What Happens After the Election?

I'm bracing myself for the GOP gains next month. We can argue about whether Obama's incremental, middle-management approach to governance set Democrats up for this situation in the first place. But nobody -- not even the Republicans -- will argue about what's going to happen when the Right is back in the driver's seat. Obama's presidency will effectively be over. They've promised as much. Expect impeachment. Expect parliamentary maneuvers to gut Democratic strongholds in Washington. There will be witch hunts and hysteria. Expect nothing -- nothing -- to get done for at least the next two years. At a time when decisive action is more important than ever, if we are to avoid the collapse of the nation, there will be only confusion.

It's going to be a nightmare. The problems this country faces are too grave for partisan sniping, but that is all the Republicans have promised to do. The employer of last resorts, the federal government, is going to be paralyzed. Regulations will be quashed or rolled back. Jobs will continue to flood overseas while we bicker about a handful of Mexican laborers trickling the other way. Investment will flee the dollar. And it will all, somehow, be Nancy Pelosi's fault. Or Obama's. Or those liberals everyone hates so much. And mark my words: if all the Republicans gain is the Senate, that house will become the center of government in this country. Democrats will do nothing to resist. They lack the will.

And worse. We could be looking at an outright race war on American soil. If there's another environmental disaster -- and there will be -- the response will be far too little, far too late. Social Security is in danger. The modest gains in health care for all will be beaten back. The frame of discourse in America will move so far to the radical right we'll be arguing about how best to privatize all the public schools by 2012. I can turn and point in almost any direction, and there, in the near future, lies ruin.

So that's not the best news.

But many of us who aren't completely crazy have discussed this, in public and private forums: what if there's a silver lining to the Republicans regaining power?

I hear two arguments on this subject. The first is that, if the Republicans are set loose to wreak their vengeance on the land, even the dullest Americans will figure out the modern GOP is not suited to governance. This is wishful thinking. The Democrats are a weak, frightened, visionless bunch of bureaucrats, sure. But the Republicans have straight up lost their minds. If Americans didn't learn this lesson from the Bush administration, they're not going to learn it from the Boehner Götterdämmerung. Worse, history tells us the opposite will happen: when things get really bad, people turn on each other at the urging of their most ruthless leaders. It's already happening.

The second scenario I'm hearing is that the American empire isn't a good thing, anyway, so it needs to go down. Then it can settle back into a more neighborly mode, like the Soviet, French, British, and many other empires have done before. I'll grant that this is inevitable -- history has a 100% failure rate for empires. But America won't go down quietly. By "quietly" I mean without gunfire in the streets and entire cities set aflame. When we inevitably scale back our imperial adventure, which has been almost entirely in the service of securing petroleum, it should be an orderly process, one American citizens agree on. In fact, it could improve the lives of Americans if we focused our resources on the homeland rather than foreign resources.

We could reduce our military presence in the world and expand our use of alternate energy sources, such as hydro and solar. We could roll back trade advantages for exporting jobs and importing cheap goods. We could remove personhood from corporations, even. Rebuild our infrastructure and pay teachers well. But we won't. There are just too many angry, hysterical people in this country, their heads filled with a toxic soup of jingoism, hatred, and superstition. There's no way we'll retreat gracefully from the world pedestal.

But I'm not altogether sure something good won't come of this. It's not going to be a sweeping, easy-to-grasp gesture, but adaptation on a granular level. We're going to have some serious problems, of course, among them the accelerated decline of our infrastructure and services, and a vast population of people without work or places to live. But there is already a kind of local energy bubbling up around the nation. People are working to create micro-economies and more self-sufficient communities. The concept of buying locally produced goods will make more sense, if the dollar devalues (or for that matter if inflation goes wild). We will be forced to share more, to maintain and repair, to live for smaller but not lesser comforts. Community efforts will become the norm, as national and international systems fail us. Family and friends will be coming back in a big way.

I'm not saying I'm pleased about all of this; a virtue from necessity is never sweet. I'd be just as happy if we toddled around to a more conscientious, less consumer-driven mode of living on our own, without the necessity of catastrophic failure to drive us there. But the Republican plan for America is outright destruction, and the Democrats don't have any plan at all. So I'm going to be thinking more and more about how to be more self-sufficient and less selfish at the same time -- ironically, the very virtues the radical Right is always hollering about, although none of its members have the slightest idea what they mean.

The Right believes no common sacrifice whatsoever should be made for the greater good; we're going to see that principle in action soon. Reality, meanwhile, tells us the greater good will soon be all we have left to sacrifice for.