The true defining characteristic of American political society at present isn’t widespread violence from either the left or the right, but a propensity for dramatic overreach combined with utter toothlessness; symbolic confrontations that provide a leitmotif of historical drama in service of a droning stasis.
Each of the three rolling crises that have played out so far this year have confirmed the same pattern. The culmination of the dramatic yearslong Russiagate saga that hijacked the entire government and media apparatus turned out to have no basis in reality. The coronavirus pandemic simultaneously produced a dramatic nationwide shutdown that has been catastrophic for the productive economy, the poor and working class, and the elderly—but not the stock market—while at the same time revealing the government as incapable of producing basics like tests and masks or competently delivering critical information.
The protests meanwhile have shown governments to be incapable of restoring order or meeting protest demands. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio provides one example: He issues curfew orders that no one follows after entire districts of the city are ransacked and local businesses destroyed. He dithers about the right to protest, while asking that marchers not stay out too late. He can’t account for why playgrounds are still closed on public health grounds and religious services are off limits, but protests are OK. He tries to make himself one of the protesters while maintaining the support of the police. He is neither fish nor fowl, and the result is that both sides loathe him. Meanwhile, Trump, the fearsome authoritarian, law-and-order president, spends his time tweeting.