quickly administered, is heavily distorted, up to the Supreme Court level, by a system of institutionalized political appointments of top judges. Two cases in point, both seriously disruptive (to use an understatement) have recently arisen now in the United States. With enormous difficulties, following an outrageous wave of mass shootings throughout the country– including a particularly heinous school massacre in Texas– the president managed to gather a rare bipartisan support for a remarkably moderate law on arms control. The new rule, recently approved in the House and subsequently passed also in the Senate on June 23, raised the age limit to buy assault weapons from 18 to 21, strengthening background checks and repealing the immunity protecting gun manufacturers from liability.
Despite the constant barrage of propaganda by the National Rifle Association and other special interests, such a modest restriction hardly constitutes a unilateral disarmament leaving the civilian population undefended against crime.
In the US gun ownership is by far the world’s highest, with 393 million firearms, only 6.06 million of which are registered, out of a population of 326 million. In addition, according to the non-profit Gun Violence Archive, in the first half of this year alone there were 233 mass shootings. Throughout the country, 45,222 people died from gun-related injuries in 2020.
Soon after that, the Supreme Court, strengthened by the votes of the three conservative judges appointed by Trump, decided to expand gun rights, ruling that the century-old restriction enforced in the state of New York was unconstitutional. The law now repealed was obliging gun owners who want to carry concealed handguns in public, to prove that they had a unique need for self-protection.
An even more divisive, and indeed socially explosive, issue that conservatives not by chance have placed on president Biden’s desk in an electoral year, is abortion.
On June 24, the Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade. The historical 1973 ruling that granted women the right to terminate their pregnancies up to the 23th week of gestation, was declared to be based on an erroneous interpretation of the Constitution and therefore abolished.
With the overturn of Roe v Wade, much of America will move from having one of the world’s most permissive abortion regimes to one of the most restrictive. As Jamal Greene, a legal scholar of Columbia university, notes in a comment on The Economist, Oklahoma and 12 other states that have “trigger laws” in place, the second Roe was overturned, their abortion laws aligned with a handful of nations governed by sharia laws.
The Supreme Court ruling, in this case, rather than strengthening the Union, acts as a divider; just as in the 19th century conflict over the rights of enslaved people crossing state lines into free states paving the path to civil war.
Eerie similarities, the Black American jurist warns, have already emerged around abortion, even if violence on the scale of civil war is not imminent. With Senate Bill 8, passed in May 2021 and enacted on September 1, 2021, Texas authorized “bounty hunters” to bring civil suits against anyone who assists women seeking termination of pregnancy. Soon after, Oklahoma followed suit.
Such is the state of the Union in the hot, confrontational summer of 2022. Federalism that worsens divisions on abortion is the last thing that a deeply polarized American society needs.
(c) 2022 VNY Media La Voce di New York and Longitude Magazine.